July 2020. The Basques are punctilious about linguistic correctness. All the road signs are in French and Basque (and occasionally Spanish too): the exit from the supermarket is labelled Sortie and Irteera, the town centre is Centre Ville or Hiri Barnea (or sometimes, mysteriously, something slightly different. Do Basque nouns have declensions? I’ve never managed to find out.) But I still have to see anything in Basque inviting me to wear a mask or use hand sanitizer or observe social distancing. Apparently the Language Academy of Euskal Herria, or whoever it is decides these things, has yet to hand down their decree.
Masks are obligatory in certain shops, and optional in others. I was called to order in a shop selling vases and carpets and suchlike, but the post office doesn’t seem to care. On Sunday, the market in Ciboure was pretty well mask-free. A few masks are visible on the crowded pedestrian street in St. Jean de Luz, and quite a lot inside the shops, but there are none on the seafront, and obviously none on the beach. I did read something about an enterprising designer somewhere who produces bikini-coordinated masks, but they don’t seem to have caught on down here. Clearly they wouldn’t do wonders for one’s suntan. Hopefully the fresh sea breezes blow the virus away.
On the train coming down from Paris at the beginning of July, everyone wore a mask except to eat, and since the train left at 12.45, everyone was eating. The train manager meandered up and down at regular intervals. The cleaners were much in evidence. The restaurant car was closed.
On Basque beaches, sunbathers are more or less socially distanced, unless it’s high tide. The tide is no respecter of social distancing. Last week I got to the beach at Socoa with my daughter and grandsons just as the tide was coming in. Everyone was moving further and further up the beach, and closer and closer together. Happily she and I were protected by two small boys shunting round, kicking up sand and brandishing a huge pink plastic flamingo, providing our personal cordon sanitaire.
It’s hard to say at this point if there are more or fewer tourists than usual, and where they come from. The Spanish border is open and the Spaniards are returning; I spotted a car with German plates; but most people seem to be French. Northern Europe usually comes pouring down with their surfboards and camping cars, but maybe this year they’ll resist the lure of the surf. It’s frankly not a good year for border-hopping. The virus has been round the world once from east to west, and seems to be setting out for a second circuit. Russia and Brazil and the United States are experiencing thousands of new cases a day. In Europe, we’re enjoying our little holiday bubble – for the time being. St. Jean de Luz has fireworks every year for the Quatorze Juillet. This year they’ve been cancelled. Rendez-vous in 2021.