A Gift

No mixing, molding or baking. But we did refresh our beloved sourdough starter before heading home.

That lucky starter. What fun. We fed it water from la source, and wheat from the French country side. We toted it to the village church and to the bank of the Nive and to visit the lambs–we even brought it with us in the car the day we visited three neighboring villages. Now, it’s home; its second trip across the Atlantic a success. No messes in the suitcases, no explosions in the cargo bay. I remixed it last night and, ooh, does it smell good.

And I’m ready to bake. After a week of touring and translating I’m itching to get my fingers worked into some dough, which I’ll do in an hour or two. My son’s school is sponsoring a homeless dinner this evening, so I’ll be sharing molassas bread and cranberry preserves, but more on that later.

This week spent in the Basque country was an absolute gift. To spend six days with my two brothers, laughing, recounting stories, making new memories was an unexpected treasure. I made a pact with myself at the beginning of the trip that I would rejoice in every twist and turn of this adventure. No moaning, no complaining–only a grateful heart. I was there to work–to be the media woman–to take photos and video, and to translate and help guide. And there were a few times whenI had to remind myself that being tired didn’t matter, that being squished in the middle seat of an airplane for eleven hours didn’t matter. That this was a gift and I should rejoice!

And in the spirit of sharing that joy, here are some photos of our time together. Though not a single loaf of bread was baked and given away, the spirit of giving was a part of every day–between ourselves, with the villagers, with our cousins and aunt… I am grateful!

Shoulder to shoulder in St. Jean de Luz

Communicating with Pantxo on the other side of the valley

Two baker brothers and me

At our great grandfather's old bakery

Our sourdough starter on the road

Johnny in Espelette

One of Pantxo's lambs

Etxea Maitea--the family house

The boulangerie

Leaving Les Aldudes

Baguettes from Baigorry

Feet in the Atlantic

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La Source

Reviving the starter, but no baking today.

Yesterday was all about meetings. By the end of the day I decided that the French habit of going on strike, wasn’t such a bad idea. I had translated back and forth for hours and was running out of words come midnight. My brothers had brought me to France to work, and that I did!

But today the meetings had ended and it was all about reconnecting with this beautiful place. Sure, I did a bit of translating, but there’s not much interpreting when it comes to visiting the petits cochons. Pig language, I believe, is universal. Here’s a pair of particularly cute cochons that I caught roaming around their pen. These pie noirs pigs are a breed exclusive to the Basque country, and they almost went extinct in the 50’s. The breed was revived and has become a thriving industry for the village. They live in little huts when they’re young, then get to roam the mountains freely when they’re a bit older, munching on wild apples and grass and local herbs. I noticed that the largest of this litter, and the runt, are friends…

One of the great pleasures of the day was feeding our sourdough starter. We first lit a candle in church (the candles are enormous, about two feet in length and thick–they cost 1 euro–quite a bargain!), then visited the local baker, who lives and bakes on the very same property where my great grandfather used to run his business. We toured the property, marveling at the old brick oven and chatted for a while, then bought a baguette. Christophe makes mighty fine bread.

Then we headed to La Source. It’s a spot along the road where an underground stream comes gushing out of the mountain. The local villagers love this spring, and people from even an hour away will come here to fill up their empty bottles to transport them home. They say it’s filled with minerals and helps all sorts of ailments–plus it runs just as strong and clear when it’s summer and hot, as when it’s winter and freezing… We bottled some of the water that they’ve channeled through a large pipe and later fed it to our starter. Every starter needs a little dose of mountain spring water from Les Aldudes, don’t you think?

The afternoon was spent at my aunt’s house, where we visited and laughed and loved each other… And in the evening we ate the rest of the baguette, fed the starter some type 55 flour, munched a bit of cheese with a taste of tomato, and sipped a small glass of local wine. We admired the fresh air after a very warm day and transported the starter to the backyard to hang out with the ferns that grow so well here in the mountains.

And now, it’s late. The church bells will be chiming 11pm soon and tomorrow the starter’s journey will continue. It’s lambing season so we hope to visit Pantxo, our friend the shepherd across the way, and soak in our last moments here in the valley before we’re off. The starter will go where we go. We want it to see the lambs, too. Meanwhile, I’ll have one more glass of water from La Source before bed.

oop… better hurry. The church bells are chiming.

Bonne nuit, mes amis…

Back to the Beginning…

No mixing or molding or baking today. Just unveiling the sourdough starter, allowing it to breathe…

We were welcomed again with open arms. My brothers and I have arrived back in Les Aldudes, a Basque village of 360 people tucked in the Pyrenees mountains that separate France and Spain. This is the village where my great, great grandfather was born. I am writing today from the house in which he lived for those short fifteen years before he ventured to the new world. And though 100 years have passed, the people of this place always treat us as though we’ve only been gone a few years, and that we’ve finally returned to the land and air that was partially made for us.

The church bells just chimed six. I also heard them at four and at five. Who needs sleep! I am anxious for the sun. Yesterday, as we drove into the valley at dusk, we marveled at the autumn colors–the deep rust of the sleeping ferns. The yellow and oranges and some still green leaves that painted the mountains. And the three of us, my older brother, John, and my younger brother, Charlie, couldn’t stop our gushing.

I am so grateful for this home away from home…