Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Baratzea - November

I've just had a crash course in wild and semi-wild plants. I met a traveller this summer admiring my garden and we immediately hit it off and went on several foraging missions together. She's been back in Hendaye for a few days and every day we have been exploring my garden ad the open spaces of Hendaye with her teaching my the names and uses of the wild plants in my environment.  And then going home and spreading out five botanicae on the floor checking out the names and uses that my friend doesn't know.

These days there's not so much work to be done in the garden so it's been great to move forward with my (somewhat dormant) project of getting to know the names and uses of the plants around me.

Top to bottom then left to right
Banana leaf (ideal for a lampshade)
Sunflower head (30cm diameter)
unknown berries
Palm and wisteria seeds
Mache (Lamb's lettuce)


Lamb's lettuce

Cresson de Fontanine

Saturday, 25 November 2017

In the gallery.

Last week I was in Bilbao and took the opportunity to visit the Guggenheim.  I was of the impression that the building greatly outshone the works inside until I found myself on the ground floor and confronted with the most impressive set of installations I have ever come across:

These eight steel mazes amazed me.  Some were spirals, others shell-like, others parallel sheets.  Richard Serra, the artist responsible, plays with concave and convex curves in the steel to create truly memorable short walks in which, after just a few minutes, you lose all sense of direction and perspective.  Richard pressed these plates so they had took on organic forms: concave at the top, convex  at the bottom, or vice versa: the shape of waves. Sometimes walking through them the space became claustrophobic, other times it opened up like the light at the end of the cave.  I wandered through them wild eyed and disoriented like a child after a fast ride on a roundabout.  Some I went back to and walked through again.

Then I watched the very good videos about the artist's vision and the logistics of making, shipping and installing these pieces, went and had lunch, then came back in the gallery to do another tour of the installations.  I can't remember spending the best of four hours in a gallery.  Usually I am sated after two hours.

I was in awe of the dimensions of these installations. The steel plates are the thickness of my thumb (lets say 10cm), almost 3m high and up to 30m long.  That's big pieces of metal.   I starting thinking about the human effort that went into making them.  How much did they weigh? How did I get them there? Etc. When I watched the background information I was truly stunned.

Friday, 17 November 2017

24 Heures a Bilbao

Quelque photos. J'ajouterais une parole plus tard (peut-etre)

Thursday, 2 November 2017

Go up to the mountains 1

There is a mountain (the three crowns) that I can see from my flat – most days – when there’s not too much cloud. To my shame I have been looking at it for more than a year but not yet climbed it.

A couple of weeks ago I rectified that: with the aid of a half-way  decent Spanish walking map I worked out where to start from and how best to tackle it. And, with two brave British couch-surfers we made our bid. 

As the name suggests the three crowns has three peaks: we made the first two: the gap between the second and third proved beyond our mountain skills without a rope.   Although less than 1000m high it is  a serious mountain.  There was some serious scrambling involved!

 It was a lovely day out though, with the best views yet across Bidasoa and back to Hendaye. 

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

View from Port Plaisance

Took my new bicycle for a test spin yesterday evening just before sunset.  I chanced upon what has to be one of the most beautiful panoramas of Bidasoa, taken from Port Plaisance.  It captures the three mountains that define and frame this watershed.  One can nearly always see one of them no matter where you are, but I'd never seen all three together in the same frame.

From top to bottom:
La Rhune (the highest of the three) with a full moon rising to the left (sadly not visible in the photo)
Les Trois Corrounes, the wildest and most forested, with a mantle of cloud
Jaizkibel, the most westerly peak of the Pyrenees, with Hondarribia catching the evening sun.  There was a drumming festival on the  Spanish side so the whole valley was reverberating with drum sounds, like Carnaval was taking place.   

Monday, 14 August 2017

Baratzea week 31

Last week it mostly rained every day, so I took advantage of the bad weather to catch up on my food processing (especially since I bought a freezer the week before) .

Two panniers of vegetables from my garden and the jardin collectif to process.  

Stuffed peppers, fried peppers

One kilo of string beans 

Melon with ham and Mozzarella and Gazpacho

(and not photographed aubergine pate and potato and corgette chowder).   All in all about eight hours' work, but suddenly my grocery bill is down to dairy products, an occasional piece of meat or fish and cat food.    .

Sunday, 13 August 2017


A short couple of hours stroll from the chapel at Guadalupe to Jaizkibel (543m) the last peak before the Pyrenees tumbles into the Atlantic.  The Bay of Figs and the Bay of Biscay on my right hand side,  La Rhune and the Three Crowns on the right:  Ohri, the western-most 2000m peak visible for just a few minutes before arriving at the look-out point at Jaizkibel.  A short but very enjoyable walk.

The view from Guadalupe across the Bidasoa towards La Rhune, 
possibly the best 'Mirador' on the Bidasoa.

The Three Crowns from Jaizkibel

Saturday, 12 August 2017

No taxation without representation

That’s a political philosophy that few can disagree with (although its opposite does not and should hold true).  Yet the right of EU citizens to work, reside and travel in other EU states has resulted in a huge anomaly, where there is a very large gap between the EU’s  guarantee of social and economic rights and individual Member States’ vastly different interpretations of citizens’ (and non-citizen’s) political rights.

According to Eurostat there are some 16 million EU citizens living in EU countries other than the one of which they are a citizen.  16 million!  That’s around 3% of the population of the EU, the equivalent (roughly) of the population of the Netherlands, or more than the population of the EU’s   eight lest populous countries put together.   Let’s assume, at a conservative estimate, that 75% of these people are economically active  paying taxes in their country of residence. 

Yet to my knowledge there is not one single EU country that allows tax-paying, non-citizens, no matter how long established, to vote in its national elections.  This is a scandal.  It means that something like one in forty of the EU population is disenfranchised. 

The level of disenfranchisement may vary.  In many EU countries non-citizens are able to vote in EU, local and sometimes regional elections.  Citizens of some countries permanently retain their right to vote in their home countries.  (The French recognise that their ex-pat communities have specific interests and needs and so deserve dedicated seats in the Senate).  In others such as the UK this right is granted for a limited and somewhat arbitrary period of time (the controversial 15 year rule, which the last two Tory manifestoes have promised to abolish,  a promise that has not (yet) been delivered upon and could have made a decisive difference in  the 2016 referendum).  Germans, I understand, lose their voting rights as soon as they become ‘non-dom’.    I don’t know about the other 25 member states.

The EU seeks to harmonize economic and social rights, yet I believe this needs to be balanced by harmonising political rights, so that every EU citizen has the right to vote in all elections in one country or another.   My preference would be that people have voting rights in the country where they pay taxes (after say a certain qualifying period). ( Again this would have had a profound effect on the 2106 UK referendum).  But failing that they should retain their voting rights in their home countries.

The current situation represents a fundamental breach of human rights.  Yet no-one is talking about it.  And I think it is time we opened the discussion. 

Thursday, 27 July 2017

Baratzea – July

Yesterday I was working in the garden when a woman came passing by (as people are wont to do in such a public space).

‘Is that Comfrey (Solidage)? Where did you get it?’

I was impressed. Most people ask me what it is.

‘The guy who sold me my apartment left a potful on the terrace. I’ve been propagating it ever since. It takes really easily ’

‘Do you know where can I get some?’

‘If you wait a moment I will dig you up a root’.

I dug up a young shoot, put in a pot and gave it to her.  My visitor, who I have never met before, was delighted.  So was I.  Comfrey was, symbolically, the first thing I planted on the plot, to build fertility.  Over the past few months I have been given so many plants, seeds, gardening equipment (tools, stakes etc.) and composting materials so it was a real pleasure to start to return those favours. 

Baratzea looked like an ecological disaster zone two months ago.  Nitrogen demanding bacteria were busy consuming the cardboard and straw I had put down to suppress weeds, leaving no N for the plants, no matter what I threw at them.

I have improved that situation somewhat (same plant seven weeks later)

Baratzea naturally falls into four plots. The lower two (2&3) are doing quite well, the upper two (1 &4) require more attention.

Plot 1: Pumpkins and maize 

Plot 2: a little bit of everything that was available in May: though mostly onions, peppers, cabbages and fennel 

Plot 3: tomatoes and potatoes 

Plot 4: mostly beans and cabbage family (still to be planted) 

Plots 1 and 4 seem to be suffering from a fertility/compaction  problem.  The soil on these higher plots seems to have more clay, less loam and opens up less easily .  I’m working on that and will continue to do so over the coming season.  

The main challenge is building ‘an edge zone’ along the fences.  I’ve planted sunflowers, lupins, raspberries and other ‘barrier’ plants, but so far so few of them have taken.  Slowly I am working on that challenge too.  Check out my progress in a few weeks' time. 

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Serendipity in the Bibliotheque

One of the books that I found at the Planete Ecole stall yesterday was just what I was looking for: an illustrated history of the Tour de France.  It was true serendipity since a) the tour was in the Pyrenees that very day and b). I was just rewriting a section of my book about the Pyrenees that involved me doing some fact checking about the very first tours to pass through the Pyrenees.  They were fascinating times: the guy charged with reconnoitring  the route spent a night lost on  the Col de Tournalet (the highest paved pass on the French side of the mountains) in freezing conditions having walked across the pass as the car he hired couldn't cross because of the depth of the snow.  He sent a telegram back to L'Auto in Paris saying 'the route is fine.'   Three years later a certain Eugene Christophe who was running just behind the leader, had his bike almost totalled when it was run over by a car.  At that time there were no spare bikes and riders were not allowed to call on outside mechanical help so he carried his bike 14km down the mountain to the nearest village and welded the frame back together himself in the local forge, while officials watched on to make sure the smithy didn't help him.   He wasn't able to gain back the time he lost, but he earnt himself a place in the 'people's history book' . 

But this photo made me smile: Maurice Garin, winner of the first tour de France in 1902. Check that ciggie hanging out of the corner of his mouth!