May 20, Bayonne

Breakfast: see above. Though actually I ate a couple of my little brioches that I bought at the baker’s at the eco-park.

Then back to the barge for another session with Andy about Basque history. He had very interesting stories about the Basques in the U.S., many of whom worked as shepherds in hopes of making enough money to return and buy a house in the fatherland. He also talked about the Basque independence movements in France and Spain, and the horrors of Guernica. He was very interesting, but I’m wondering if the story would have been a little different if he had been native French and/or of Basque ancestry. Perhaps the distance provided perception and a clearer vision. I’m just saying. It’s fascinating to hear events in one’s lifetime be addressed in an historical context, such as the attempted army coup in Spain, and the young king Juan Carlos (along with the prime minister and one elderly statesman) faced down the rogue general, and order was restored. I think something like that happening now, in the 24-hour news cycle, would create a much bigger sensation, and perhaps a different reaction in the world.

Then we crammed ourselves into the Sardine Box for a trip to Biarritz, after many assurances that it was a very short trip. Biarritz seems to be engaged in a gradually losing battle against nature and the sea, but is still lovely. Much of what we saw was built in the second half of the 19th Century, far later than my period of interest, though often the styles were self-consciously retro. The weather was warm, the water lovely (I can’t believe I didn’t manage to get a toe in the water. I always test the waters!) Andy had some good stories and juicy gossip to share, and there was much to admire. It was fun to hear his outrage at the very modern-style buildings put up in the 60s and 70s, all of which clashed horribly with the older architecture.

Lunch was at the very posh Restaurant Le Galion. Tom remarked that perhaps he should have worn a tie. My camera seems to have lost a couple photos, though I remember taking them. I did manage to eat some of the veal ragout. The broth was delicious, and I chose not to fuss about eating something “cute.” This was definitely a “shut up and eat” situation. Travelers in the group seem to enjoy each other’s company, though there was a bit of a heated political discussion, based on a chance remark.

After lunch, there was more welcome walking about, including a stroll to a point quite a ways out from the mainland, with a good view of the town. It apparently marks the terminus of an ambitious plan to extend a tram out into the harbor, and financial realities and the sea itself modified the project to a gravel path to a modest view point. It was lovely. The water looks much greener than on the Oregon coast. We could almost see to Spain from the point.

Then back in the Sardine for another cruise around town, and back to Bayonne. Apparently the chocolate museum doesn’t exist anymore, but Andy took us to the most famous chocolate shops, and related an interesting history regarding the Jews in Bayonne and the chocolate trade. I fear my authors might have been getting it wrong. I didn’t realize chocolate was only drunk, not eaten until quite recently. whoops. Need to research. I remember having real French hot chocolate, and this would certainly have been the place to try it, but I’ve been having too much chocolate in other forms to enjoy this properly. Perhaps later in the trip.

We also finally made it to the cathedral, whose spires I’ve been admiring from my window. I espeically enjoyed the rose window, designed in a spiral that invoked the sun, and hinted at a pre-Christian sun goddess.

Dinner was at the hotel. There was a very welcome green salad, a fish, salmon I think (We’ve been eating lots of salmon) over pasta, and another one of those fabulous, innocuous-looking chocolate cupcakes that oozes molten chocolate when you open it up. oh my, indeed.

After dinner we had some local women dressed in Basque costumes do some dances. They were very good, though the program could have been about half as long as it was. Some fellow travelers joined them for the last dance.

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