Villa Arnaga

A hot 4th July did not deter a group of members and partners from driving into the far south west of our region to enjoy the delights of the French Basque countryside around Cambo and the city pleasures of Bayonne. The highlight of our day at Cambo was a visit to Edmond Rostand’s Villa Arnaga, with its superb gardens featuring a thousand Hortensias, and a French garden with its pergola, canal and water mirror leading to the house and surrounded by beautifully laid-out beds.

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In 1902, the immense success of Cyrano de Bergerac enabled Rostand and his wife Rosamonde to design and have built a magnificent house in the Basque style, with splendid interiors (see the web site), further embellished by recently restored fairy-tale decor by the then-contemporary caricaturist Jean Veber.

This visit was preceded by a good lunch in the Hotel Bellevue, which does indeed have a fine panoramic view of Cambo Bas and the sight of circling vultures (our lunch nevertheless untroubled!).

The day ended with a committee meeting enhanced by tapas and wine in the Hotel des Basses-Pyrennees in Bayonne. Many thanks to Marion for organising us so efficiently.

 

Bauduc

Our OUS SW France association has made a regular habit of chateau visits, characteristically to chateaux in vineyards. Such was our visit on 9th May to the British-owned Chateau Bauduc, notable as a supplier to top chefs such as Gordon Ramsay, Rick Stein and (for those who know North Wales well) Bryan Webb, in whose restaurant members first encountered Bauduc.

It was not the best day for sunning ourselves amongst the vines, but we did note the black vines first planted in 1947 and the netting being tested to protect against the hail which often destroys substantial percentages of the annual production. The chai contains two sections for red and white, generating a substantial volume of production that seemed immense to your correspondant. Shipping to bottling requires an exercise of military precision.

The Chateau has its own website which tells the story of the Quinney’s successful venture and it was Angela who very kindly greeted us in their chateau-home for an extensive degustation of Crémant de Bordeaux, whites and reds.

Sensible planning by Nigel ensured that we were not late for lunch at la Table in Créon where we enjoyed an excellent menu around a single large table, as the photos display (other photos can be found at OUS Bauduc ).

2018 AGM

The restaurant Le Caillou near Vire-sur-Lot was this year’s venue for our AGM. Discussion centred on the substantial continuing interest among members and the forward programme for 2019. An agreeable lunch followed for the 13 members attending and 12 partners and friends: apologies were received from a further 17 members. Our thanks to Greg Hawes and Nigel Griffin for their organisation.

 

After ravioli, Ravi par Ravel

On 9th August 2018, some 21 members, family and friends met for lunch in the Auberge des Bouviers in Lectoure for a lunch of quality in its splendid upstairs room. A couple of us courageously (or foolishly) tried the menu du jour’s very substantial andouillette but everyone else stayed in less challenging but much appreciated territory. As ever on these occasions, amidst good conversation, some new friendships and encounters were generated in the true spirit of our association.

Our objective then was to meet member Piers Killeen at his Chateau to see the then-resident Albion Quartet practice a piece from their next concert. The weather being (for this summer) atypically uncertain, we found them already at work in the Church next door. However, we were all quickly ejected by the onset of an imminent funeral and so repaired inside Piers’ fine house to hear them rehearse Ravel’s Quartet in F. We were much intrigued by the dynamics of the interplay between the players as well as the stunning immediacy and quality of their playing. Given that they had three concerts in three days ahead to rehearse, we were very privileged to get this unusual insight into the creation of fine music and to be able to ask questions about their approach to their work. Piers remarked that their concert the previous evening had been an exciting demonstration of the evolution of the quartet form from Haydn’s signature Op 20 no 2 to Beethoven’s final quartet, Op. 135 – followed by a well-timed thunderstorm.

Piers also provided tea and gave us an intriguing tour of his Edward I-period chateau (in which the concerts are held). He explained the historic and bureaucratic challenges that restoring such a monument present – historic because so little is known about its origins and the method of construction must mainly be deduced from what is there. 

We would very much encourage those of you with an interest in chamber music to join Piers’ membership and attend his concerts as a result: http://saintemerefestival.net/en/.

Our great thanks to the Albions and to Piers for making it all possible.

   

Rieux-Volvestre

Nigel Griffin writes: A small group of Members was warmly welcomed by Geoff and Penny Douglas to a picnic lunch in early June on the terrace of their home near Rieux-Volvestre (Haute-Garonne), the Ville-cité where in 1982 Le retour de Martin Guerre was filmed. They kindly arranged a late morning visit to a local atelier with stunning views of the Pyrenees, where the potter Sylvian Meschia spoke of recent installation work featuring his ceramics. After lunch, we were taken by a neighbour, Jean-Pierre Soulat, on an enjoyable and informative tour of the village he knows so intimately.

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photo: Roger Tarn

Bordeaux: Wine and Submarines

19 June 2018

This visit to the Cité du Vin and the former German submarine base was somewhat undersubscribed (Royal Wedding, Whitsuntide?), but this of us who were able to come had a splendidly sunny day in Bordeaux to enjoy both attractions.

‘Attraction’ might be a misnomer for the massive concrete wartime submarine pens constructed with forced labour organised by the Organisation Todt. Our passionate guides told how the massive pens (12 metres deep) were constructed and how they were defended from American aerial bombardment. Whilst the surrounding Bacalan area had been destroyed by misguided bombs and the retreating Germans had destroyed as much as they could, Bordeaux was ultimately helped in its restoration by a courageous German francophile who prevented the detonation of the last bridge across the Gironde.

Sadly, we have to report that impending commercial exploitation may rub out some of the history as the pens are converted into more modern attractions, but for those interested in quite recent history the visit is inexpensive and is currently supplemented by a digital art exhibition in the cavernous underground of what had been the tower block next to the pens.

Prior to this visit we spent the morning in the Cité du Vin with lunch in the Brasserie. Your correspondent enjoyed the Bacchanalian art and music exhibition, the view from the Belvedere and the array of wines from just about every wine producing country. Lunch in the Brasserie was memorable mainly for good company.

Our thanks as ever to Marion for organising this most enjoyable day out.

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Cité du Vin
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One of the submarine pens
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Pen visitors
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View from the Cite du Vin Belvedere

 

Greg Hawes: OUBC Lunch, 2018

Lunch with OUBC/OUWBC, La Commanderie, Temple-sur-Lot, 3rd January 2017

A brief personal account by Greg Hawes (Captain, CCC BC 1975)

We are fortunate that the OUBC come for their winter training session to the Lot valley and doubly fortunate that they meet with us.  Trebly so this year, as the men’s crews were joined by the OUWBC.

I met several members of the crews before lunch.  All I spoke with agreed that the facilities for training at Temple are very good.  This year the men’s crews include more undergraduates than in recent years, including several freshers.  The Women’s President, Katherine Erickson was a champion equestrian before turning to rowing “as a part of the whole Oxford experience”.  She told me the women are tall and wiry, rather than beefy like the men.  I suggested that, in rowing, technique and leverage are just as important as raw power and Katherine graciously assented.

At lunch I plonked myself down between two members of the OUBC staff and found I had luckily chosen a seat with Head Coach Sean Bowden on my right and Boatman Austen Dorey on my left.  Both were extremely informative.

With the Lot in early flood, conditions here are far from ideal for training this season.  I suggested the rough, fast-flowing river might be handy preparation for the rigours of the Thames Tideway and was gently told that at this stage of training better conditions are needed.  Avoiding debris has been a special challenge this year and repairs to blades, rudders and so on have kept Austen busy.

I asked about the impact of technology on modern boats (not having sat in an Eight since Oxford).  Having started by saying that apart from materials, things had not changed much in recent years, Austen told me that sensors in the gates can now provide real time feedback to a rower in training including his or her power of stroke, angle at the catch and recovery, as well as timing information.  As a former Stroke with a chronic tendency to overreach at the catch, I was enraptured.

The coxes were being taken aside after lunch for a video training session.  I knew of the importance of the role of the cox, especially in the Boat Race, where the line taken is so vital and the rivalry with the Cambridge boat is so intense.  Sean enlightened me further, explaining that one small mistake by the cox can cost the crew minutes of hard rowing beyond the “lactate threshold” to make up the lost distance.  Anyone who has rowed in competition knows what that feels like.

Time passed all too quickly.  The crews returned to their training and the staff to their duties.  I certainly hope the Oxford crews will keep returning to the Lot each winter.  Everyone was charming.  Their welcome to us is thanks to Jeremy James.  May he rest in peace.