Saturday, March 29, 2014

Weekend At The Sea: Nightlife In Anglet

The quiz show that we watch every day at lunch chez Bergeras had a tricky question yesterday: "Which of these towns are 'bathed by the sea'?" The list provided included Brest and Bayonne, but I didn't recognize any of the other names. I thought Bayonne was one of the correct answers, but actually it's not a seaside city; the seamless conglomeration of Biarritz, Anglet, and Bayonne does indeed run its expensive houses right up to the beach, but Bayonne is the inland part, spanning the Adour river that divides the Pyrénées-Atlantiques and Landes départements.

We drove to Anglet on Saturday evening to the Jungle Café restaurant, for a surprise belated birthday party for Marie-Morgane's mother. I keep expecting events like this to be in traditional French bistros - Sebastian's birthday party was at his favorite all-you-can-eat Japanese/Korean restaurant - but then have to remind myself that what's exotic and special to me is different for others. I'm planning to go to a traditional French bistro in Paris in May, just to get my fix. But in Anglet, surrounded by gilded thrones and painted doors from Indonesia, maybe, and statues of Buddha and elephants and the wicker knick-knackery of a century of colonialism, we had drinks while waiting for the guest of honor, and I tried to explain what a martini is.

"A mixed drink made with vodka and a dash of vermouth," I said. "You know, like James Bond drinks. Some people add an olive or two." I got blank looks. "Oh, you mean a gin-and-tonic?" someone finally said. I let it go, and sipped my glass of Martini rouge, the Italian vermouth created in 1868. I prefer Lillet for my apéritif, the fruity-bitter blend of Bordeaux wines, citrus liqueur, and quinine invented in 1872, but the bar didn't stock any. "That's an old-fashioned drink," the grandmother sitting across from me said.

And then we had red wine from Tours with our meal; I chose the sautéed shrimp with fresh ginger for my entrée, and salmon with fresh tomato salsa and stir-fried vegetables for the main course. I swapped the rice on my plate for all the vegetables from Kevin's plate - Marie-Morgane's boyfriend is even more meat-and-potatoes than the students at Hasparren. Birthday champagne arrived in a bucket with lit sparklers stuck in the foil around the cork, which I thought was pretty fun. And since all the desserts were wheat and dairy (and I was stuffed anyway) I opted for a final glass of a Basque berry liqueur I'd never seen before, Patxaran (pronounced PATCH-ar-an). It's a sort of sloe gin made by macerating the berries and leaves of the Prunus spinosa bush in an anise-tinged alcohol. It's been a traditional drink since the Middle Ages, here in what was once called the Kingdom of Navarre.

And before you start to worry about all that alcohol, this consumption occurred over the course of nearly six hours, so I was well within the "one per hour" limit. I will admit to being quite relaxed by the end of the meal, however. Relaxed, but not tipsy enough to feel like going down to the dance floor and joining the packed crowd that filled every square inch between the tables. There was barely enough room to move, much less dance, and so most of the dancing was a sort of up-and-down bob in time with the beat.

And what was the beat they were moving to? American pop classics from the 60s, 70s, and 80s, with "La Bamba" and "Sledgehammer" the ones I remember. I caught a glimpse of the DJ in his booth above the alligator and he looked to be about my age, or maybe a little older. There were French songs I didn't recognize but everyone else did, because they sang along and knew exactly when to stop and start and change rhythm. Just as we were leaving, the disco version of Cotton Eye Joe came on, and couples lined up to make an archway for others to dance under. Since there was still no room on the floor, it was more of a wriggle through than a dance under move, but they all seemed to be having a good time. Marie-Morgane says that the Jungle Café is popular with students from the University of Bayonne and anyone else who wants to extend their evening into the morning, as it doesn't close until 5am or so. As I fell asleep at 2am, the laser lights were undoubtedly still flashing above the crowd, with Buddha laughing above.

No comments:

Post a Comment