Thursday, May 17, 2012

St Jean-Pied-de-Port

St Jean-Pied-de-Port is picture-postcard pretty.  Put it into Google image search and you'll come up with hundreds of even more picturesque pictures of it than you'll find here, but it just likes having its photo taken, even on a bad day - and the Sunday we had there at the end of our trip was by no means the worst - so who am I not to indulge it?

It's the capital of the old Basque kingdom of Lower Navarre, it's resonant with mighty names - Richard the Lionheart, Sancho the Strong, Roland, Vauban ...  and chock-a-block with history, most of which I know next to nothing of, the past is vast and my power to retain this kind of knowledge was always weak and grows weaker.

Even my power to retain knowledge of my own past is fallible and full of holes.  I finished up in St Jean once before, thirty years ago, for no particular reason except that was where the road stopped for me.  I wanted to get to Spain, but, as we did this time, just stepped over the border for a quick look, then came back, discouraged by lack of time, money and Spanish. (For 50 francs, at that time, I could at least have got a coach to Pamplona for the day, but shied at spending even that much money, though I could probably have afforded it.  I was so timid and lame.)

Then, I camped in this field, just outside the town, beside the river Nive.  One wouldn't want to now, because it's somewhat overlooked by smart, fairly new houses, but otherwise it looks much the same.

But though I must have walked past this ruined watermill many times, I had no memory of it.

This time we were watched, here and there, by other beings.

On one building, according to Wiki but which I failed to see, the price of wheat in 1789 was literally engraved in stone above the door.  How odd, that it was felt that this was such a certainty; a kind of innocence in matters economic must have gone out of the world, even currencies, never mind prices, cannot be seen as so immutable now. These hand prints on the wall of the church have a greater sense of timelessness, but why and how they're there I can't find out.

There were other curiosities of flora, fauna and human works.

Wall pennywort we have in abundance here too, but I liked the way it lodged in the rocks there.

the pale white-mauve flower, ladies smock, is also widespread,

 But the dark purple cranesbill is not something I see around here, (I'll find out its exact name anon, of no one fills me in, I thought it was bloody cranesbill but a search implies not...).

This was something I was delighted to catch sight of: a dipper feeding its young.  I've not seen one of these birds for many years, and parent birds feeding fledgelings is always fun.

These pollarded plane trees with their camouflage bark we saw a lot of; the way they had absorbed these metal posts was most strange.

 By the time we'd finished our walk, the church clock said it was time for lunch, which, as it turned out, was an excellent white-fleshed trout, ewe's milk cheese and  black cherry jam.

St Jean-Pied-de-Port, snuggled down under the mountains, a good town to visit.


Fire Bird said...

who's got a new look?!! Nice - clearer. I like the font and pics are bigger, no?

marja-leena said...

Lovely, historic town indeed.. a kind of place I enjoy ramgling about. so thanks for taking me along! My memory for history is not good either but I still enjoy it.

Yes, noticed the lovely new header!

christopher said...

Me too! New header. Then a lovely tour. God. I am so blessed to call you friend of any sort.

Zhoen said...

What a wonderful tour, though a gorgeous and storied place.

I love the hand prints, and trees that eat posts have always fascinated me.

jarvenpa said...

What beautiful photos, and what a wonderful glimpse of your life, past and present. Thank you.

Lucy said...

Thanks all,

Glad you like the new look; the change of font felt like a big jump, I don't think I've used a serif font before and it feels very strange giving one's words a different appearance. But with the new blogger stuff there are a lot more web fonts available, so I thought I'd give it a try. Hooray, something good about the new interface! FB, glad you say it's clearer, I know your eyes are quite sensitive to readability like that, so that's a good sign. No, the pictures aren't bigger, I think it's just the effect of the smaller, more condensed font.

Jarvenpa, lovely to see you around these days!

Clive Hicks-Jenkins said...

More delights from Box Elder, looking most handsome under it's new header!

Since reading the description 'white-fleshed trout, ewe's milk chefs and black cherry jam, I have an insatiable craving to to reproduce and then consume that delightful sounding lunch!

Roderick Robinson said...

Thanks for showing me what the Nive looks like. It crops up several times in the last novel I completed (fictionally almost always under trying emotional circumstances) along with the Adour (which you will have crossed several times). In fact now I have located St-Jean-Pied-de-Port I find I find I have described a view of a road only a few kilometres to the west which takes a southerly route through Cambo-les-Bains and ends up in Spain at Pamplona. I see too you took your sister to catch a plane at Biarritz airport (it will be coded BIQ on their baggage slips) round which a huge slice of the action occurs.

Referring to the water mill which you say you must have passed several times but cannot recall, I too find this post induces a new sense which I will provisionally call quasi-déja-vu since we toured this general area about ten years ago long before I got the idea for the novel, and the memories are frustratingly fleeting. Sorry it rained. It did rain in my novel but only on occasions when rain was useful to me. I regret not being able to pass on this magic power to you.

Beth said...

I love the new look too, Lucy! And what a pretty town, especially seen through your eyes. We have cranesbill like that here,but no wall pennywort, and I am wishing for some. I've never been to that area and don't know it at all, but I'm currently reading Cees Nooteboom's "Roads to Santiago"which is making me want to explore the Basque country and rural Spain.

Nimble said...

I love the word crannies. It's friendly and a little quaintly vulgar. That town looks like it's flinging out charm from every angle.

Rouchswalwe said...

Touring with you is a joy, sweet Lucy! That red door with Molly's friend guarding it is positively wrought with happiness.

zephyr said...

i, too like your "new look". And what a delightful post.

J Cosmo Newbery said...

Charming! In every way.

HKatz said...

Beautiful photos. I thought the handprints were eerie, and would like to hear a story about them, even something that's made-up.

The blog's new look is great and I like the sub-heading (or is it tagline?) too: "plucked out of the crannies." You find a rich world in those crannies.

marly youmans said...

Oh, I thought Marja-Leena would say something about The Watcher! He's ancient and rather adorable. Lovely scenes...

Clive Hicks-Jenkins said...

Sigh! Turned off the damned spell checker that kept on turning my words into things I didn't mean. But clearly didn't do it before it turned 'cheese' in my comment above, into 'chef'!!!

Lucy said...

Thanks all.

The crannies are a reference to Tennyson's 'Flower in the crannied wall' poem. I like the word too!

Clive, I never even noticed! The white trout was farmed, but in a very beautiful, remote, family owned place at an old water mill up in the back hills, the chef(!)- proprietor, a black British Bermudan lady who somehow finished up in the Basque country via Bournemouth, gave me a leaflet about it. Most farmed trout these days are pink, from a harmless colourant from the food they give them, she said the farm did pink ones too, but she liked to use them white for a change. It really was excellent, a small, whole fish, firm and tasty. The cheese is Ossau Iraty, which is quite a dry nutty one, but I'm sure you can get something as good in Wales, and though the cherry jam is made with special dark Basque cherries, but frankly you'd have to go a long way to beat Tiptree Morello!