Sunday, May 30, 2010

Mother's Day and a Poem

The card

My children usually recite a short poem on Mother's Day. They are pretty used to learning texts and poems by heart, something I can't remember doing at school back in Sweden. I think it is a very good excercice. They get used to standing up in front of their class mates and get a feeling for the rythm and rhymes of poetic language.

So this morning my almost-five-year-old stood in front of me and proudly recited the following - which I wish all mothers could have shared with me - ending with a big hug. No need to tell you my eyes where filled with tears of joy and pride.

J'ai cherché dans les poèmes ; I looked in the poems
Comment dire je t'aime ; How to say I love you
J'ai trouvé des mots savants ; I found words of wisdom
Bien trop longs pour mes cinq ans ; Much too long for my five years
Alors, j'ai cherché ailleurs ; So, I went looking somewhere else
Et j'ai trouvé dans mon coeur ; And I found in my heart
Les mots que tu m'as appris ; The words that you taught me
Quand j'étais encore petit ; When I was still little
Maman, je t'aime comme ça! ; Mother, I love you like that!
Je le dis avec mes bras ; I tell you with my arms

Crab hunting at Socoa Beach

View of the Socoa Beach and the Socoa Fortress
We had other plans, but when we saw the 31 degrees in the weather report, we decided to go to Socoa Beach with our Basque friends Stéphane and Mariejo. Socoa is the beach just South of Saint-Jean-de-Luz. We had lunch just beside the Socoa Fortress and then headed for the beach. Here we are, end of May, but feeling like it's August and high season. The beach was crowded, the water full of people swimming and the breeze warm. We felt like staying there for ever.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Like a squirrel in a tree

Tree house Menoy in Léon
The little tree house.

I never had a tree house of my own, but I still remember the giant oak tree where I went to play with my little sister. Someone had installed a wooden platform high up and the only possible entrance was through a rope with knots. We climbed up, pulled up the rope and felt safe. We stayed up there for hours, feeling like we owned the world.

Last week I was happy to bring my children to a somewhat similar experience. We went to stay the night in a real tree house, very confortable, close to the Lake Léon, Les Cabanes du Menoy. We had beautiful calm weather and enjoyed our squirrel experience fully!  Let me tell you the story in a few photos. A dream for all of you who have kept enough of the spirit of a child to marvel at this special place. In the evening we all sat together on the terrace, listening at all the different sounds from the forest.

The tree houses are made by Nid Perché without harming the trees in any way.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Jardin Public, a green oasis in Bordeaux

Jardin Public in Bordeaux
I love Bordeaux and its beautiful architecture, but sometimes you just want some shadow and grass, a bit of water and trees. That is when you go for a stroll in Jardin Public. It has a stream of water where you can go for a slow ride, a couple of play grounds for the children and a fabulous terrace at l'Orangerie. A must to stop for a coffee and watch the people jogging as you stretch out in the long chairs. The proprietor is new, so I can't say much about the food, but the coffee was long and lazy.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Jumping high

The children finally got their trampoline. All my friends in Sweden have one and when I got a good price, I couldn't resist buying one for them. We will see what happens when novelty has passed, but so far, the first thing they say in the morning is to ask to go there.  I tried it myself and I couldn't stop giggling, it was real strange the feeling to float in the air for a second with each jump. It is supposedly a very good excercice, for adults too, so I will have a try now and then....

A tent in my garden

In my part of Aquitaine you find many campings and I am determined to let my children discover the joys of sleeping in a tent, contemplating a starry night... but it is important to make one step at a time. The first step is to sleep in a tent in our garden. Here you see Bjorn waking up after his first night - that he spent with his father. At breakfast he told me that he no longer needs any light in his room at night. I'm not afraid of the dark anymore, he said. To be continued!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

An (almost) perfect day in Hendaye

Rocks on the Hendaye Beach
This was the 26th of July last year. A perfect day... almost. If someone at some point says: It felt like a scary movie - I guess that day won't make it as perfect.

My Swedish friends and I started out slow with croissants, pool and barbecue before heading south towards Hendaye, the last outpost of France before the Spanish border. I took the exit for Saint-Jean-de-Luz to show them some of the incredibly beautiful Basque coast line. The road was deserted which felt strange end of July, but the temperature was at 34 degrees Celcius. Either you had made it to a water point or were lying unconcious indoors.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Stay in a Castle in Bidart

Domaine Bassilour in Bidart
My Swedish friend Charlotte has the most amazing place in Bidart.

A parc of 14 hectars, a castle and a renovated farm that has kept all the initial charm with beams and stone walls, yet adding modern confort. Charlotte has herself decorated each of the rooms. She has had an ecological attitude from the beginning, using ecological material and geothermic heating. Her hotel was the first in Pays Basque to obtain the eco cerfitication label.  I wanted to make this right, she says, I wanted to stay true to the basque culture and be respecful towards the environment.

There is also another building called the Conciergerie, which has room for 14 persons. When I went there, a golf playing group of friends had rented it. A faboulous dining room with a huge table and an indoor pool completes the picture.

Have a look at her site. The photos are pretty, but I assure you, it is even better for real!
Domaine de Bassilour

The Bassilour renovated Farm

Breakfast room at Bassilour

Bassilour Garden

Monday, May 17, 2010

Amusement parc in Gujan-Mestras

I've written about the oyster fishing village Gujan-Mestras before, but now it is time to add something different. There are no less than three amusement parcs in this area, Aqualand with 8 ha of pools and all sorts of water games, biggest parc in Aquitaine,  Coccinelle where you can play, watch magic tricks and a farm where you can feed the animals and last but not least, Kid Parc, an adventure island for children 0-12 years.

We went to Kid Parc last summer. The kids loved it! I liked it too, especially because I felt that the size was human, so you quickly got an overview of what there was to do.  I have now promised that we will go there again. I have just not given a specific date yet...

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Landes before the pine forest

Sheep at Marquèze Ecomusée
Peaceful sheep at the Marquèze Ecomusée.

I'm not a history fanatic, but sometimes knowing a bit of the history for a place helps to understand what you see here and now. As of today, it is difficult to imagine Landes without the big pine forest, the biggest planted forest in Europe, but in the beginning of the 18th century most of the region was covered by vast heaths and marshlands. Fifty years later started the changes that would lead to the enormous planted pine forest of today. Let’s have a look at life in those days, just before the big changes.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

N10, the ugliest highway I know

Trucks on N10 in Landes
Normally I only write about things I love about Aquitaine and trust me, I will continue. But writing about the N10 highway is an indirect way to write about something I love.

The N10 is part of the great North-South transport axis that runs from Paris to Spain. On the map it looks like drawn with a ruler, cutting a straight line through Landes, my region. The road runs through the flattest part of a region known to be flat, surrounded only by pine forest and some corn fields and crowded with transportation trucks. It is a desolating sight.

For many people, this is Landes. Flat, ugly, boring. I fully understand if they press harder on the accelerator to hurry get past this part.

I am writing this hoping to convince you to take one more look! Leave that ugly road and you will be surprised. Landes is not as flat as you think, it is full of mysteries to discover, and the pines.... well, I have had some of my happiest moments in the pine forest. In a couple of posts I will tell you more about the pine forest, one of the defining elements of Landes.

Photo Wikipedia. North part of N10.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Little Signs of Spring

Flowers everywhere, the trees are richly green... can't help feeling silly to show photos of spring signs, but still... just a few, OK? Look at how this young fern still has its leaves all coiled... so tiny, so cute! The fern grow well in the shadow of the pines.

Or these spring fields. Thousands and thousands of tiny plants in straight lines.

And the young vine leaves... they looked pretty dead during winter, but now they are back

The geometry of well kept vines has always intrigued me. Even better when the leaves are tiny and light green. These are in the Bas Armagnac area in Landes.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Birouca duck farm in Chalosse

Two resting ducks in Chalosse
Chalosse is a part of the inner Landes region. It is the countryside you find once you've passed the great pine forest, a typical agricultural landscape with rolling hills and fields. Many of the farmers have more than one activity, mixing duck farming, cattle farming, corn fields and vineyards. It is a genuine part of Aquitaine, unknown but well worth exploring.

We usually buy our duck liver from M Cabannes at the Léon market. Come and visit our farm Birouca in Mugron, he says every time we see him. We decided to take his word and really go there. Duck liver is quite controversial in Sweden, because the ducks are overfed to develop a fat liver. Can I continue eating duck liver and sleep well at night?

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Surf week with Mamas Surf Club in Biarritz

The members of Mamas Surf Club posing
My Swedish friend Johanna is organizing the most amazing surf week - for women only! I myself tried surfing for the first time last summer, at 40, and it was an incredible experience. You easily think that surfing is only for young, strong men in their twenties, but, as Johanna says, everybody can surf! Most important, you have fun all the way along the learning process...

Johanna is Swedish, married to surf legend Christophe Reinhardt and certified surf teacher. She has put together a dream come true week with lots of surfing, lots of excellent French food, yoga, shopping....  only 14 happy will be able to sign in!

Check her blog to see the full program from 5th of June to 12th of June 2010. There you also find the tales of Taryn and Wilma about starting to surf... Mamas Surf Club, getting the women out of the kitchen into the surf!

Mamas Surf Club Week full program
Read about the beginning of the Mamas Surf Club with Christophe Reinhardt
Extract: So with his background as French champion and big wave hellman, how did he feel about scouring the coast for the smallest possible wave with a group of forty year old women. Some of whom - I’ll stand up and be counted - were terrified of a knee-high shore break....

Friday, May 7, 2010

Our wild wild forest

Photo Wikipedia

My neighbour is afraid to walk outside when it's dark. One can imagine many scary things in the night but maybe you're not thinking about wild boars.... Is she silly or is she right to be afraid of them? I met up with the experienced hunter Pierre Landais to get things sorted out.

Hunter Pierre Landais

He looks exactly the way you imagine a hunter. He has that burned, ragged look on his face and looks dogged och tough. Boars are not dangerous, he says. They have an excellent hearing and a fantastic smell to discover a human several hundred metres away. They are afraid of humans! But there are two occasions when boars can become dangerous: if they are hurt or if you threaten the babies of a mummy boar. If you step upon a boar in the forest, just slowly back off. They usually sleep during daytime, so you should normally never see any.

The last fifteen years the boar population has grown enormously in Landes. They have no natural enemies, except humans, and grow fat in the corn fields. The farmers put up electric fences to keep them out, but if they are hungry enough, they go there anyway! Sometimes the babies go under the fence and then mum comes along, whatever the fence.

Boars are intelligent and have an excellent memory. If they have been trapped at a specific spot once, they never return.

After my personal experience I would add, and if they like a spot, they do return. We had a boar attack in our garden, around the pool. Yummiest place to find real nice earth worms. The single male returned three times in a week, then it took a whole year before we had the next attack on the exact same spot. Can't swear it was the same animal of course, but seems pretty likely. Once he left, there was not much left of the grass. Looked like a spring field prepared for sowing...

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Chalosse beef, a passion for quality

Chalosse cows resting in the sun
Our butcher breaks down in tears every summer when everybody wants to barbecue and everybody wants the same piece of meat = Boeuf de Chalosse. Just thinking about this meat makes my mouth water. The meat has strict quality rules to the whole production process, so the cows must graze for two years before ending the third and last year eating almost only corn, giving a particular parsley like taste to the meat. The breeding is slow, making for an excellent meat, marmorated with fat, tender... a knowlegable friend asked how we had prepared the meat, what spices... he couldn`t believe me when I told him it was only salt added, nothing else.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Rugby game in my village

Rugby game in Castets

Sunday I went for a stroll with the children. We approach the rugby stadium and there is a noise I recognise... there is a game going on! We stopped to watch for a while. The crowd is small but very enthusiastic. Just a moment from everyday life here in Castets, Landes.

Scene from rugby game in Castets

Rugby game in Castets

Rugby game in Castets

Children playing
The children played at the skate board area.

French fast food, here comes some duck again

I am talking about duck again. We do that alot in this part of the world!

This time it might be something you should ask what it is after you have finished, because yesterday my fast food meal was about duck gizzards, duck hearts and cépes in an almost ready to be served preparation. You only need to heat them up a bit in a frying pan and dinner is ready! I served them on top of a salad and a bit of French mustard vinaigrette.

I learned to love hearts in Brazil where they commonly serve barbecued chicken hearts on a skewer. When we started seeing duck hearts in the super market, we thought... let's barbecue them! Delicious!

Duck gizzards are a typical salad ingredient in the Southwest of France. First time I had them, I didn't really know what is was... actually I still don't... it is part of their throat I would say...

Monday, May 3, 2010

Early spring in the south of Sweden

Sorry, I am outside the subject of Aquitaine, but I just wanted to show you a couple of photos from my trip back home to Sweden. The snow has just melted away, we even saw a heap of snow still there in the shadows, and the trees are getting that tiny first bit of green but overall the colours of the landscape are grey and wintery. Above you see a friend`s house where the Swedish flag decorates the house. This is very common in Sweden. Flags everywhere, in the gardens, on the house, inside on the tables... and I have never seen any French flags in France at anyone`s home.  Read on if you want to see some bits and pieces from a week in Sweden.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

The Mighty Bayonne Festival

Giant doll at Bayonne Festival procession
Photo Rainer Fritz on Flickr

Here every village has their own festival, but some of them stand out. Like th Mighty Bayonne Festival that gathers over one million visitors during the annual five day festivities. If you go, count on getting lots of music, smiling and dancing people, lots of beer and incredibly crowded streets.  When I first went there, on a sunny Sunday, we were greeted by a sea of happy people, all dressed in white and red. The sun is really shining, but it would have been sunny here anyway. I have never seen such a friendly and happy crowd!

It is noon, Sunday and the last day of the festival. We are meeting up with some friends at the central market place in Bayonne. The bar is full and people have spread ut on the street with plastic glasses in their hands. We get something to drink too and look out over the river. There are tables and people everywhere, the streets are already getting crowded.  We go to the Marengo Bridge to watch the final procession of music groups and giant dolls, coming out from the church after mess. The dolls are really heavy, we watch as they take turns being inside. Several children are watching too, cute in white and red, some on the shoulders of their parents. My children would have loved this!

Crowds of people during the Bayonne Festival

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Maîade, a spring celebration


I was really surprised when a maypole suddenly turned up in front of my neighbours house on the first of May. We had just moved in and I had no idea this was a tradition typical for Landes. As the day passed I realised that there were plenty of them around the village. Little signs indicated if it was to celebrate a birthday or a wedding day or something else....
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