Friday, April 27, 2012

Home from the hills

And the hills were truly splendid. 

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.


Lorenzo da Ponte said...

That splendid name: Roncesvalles. Which I first heard (or read) when my age was in single figures, along with A Roland For an Oliver. Both just stuck.

And how directorial of you - how auteur-ish - to arrange the sheep in a shallow arc that holds the mountainous skyline as if in a saucer. Too symmetrical? Not at all.

You were in our thoughts yesterday as the beer got the better of me at The Pub In Roupell Street and I said to Plutarch: I wish Lucy were sitting on that chair there so I could harangue you both on the triumphalism of the rhyming couplet in Shakespearean sonnets. You wouldna stood a chance.

Welcome back. Esp. Mol.

Zhoen said...

In a while you will only remember the best bits. Which is why I so like blogging, it reminds us of the rest as well.

Not a bit of flat anywhere, was there?

Dale said...

Oh my. My kind of country, up and down and green, like the Olympic Mtns in Washington State here!

Wonderful photos.

zephyr said...

You are a very fun bunch!!
Lovely country, and yes, please. Love sheep.

marja-leena said...

"Home from the hills"- that title alone seems to call up all kinds of nostalgic associations. What a beautiful green valley and mountains, a little more "settled" with the sheep, compared to our wild mountains here. Makes me think of Bavaria or Switzerland.

Sound like you all had a wonderful family time, in spite of the rustic lodgings. Looking forward to more of your always lovely photos, Lucy.

Bruce Taylor, a.k.a. Catalyst said...

I love that bit about the Basque scrabble game.

And your photos, as always, are sensational.

J Cosmo Newbery said...

Love your photos. As always.
Love your text. As always.
Do not love being made feel like dyslexic dill by the word verification.

Jean said...

Wonderful photos of wonderful landscape - thank you! Makes me want to go back there. Just remembered that both French and Spanish Basque Country were part of my first ever trip at age 19 to France and Spain. Maybe one reason I love so much.

Anonymous said...

Lovely photos! The landscape looks quite amazing :)

J Cosmo Newbery said...

Hi Lucy, the comment about translated from the Turkish was put in to emphasize that both sides suffer equally. To the best of my knowledge, you are the first person to notice it.

Rouchswalwe said...

Funny that all last week, Basque things were all about me. Perhaps I simply noticed them because I knew that you all were there. At my favourite booze shoppe, they had on special large bottles of Basque Hard Cider, still (not bubbly), with large signs telling the buyer that to serve properly, one has to pour the stuff into a glass from a height of about a meter. The agitation will cause bubbles to form in the glass and the hard cider will taste refreshing. Seeing your pictures now, I think it makes perfect sense to serve apple cider like this.

I'm reminded of certain areas of southern Japan, so hilly that the day seemed short because of the fewer hours of sunshine. So good that you were all together, brought those hunting dogs a little happiness, and met the sheep!

Fur ruffles for sweet Molly!

Lucy said...

Thanks all.

LdP - no, I wouldn'a, but it would have been nice to be there anyway. I checked that my brother had his trusty Oliphaunt to blow lest he need us to come to his aid, since his sim card in his mobile wasn't working too well. Roland and Oliver sound like pupils at a modern prep school. Mol was well enough, eating better and joining in, still not quite right inside but seems to be improving, so we're keeping fingers crossed.

Z - funnily enough, I have an unfortunate quirk of disposition that I tend to remember the bad bits of things over the good, which kind of indicates I'm rather more depressively inclined than I usually let on. In fact blogging often serves to correct this the other way, so looking at the account I give of things here sometimes serves to make me think that perhaps they weren't that bad after all. It was a good trip, but quite tough in some ways; I do feel a sense of accomplishment, and not a little relief now it's done!

Dale - it is lovely, these are the green foothills, still very pastoral, the 3rd and 4th pics are from further north looking further east, where it begins to get more truly mountainous. My camera and skills aren't really suited to grand landscape shots, but these give an impression.

Z - the origami kits were a stroke of inspiration from my sister, light and portable and instantly accessible without too much mess or special equipment. They ended up improvising and colouring them and stuff too. The girls all love making stuff.

ML - as I said, these are really the lower slopes, the mountains get more mountainous, though aren't quite on the scale of the Alps. It's difficult to do big landscapes justice, but at least we were able to see them, even with the bad weather, though the light wasn't great.

Cat - I did a bit of googling to find out about Basque scrabble, but most of the references were facetious ones like mine! I don't know if Basques play Scrabble, they seem a rather dour people...

Cosmo - I'll see how I go with it off; I instantly got one load of spam on an old post to moderate...

Jean - me too, oddly enough, and it's changed a bit in 30 years. I put both my brothers onto your Camino writings, which we all found moving and impressive. I'll perhaps reflect a bit more on the pilgrimage matter.

Chloe - thanks; brother D, and everyone else, really loved your scallop shell.

R - cider's quite a thing there in fact, which is kind of lesser known as people tend to think of it as more a drink of northern France. I've seen that pouring-from-a-height thing on a TV programme about Spanish food. I think Basque food and drink might be the next big thing. My family (other than ourselves) aren't great drinkers, and some of them have dietary requirements and preferences, and being rather numerous, on a budget and constrained by the weather anyway, it was really a question of keeping everyone properly fuelled rather than a gourmet experience! But I made sure I sampled some Irrouleguy wine, some sticky sweet herby after-dinner liqueur, sheep's milk cheese and cherry jam (together), a wonderful local brown trout, Bayonne ham and a conserve made from Espelette peppers, all of which were very enjoyable in context. Feeding the grateful hunting dogs became a regular feature of the day. True about the valleys limiting the light, though it wasn't like it can be in Scotland and Ireland, so wet and cloudy that the mountains are not even visible. Molly's doing all right and up for a ruffle!

Plutarch said...

Late as ever but with excuses. Sheep are lovely depite the observation that someone made to me once that when seen in the distance they resemble maggots. Somehow yours don't.

Sheila said...

What fun, what fun! As someone pointed out, eventually you will remember only the best of it, and what a trip to treasure. So glad you were able to do it.

And I can't wait to see more sheep! (I will try to forget the comparison made in the comment above...ick!)