Sunday, September 09, 2007

What we did....Part II

So, what do you get when you combine a couple of adventuresome friends, luscious homegrown fruits and vegetables, fresh baguettes and ripe cheese, a few bottles of carefully chosen wine, rollicking music, a rolling mountain range and deep draughts of countryside air?

You get Bardos.

Bardos is a place where people still live in houses with names, not numbers. You can mount a bicycle for a serpentine ride through the valley and get passed by more tractors than SUVs. Gardens give up an awful lot more goodness than one would expect this side of Eden, what with the sunshine seeping into every tomato and basil leaf stretched joyously to the sky. It makes for a short walk to the “produce aisle”. But do plan ahead if you’re going to need something else like cheese, eggs, coffee or meat – it’s a fair drive down the road to get into town.

Who are those friendly people, anyway?

Meet Paul and Beatrice Dick, our gracious hosts and guides to the magical French Basque countryside. These two know a good spot of land when they see one - and love to show it off. We were treated to a string of delightful lessons. Among other things, Paul taught us that every bottle of wine has a story behind it, and that a mountain of fresh basil leaves will make exactly two trays full of pesto. Beatrice proved that four salads can make a perfect picnic, especially if you are eating them at the Place des Quatre Salades. She also convinced us that coffee is the only respectable way to terminate a meal, and hot is the only right way to drink it!

At night, we watch as the Pyrenées fade and the moon rises large, sometimes orange. At some point during the gradual eventide, bats begin – quite suddenly - to frantically dive and swoop for their supper, snapping us out of our own afterdinner, soporific trance. Shadows dance all around, and as long as we grab a sweater and cafes, we’re good for at least another forty-five minutes on the patio. Life stories, future plans, and all that stretch in-between called the present. What a present.

And then there was Marciac.

Back along these country roads which border rows upon rows of field corn, somewhere in the midst of all that quiet, faithful industry - lies the tiny town of Marciac. Largely uneventful for fifty weeks out of the year, it awakens every July with the world at its well-swept doorstep. Thanks to Wynton Marsalis’ direction, this 30-year music festival has developed into a full-fledged mecca for jazz. We were fortunate enough to join the throng for one day, which included several afternoon sets by up-and-coming artists, and an evening show by Sweet Honey in the Rock and Wynton himself (see the blurry...I mean, impressionistic photo at left). This jazz giant modestly sidestepped the stoplight not a few times to showcase a young gentleman with unique form of percussion – his happy, tap-dancin’ feet. We stumbled to the van about 2 am, spread out our sleeping bags sous la belle étoile, and slept until the sun awoke us to head back home – but not without stopping for a croissant and café on the way back.

Other excursions included a visit to the historical site of a battle in 778 when Roland was thoroughly sent packing by the native Basques. Local pride in the Basque heritage is hard to miss, with both official road signs and angrily-sprayed graffiti displaying the strange-looking language from nowhere and everywhere. Great-great-great....grandchildren of those victorious warriors gather to dance at the Fete de Bayonne, and patiently teach the ancient steps to the one million visitors who gather in red and white to meet, drink, and be merry. We wandered and wove through the two-colored sea, trying not to lose our companions, all being similarly bedecked in festival array.

Too soon, it was time to stuff our party hats into the suitcase, and board the train yet again, bound for dear old Paris. To be continued...

(Merci mille fois, Paul et Beatrice!)


1 comment:

Mel Arroz said...

Glad to see you are updating your blog!

Weather is great here in Idaho. Look forward to you reading about your continuing adventures.

Keep smiling! :-)