Wordless Wednesday #100

I know « Wordless Wednesday » is usually one of my many photos from my #adventuresdownunder, but not this week because we’re enjoying a few days back in our home-from-home of Alassio, Italy.

Musical Monday: Madonna

Musical Monday was bumped to Tuesday for sporting reasons.

I’m back to rifling through my archives for a track to set me up for the week. I want something laid back to get me in the holiday mood as we’re driving to Alassio tomorrow for a few days of farniente (and Aperol Spritzs). My beloved is rather fond of Italian singers Gianni Nannini and Eros Ramazzoti but I’m not………then I thought, why not Holiday by Madonna.

The song was recorded by the American singer for her eponymous debut album Madonna (1983) and was album’s third single released in September 1983. Written by Curtis Hudson and Lisa Stevens of the band Pure Energy, the track was offered to Madonna by her producer John “Jellybean” Benitez when she was looking for a potential hit track to include on her debut album. After accepting the song, she and Benitez worked on it and altered its composition, adding a piano solo performed by their friend, Fred Zarr. Holiday features instrumentation from guitars, electronic handclaps, a cowbell, and a synthesised string arrangement, while its lyrics speak about the universal sentiment of taking a holiday. I think we can all identify with that one.

Receiving highly positive reviews the single was Madonna’s first hit single in the United States, peaking at number 16 on the Billboard Hot 100 and number one on the Dance Club Songs chart. It also became her first top-ten single in several countries, including Australia, Belgium, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands and tUK.

Madonna has performed Holiday on most of her tours, generally as a part of the encore. Different performances of the song are included in the recorded releases of her tours. the track has been covered by several artists and appeared in multiple television shows. In 2003, Q Magazine ranked Holiday at number 88 in their list of the “1001 Best Songs Ever”.

Fabio: 1st French MotoGP World Champion

Musical Monday has been bumped to Tuesday for a very good reason. Those of us who live on the Cote d’Azur and love MotoGP, including the Mayor of Nice, are celebrating the first ever French MotoGP World Champion, local wunderkind Fabio Quartararo. 

One or two of you maybe muttering that you thought I was a Marc Marquez fan. I am but I am also delighted for Fabio #ELD1ABLO and France and am already licking my lips at the thought of next year’s races when Marc will once more be truly competitive after his last injury-plagued 18 months. But enough of Marc, this post is about Fabio and yesterday’s race.

With just three races left this season, Fabio had a sizeable but not insurmountable championship points lead over Italian Francesco Bagnaia. The French commentators kept referring to Fabio having a “match point” and that was a good analogy. All sorts of possibilities were examined depending on how the duo finished. It’s fair to say that excitement was at an all-time high as the race began.

Yamaha’s Fabio got the worst possible start to the race qualifying in 15th position while chief rival Bagnaia secured his fourth consecutive pole and grabbed the holeshot (lead going into first bend) at the start. The front trio of  Bagnaia, Ducati teammate Jack Miller and Honda’s Marc Marquez soon found themselves clear of the chasing pack.

Under pressure from Marquez, Miller went down and out at Turn 15 on Lap 4 , meaning Bagnaia’s wingman was no longer able to help the Italian. Instead, he now had Marquez swarming all over his rear wheel. Meanwhile, Quartararo was steadily working his way through the bunch up into 10th. With nine laps to go he was up into fifth and baring a disaster, because of the time gaps, that was as good as it was probably going to get. Or so everyone thought!

Ducati were to suffer more heartbreak with just five laps to go when Bagnaia, just starting to pull clear of Marquez, lost the front wheel (see above) crashed and conceded the 2021 Championship.

The crash left Marquez in pole and when Miguel Oliviera crashed shortly thereafter, Fabio, the new World Champion, was in a sensational third-place from 15th on the grid.

At the chequered flag, Marc Marquez had won his second race in a row, his third of the season, with teammate Pol Espargaro coming home second to hand Honda a fantastic 1-2. Avintia’s Enea Bastianini, with a move at Turn 14, got the better of Fabio on the last lap to cement another rostrum to take the lead in the fight for Rookie of the Year. But just behind him, tears streaming down his face, was the 2021 MotoGP™ World Champion: Fabio Quartararo! Jubilation ensued for the Frenchman and Yamaha – their first title since Jorge Lorenzo in 2015.

While Fabio’s title was the main story, Marquez’s first victory on a clockwise course since 2019 after his injury hit last 18 months was a sub-plot along with Valentino Rossi’s last MotoGP ride on Italian soil.

Even if you’re not a fan of MotoGP, you’ve probably heard of the evergreen nine-time world champion Rossi whose race number and colours – blue and yellow 46 – adorns many. Rossi crossed the line in 10th, a fitting send-off in front of his adoring fans. Two races remain in Portugal and Valencia to enjoy The Doctor doing what he loves best – racing motorcycles.

So there you have it. The 2021 MotoGP™ World Champion is crowned, congratulations to Fabio Quartararo and Yamaha on an incredible season, as I look forward to those final two races of the season.

Silent Sunday #81

Apologies but I’ve been so busy this week that I’ve not had time to research and write my regular French Fancies Sunday post. However, I do have time for a Silent Sunday photo from France. Hope you’re all having an enjoyable weekend.

 

The Musette: Halloween treats (vegan)

While we don’t generally celebrate Halloween, the local kids occasionally come trick or treating. Consequently, like last year, I will leave two plates of treats (recipes below) in small bags on the table outside my front door, with plenty of hand gel, for fingers big and small to help themselves.

First up are my coconut bars which go down rather nicely with a bedtime cup of cocoa, or indeed a cup of anything!

Ingredients (makes 24 bars)

  • 240g (8 1/2 oz) coconut cream
  • 160g (5 1/2 oz) raw or soft light brown sugar
  • 300g (10 1/2 oz) unsweetened coconut chips
  • 1½ tsp instant coffee powder
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract
  • ½ tsp flaked sea salt
  • 200g (7 oz) (min 70% cocoa) dark (semi-sweet) chocolate, melted

Method

1.Pre-heat the oven to 190C (170C fan)/375F/gas 5, and grease and line a 32cm x 22cm (12″ x 8″) baking tray with greaseproof (parchment) paper.

2. Put the coconut cream and 140g sugar in a medium saucepan on a medium heat and cook, stirring, for two to three minutes, until the sugar melts.

3. Stir in the coconut flakes, coffee powder, vanilla extract and salt until fully combined and the flakes are completely coated, then immediately transfer to the prepared tray and press down all over to create an even layer.

4. Sprinkle the surface with the remaining 20g sugar, then bake for 35 minutes, turning the tray once halfway, until the surface is crisp and well browned. Remove, leave to cool, then refrigerate for at least three hours to set completely (or overnight, if you fancy getting ahead).

5. Once set, transfer the slab to a board and discard the paper lining. With a large, sharp knife, cut it into 24 rectangles – don’t worry if some break a little: it adds to the rustic look.

Yotam Ottolenghi’s coconut and coffee bars.

6. Line a large tray with greaseproof (parchment) paper and have ready a bowl with the melted chocolate. Dip one bar halfway into the chocolate, so half of it is coated, then lay it on the lined tray while you repeat with the remaining bars. Transfer to the fridge for at least 40 minutes, to set, and serve from cold.

Chocolate Fudge

Rich, indulgent, and made with just a handful of ingredients, this chocolate fudge is vegan, oil-free and sweetened naturally!

Ingredients

  • 200g (7oz) 70% min cocoa (semi-sweet) dark chocolate
  • 20g (1 cup) pitted medjool dates
  • 160g (2/3 cup) coconut milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp instant coffee powder
  • 50g (1/2 cup) cocoa powder
  • Pinch of sea salt
  • Crushed and toasted pecans, walnuts or whatever for topping

Method

1. If necessary, soak the dates in warm water for 10 minutes to soften and then drain.

2. Preferably in a liquidiser or blender, blend the dates and coconut milk until very, very smooth.

3. Melt the chocolate either in a bain marie or in the microwave.

4. In a bowl, combine the date paste, cocoa and coffee powders and salt. Then, stir in the melted chocolate.

5. The mixture will stiffen. Press into a greaseproof-lined pan, say 20cm x 12cm (8″ x 5″) and top with the chopped and toasted nuts. Refrigerate overnight.

4-Ingredient Salted Chocolate Pecan Fudge [Vegan + Paleo] — Baked Greens

6. Cut into cubes and enjoy. Any leftovers – as if that’s going to happen – should be kept in the fridge.

One from the Vaults: French Basque Country – Espelette and…………..

I’ve been (re)living past trips to the Basque Country, specifically those towns in France. Last week was Biarritz and a few weeks ago I shone a light (again) on Bayonne.

So where next? Can I suggest Espelette (Ezpeleta in Basque) a delightful village situated in the foothills of the Pyrenees to the east of Saint Jean de Luz, and south-east of Biarritz below the Mondarrain mountain.

The village is famous for its chilli peppers and those grown in this region even have an appellation controlée to vouch for their authenticity. After the harvest at the end of summer the picture-perfect traditional Basque white-washed houses with either red or green shutters feature drying piments and the effect is wonderfully colourful.

It’s a real pleasure to stroll down Espelette’s streets to take in the unique scenery and visit its many stores and boutiques selling not only the famous peppers but also many more local products such as chocolate and cheese. Espelette can sometimes get a little crowded, especially during the summer high-season and on bank holidays, but the views are still awesome. There is a reason why so many visit this place – it’s just so charming.

The origins of the Espelette Pepper date back to 1650 when a Basque sailor who had been traveling with Christopher Columbus brought some chili peppers back to the Basque Country. These peppers were first used medicinally and then later for conserving meat and ham. Over time, they have become a cornerstone of Basque cuisine. Although it is called “Espelette Pepper,” it is actually grown in 10 villages of the region, among them Ainhoa and Espelette. The European Union has even granted a protected designation to the Espelette region which means only peppers from this particular area can have the name Piment d’Espelette.

The peppers are so important that there is even an annual Espelette pepper festival that is celebrated during the last weekend of October which includes Basque dance exhibitions, traditional music concerts, parades and Basque sporting competitions.

At one end of the main street is 16th century castle that is now the village mairie (town hall) which also houses the tourist office and exhibition spaces for:-

  • chilli peppers around the world
  • local Agnes Sauret the first lady to win Miss France (1920)
  • local Armand David, an intrepid 19th century explorer

The local church of Saint-Etienne has a typical Basque interior with three levels of wooden galleries going round the walls and a very decorative 18th century altarpiece. It’s off the tourist path. Indeed, this part of the town is often over-looked by visitors but it’s very peaceful with a gentle stream flowing nearby. You can also see the grave of the first Miss France who’s buried here.

There are several other villages nearby which also have similar Basque architecture to Espelette and are equally charming to visit, including Sare and Ainhoa which are both listed among the most beautiful villages in France.

The surrounding countryside of low mountains is perfect for exploring, preferably by bike. Or, you could take a small train that climbs the mountain at La Rhune for a different view across the countryside.

Alternatively, just 8 kilometres (5 miles) from the Spanish border, you’ll find Saint Jean Pied de Port one of the traditional starting points of the Way of St James (the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela). It’s a delightful walled town and Unesco World Heritage Site with numerous gates.

Frankly, I could go on for ever as there are so many pretty picturesque towns, many of which we’ve visited on our bikes. But don’t just take my word for it, come and see for yourself!

Thursday doors #132

Some new (and old) doors from my recent travels around Central Europe.

Thursday Doors is a weekly feature allowing door lovers to come together to admire and share their favourite door photos from around the world. Feel free to join in the fun by creating your own Thursday Doors post each week and then sharing your link in the comments’ on Dan’s site, anytime between Thursday morning and Saturday noon (North American Eastern Time).

La bise is back: Many in France divided over return of cheek kissing

To bise or not to bise that is the question? I am now more than happy to embrace my closest friends and any good-looking men that should happen across my path but my view isn’t universal.

Congratulations kiss: French president Emmanuel Macron embraces Kylian Mbappe during a ceremony to honour France's 2018 World Cup winners.

The traditional French greeting of a kiss on the cheek has sadly suffered during the Covid-19 pandemic, but two-thirds of French people (including me) have now returned to their old ways.

In the spring of 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic changed everything – suddenly the French government was advising its citizens not to kiss people on the cheek. In a world where gestes barrières (protective measures) were essential to saving lives, there was no longer any place for la bise.

Today, 65% of people in France kiss their close friends, family or colleagues on the cheek, according to the results of a survey published late last week. That’s a significant increase on March 2021, when only 39% continued doing la bise, although it’s too early to talk about a return to normal – before the first lockdown, but after the virus had begun circulating in France, 91% of people participated in the greeting, according to survey results from March 2020.

A quarter of French people are even more relaxed. 23% said they would now kiss a stranger, more than double the rate six months ago (9%). In case you’re interested, I would kiss a stranger, but only if he was good looking! A girl’s got to have standards.

Too soon?

Although more than 85% of people over the age of 12 are now fully vaccinated, health authorities are cautious about the effects of cold weather and the potential for vaccines to become less effective over time. The official line is unchanged: we should still be keeping our distance.

On 14th October, Jean-François Delfraissy, head of France’s Scientific Council, told newspaper Le Monde: “

We need to insist on the importance of maintaining protective measures as much as possible, at least until spring 2022.

As a consequence, many of those embracing la bise have become more selective with whom they’re getting close to. According to the survey, only 12% automatically kiss close friends and family. That figure is highest among the 25 to 34 age group (19%), while those on the older (this so doesn’t include me) side remain more cautious (5% of over-65s).

Finally an excuse

While the custom is gradually returning to French life, there are those who can’t imagine going back to sharing their germs, preferring an air kiss. For those who were never fully on board with the whole kissing thing, the pandemic has finally made avoiding it socially acceptable.

Handshakes less popular

Of course, people in France weren’t just going around kissing everybody they met before the pandemic – other common greetings have been affected, too.

The handshake, which is more common in a professional environment, has also been collateral damage. Before the first lockdown, 85% regularly shook hands with people they knew. That had fallen to 22% in March, but has since risen to 59% with many preferring a fist or elbow bump.

 

 

 

Postcard from Peschiera del Garda

Now that I’m back home I can tell you more about our most recent travels. Much as I love where I live it was so nice to experience a change of scenery. This wasn’t our first stay in Peschiera. We overnighted here on our way to Seefeld in December 2017 and again in 2018 while watching the Giro d’Italia. We find it a convenient stopping off point. So much so that we topped and tailed our entire trip at the hotel.

Where is Peschiera del Garda on map Lake Garda

Peschiera del Garda is on the lower shore of the Veronese Lake Garda, 25 km (151/2 miles) from Verona. It is the most eastern city of the Veneto region, at the foot of the Morainic hills, where the waters from Lake Garda flow into the Mincio river. When Lombardy-Venetia was under Austrian rule, Peschiera was the northwest anchor of the four fortified towns constituting the Quadrilatero, which connected the fortresses of Peschiera, Mantua, Legnago and Verona between the Mincio, the Po, and the Adige Rivers. The  city’s massive Venetian defensive systems have been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since July 2017.

History of Peschiera

The Roman name of Peschiera was Arilica. Although there have been pile-dwellings here since the Bronze Age, the place developed greatly in Roman times thanks to its favourable position for trade. Arilica in fact was along the Via Gallica, the Roman road that connected Verona with Milan and then continued eastwards, connecting Verona with the Via Postumia, and westwards, from Milan to Gaul (France).

In Arilica there was a very active boat service on boats that connected all the lower part of the lake and also continued up north to the mountains. The more recent excavation shows an urban structure made up of fairly small and modest dwellings, perhaps some warehouses and storage for goods, connected by paved alleys. Nothing to do with the magnificence of the Roman villas of Sirmione and Desenzano. After all, Arilica was a village of fishermen and boatmen.

Peschiera del Garda - I love Garda Lake

The fortress at Peschiera played a prominent part in most military campaigns conducted in northern Italy after 1400, especially during the Italian campaigns of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. At the Battle of Peschiera fought on 6 August 1796, the day after a major French victory at the Battle of Castiglione, a French force commanded by general Masséna drove out the Austrians. After the Siege of Peschiera, during the First Italian War of Independence, it was taken by the Piedmontese from the Austrians, on 30 May, 1848, following a gallant defence by general Rath lasting six weeks.

What to see in Peschiera

There are a number of important and interesting sights in the town which attest to its importance as a former stronghold.

1. Porte de Brescia - Peschiera del Garda

The Brescia gate amply demonstrates the Bastion’s (fortress) imposing brick walls which rise up from the canal, acting as a moat around the fortifications. The walls are massive and built on oak poles planted at the bottom of the canal; a typical Venetian  construction technique.The wood, embedded in the mud, does not come into contact with any air, so it doesn’t rot instead it becomes fossilised.

Bastione Tognon - Peschiera Tourism

The Tognon Bastion, which has the typical spearhead shape of Italian Renaissance fortresses, is the most beautiful and best preserved part. The introduction of gunpowder and cannons forced a rethink on the shape of fortresses so that they could better withstand artillery. Peschiera is a splendid example of this redesign. To reduce the size of the artillery target, military architects lowered the walls. To reduce the angle of incidence of the bullets, they tilted the walls backwards and enlarged them to better withstand the impact. They also changed the fortress’ geometry to polygonal to have more oblique surfaces on which cannonballs would slide away.

The Tognon bastion looks just like the bow of a ship cutting through water. Carved onto the bastion is Venice’s symbol of St Mark’s winged lion. Napoleon’s army damaged it when attempting to erase what they considered a symbol of the Ancient Régime.

From its raised position, the bastion provides a splendid view of Lake Garda and the surrounding area. During its Habsburg domination, the Austrians placed here an optical telegraph here to communicate with HQ in Verona, triangulating with the half-way fortress of Pastrengo.

Peschieraloft, Peschiera del Garda – Updated 2021 Prices

Going back down to the port of Peschiera you walk through the ancient village to get to Piazza Savoia, the old parade ground where, on one side, there is the old military prison, in use from 1866 until the late 90s. Originally built as an Austrian military hospital after the Second War of Italian Independence 1858-59 which, with its bloody battles, had shown the difficulties of taking proper care of the wounded.

The other building in the square is the church of San Martino built in the typical neoclassical style in vogue in 19th century.

In front of and next to the church are archaeological remains of the ancient Roman settlement. In front of the church are the remains of the old dock because the square was once filled with lake water.

Voltoni" Bridge – Garda Lake Official Website

From Piazza Savoia continue towards the Voltoni Bridge,  built by the Venetians to connect the two islands that make up Peschiera. In the middle there is the widest of the four canals. On the other side of the bridge is the Verona gate, the eastern entrance to the town. It is a large monumental gate designed by Michele Sanmicheli, a master of Renaissance architecture. The gate typifies the sober elegance of Sanmicheli’s style.,

More importantly perhaps, the commune is part of the Associazione Città del Vino (“Association of Wine Cities”). Peschiera is the main centre for the production of Lugana wine. Just outside the town you will find plenty of vineyards and the hotel where we stay on Laghetto del Frassino.

I’m told this the most important habitat for tufted ducks in Italy. I confess that I wouldn’t know a tufted duck unless it came up and introduced itself to me. However, there are a number of hides – is that the correct word? – where twitchers can spy the various birdlife on the lake.

Having already visited the town of Peschiera, this time, we chose to relax around the hotel’s splendid outdoor pool and quaff more of their refreshing Aperol Spritzs. And who could blame us?

Musical Monday:

I’m conscious that fewer female artists feature in my musical posts so I’m on a mission to rectify that omission with a few of my favourites……..Someone suggested Barbra Streisand who I remember listening to as a teenager because my parents were fans, even going to see her in concert in the early 1990s.

Barbra Streisand (1942 – ) is an American singer, actress and filmmaker. With a career spanning over six decades, she has achieved success in multiple fields of entertainment, and is among the few performers awarded an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony (EGOT).

Streisand began her career by performing in nightclubs and Broadway theaters in the early 1960s. Following her guest appearances on various television shows, she signed to Columbia Records, insisting that she retain full artistic control, and accepting lower pay in exchange, an arrangement that continued throughout her career, and released her debut The Barbra Streisand Album (1963), which won the Grammy Award for Album of the Year. Throughout her recording career, Streisand has topped the US Billboard 200 chart with 11 albums—a record for a woman—including People (1964), The Way We Were (1974), Guilty (1980), and The Broadway Album (1985). She also achieved five number-one singles on the US Billboard Hot 100—”The Way We Were”, “Evergreen”, “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers”, “No More Tears (Enough Is Enough)”, and “Woman in Love”.

Following her established recording success in the 1960s, Streisand ventured into film by the end of that decade. She starred in the critically acclaimed Funny Girl (1968), for which she won the Academy Award for Best Actress. Additional fame followed with films including the extravagant musical Hello, Dolly! (1969), the screwball comedy What’s Up, Doc?(1972), and the romantic drama The Way We Were (1973). Streisand won a second Academy Award for writing the love theme from A Star Is Born (1976), the first woman to be honoured as a composer. With the release of Yentl (1983), Streisand became the first woman to write, produce, direct and star in a major studio film. The film won an Oscar for Best Score and a Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture Musical. Streisand also received the Golden Globe Award for Best Director, becoming the first (and for 37 years, the only) woman to win that award. Streisand later directed The Prince of Tides (1991) and The Mirror Has Two Faces (1996).

With sales exceeding 150 million records worldwide, Streisand is one of the best-selling recording artists of all time. According to the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), she is the highest-certified female artist in the United States, with 68.5 million certified album units tying with Mariah Carey. Billboard ranked Streisand as the greatest female artist on the Billboard 200 chart and the top Adult Contemporary female artist of all time. Her accolades include two Academy Awards, 10 Grammy Awards including the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and the Grammy Legend Award, five Emmy Awards, four Peabody Awards, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and nine Golden Globes. She must have one helluva mantelpiece to display that lot!

With such an amazing body of work (50 studio albums) there are loads of her songs I could’ve chosen but I’m going for The Way We Were from the album of the same name.

The concept for the record first developed in late 1973, following the success of The Way We Were, which was written specifically for the 1973 film starring Streisand and Robert Redford. American composer and producer Marvin Hamlisch was commissioned to write the melody for the track, which he found to be hugely challenging because Streisand wanted him to produce the composition in minor key. Instead wrote it in major key due to his fear that the song’s lyrics would be revealed too quickly to the listener. These detail the personal life of Katie Morosky, the character Streisand portrays in the previously mentioned film, and her troubling relationship with boyfriend Hubbell Gardiner.