But they were a long way away from here, and, notwithstanding a stop in a comfortable bed and breakfast run by a very nice English family, the road through Les Landes, currently being made bigger, with its great trains of lorries from every corner of Europe grinding their way down to Spain (what can there be to be taken to and from Spain in such quantity? Hothouse-grown and out-of-season fruit and veg, I suppose, coming from, but what do they fill up with from Mittel-Europe, the Baltic and Balkans and the old Soviet bloc, going there?), its contraflows and palimpsests of erased, altered and temporary road markings, its pocked and patched and roughened surfaces, was very long. Imagining the shepherds who stalked on stilts across the landscape two centuries ago, communicating in whistles and propped up with their knitting at rest, and wondering at the expanses of pine trees all filling the bricolage stores of France with two-by-one and tongue-and-groove, went only some way to alleviating the dreariness of it.
But we got there, in time to pick up the flying members of the group from Biarritz, and made our way carrying Australian brother, his hat and an extra backpack or two. We stopped at a supermarket just short of our destination, bought bread and buns and I tried to 'phone the owner of the house where we were staying. I eventually spoke to, or tried to, an elderly (-sounding) man with an incomprehensible Basque accent and became thoroughly confused, but we made our way there to find our landlady waiting for us anyway, with the heating on. When it comes to finding suitable and not too costly accommodation for eight people and a dog, beggars can't really be choosers. Mme Eyheracher (a good Basque name) did everything she could to make the house comfortable, and was kind and friendly. There were a couple of washing machines (it was really two separate appartments) and a dishwasher, none of which we used, decent fridges, plenty of crockery and glasses, coffee machines and toasters, and to our pleasant surprise, teapots and mugs with handles - standard French arrangements often include only small coffee cups and large bols without handles, which serve for cereal and hot drinks both; I actually quite like drinking milky coffee out of one of these, but tea isn't quite right. There were, however, no kettles, so water was boiled in saucepans. Everything was very clean and smelled of furniture polish, and there was abundant hot water, for which we were thankful.
It was called, it seems, Arrossagarayėnia. I should have collected some photos of Basque signs and names. We wondered what a Basque Scrabble set would be like, presumably it would contain a lot of zs, xes, ks, and js which would be worth very few points.
However, it was an old and old-fashioned place, square and gloomy, single glazed, lino and formica and ugly patterned wallpapers and endless dark brown wood, shabby-sans-chic. The central heating was oddly timed, and perhaps needed bleeding, so while those of us accustomed to more rustic conditions were OK, one or two of the family members, softened-up by urban British or sunny antipodean living, and with less flesh on their bones, were a bit chilly at times. There was a dining area with a big table next to the kitchen, but no comfortable seating, so one was obliged to follow William Morris's injunction: 'If you want to be comfortable, go to bed'. Unfortunately the beds weren't too comfy either, though they could have been worse.
In a valley, it was hemmed in somewhat by a river on one side and a road on the other, the one leading up to the pass of Roncevalles. We had a few hours of fairly sunny weather in the next day or so, and managed a walk up into the hills above the house, where I took a lot of photos of sheep, which perhaps will have post of their own.
After that, and as the predicted departure of the pilgrim contingent drew closer, the weather grew wetter and wetter and worse and worse.
We were obliged to make our own indoor entertainment (there was a little television set with French channels but we only used it for weather forecasts). We ate well,
Aussie brother made scrambled eggs most mornings (without the banana, that was just trying to get into the shot)
We chatted and shifted our bottoms on the hard chairs, and took our leftovers down to feed the two poor little half-starved hunting dogs whiling away the eight months of the year when they aren't out hunting ( and presumably terrorising the sheep) cooped up in a small enclosure at the end of the yard, with scant shelter, food or bedding - a fairly typical element of French rural living, very picturesque. I had hoped to get some maquette making done while there, but somehow the time seemed to run away, in cooking and other arrangements. However, my sister had brought some origami kits at the last minute, so the rough paper and crayons and other things I brought was put to good use.
(Left to right, twin nieces T and B, their mother my Lovely Sister, and K, the Niece-Who-Makes-Me-Laugh-More-Than-Anyone-Else, all origami-ing.)
At one point the origami took an aeronautical turn, and the room became filled with flying paper aircraft. As I listened with half an ear in the kitchen to the discussion on 1950s plane design between my brother and Tom, one craft hurtled through the door and landed in Molly's dinner. We left a row of origami penguins when we left, along with the wild flowers Niece-Who-Makes-Me-Laugh had picked, and the gold foil rose niece B had made from wrappers from the chocolate bunnies her mother had brought,
which caught a rare ray of sunshine just before we left.
We all survived, and it was a good thing to spend time with my family. Molly stayed well, and the pilgrims made it over the mountains and into Spain. But that'll do for now, and I'll do some posts with more photos anon.