Legendary pelota player bids farewell to game

On June 24, in the Labrit fronton or pelota court in Pamplona-Iruñea, Navarre, one of the greatest pelota players of all time, Juan Martinez de Irujo, made an emotional farewell to the sport. Born in 1981 in Ibero, Navarre, he debuted in the professional game in 2003 and went on to win five individual championships in the handball variety, the blue ribbon event in modern pelota. In 2016, however, he announced his temporary retirement from the sport (a decision later confirmed as permanent) due to heart issues.

On Saturday, Irujo was only in attendance, not taking part in a game, but following the completion of the games taking place, he went down to the court dressed in his archetypal pelotari uniform and accompanied by his daughter to receive the warm applause of all those gathered, spectators that included Uxue Barkos (President of the Navarrese Government) and Joseba Asiron (mayor of Pamplona-Iruñea).

Check out this report (in Spanish) and accompanying video of the afternoon’s events.

*Image by bedaio3000, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

 

June 23, 1448: The Burning of Arrasate-Mondragón

On June 23, 1448 an infamous conflict–the Burning of Arradsate-Mondragón–took place in Gipuzkoa. In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries the Basque Country was the setting for what came to be known as the factional struggles or wars. In the words of Gregorio Monreal Zia, in The Old Law of Bizkaia (1452) (p. 36):

Among the Basques, as elsewhere in Europe, the Late Middle Ages witnessed violent social confrontations. In the Basque case, initially, it was a conflict between the leaders of lineages (the great traditional lineages–not unlike Scottish clans–were primarily based in the rural districts) and subsequently a rural aristocracy with the inhabitants of the recently-founded urban nuclei or villas.

The two main factions were the Gamboinos (incorporating the families Gamboa, Guevara, Balda, Olaso, Abendaño, Salazar, Ayala, Leguizamones, and allies) and the Oñacinos (made up of the families Oñaz, Mendoza, Lazcano, Mújica, Butrón, Calleja, Zurbarán, and allies).

Like other areas of the Basque Country the town of Arrasate-Mondragón was divided across these factional lines with the Bañez family part of the Gamboinos and the Guraia family belonging to the Oñacinos. In the mid-fifteenth century the town was, in fact, clearly divided between these two factions, with two mayors and two governing councils. On June 23, 1448, in an attempt to take control of the whole town, the Bañez family (with the help of forces loyal to the jauntxo or squire of nearby Oñati) invaded the Guraia neighborhood. Th Guraia family immediately enlisted its own support from Bizkaian allies and managed to repel the attack.  But the incident did not end there. The Oñacinos regrouped and tried once more. However, seeing the impossibility of their objective they instead decided to raze the town to the ground, with the ensuing fire leaving just two houses standing.

The ruling monarch at the time, Juan II of Castile and León, was so incensed by these events that he exiled those behind the plan, eventually forcing the families to sign a peace treaty.

*Image: La pacificación de los bandos en el banco de Vizcaya de la Plaza de España de Sevilla, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

 

 

The Bilbao connection of Rafael Padilla, the first major black entertainer in France

Thanks to Iñaki Azkarraga, a friend of the Center and authority on all things Bilbao, we recently came across the remarkable story of Rafael Padilla, who, under the stage name Chocolat, was the first major black entertainer in France.

Padilla was born into slavery in Cuba in 1868 and raised in the slums of Havana. He was “purchased” for 18 ounces of gold by businessman Patricio Castaño Capetillo, declared a “servant” to circumvent the newly introduced slavery abolition laws, and brought to Sopuerta, Bizkaia to do menial chores for the family. However, he managed to escape this environment in his early adolescence and found work (and freedom) in several of the many Basque quarries around Bilbao, before moving into the heart of the city itself to work in the docks in the early 1880s.  It was in Bilbao that he met Tony Grice, a traveling English clown, who, noting his strength and dexterity, hired him as an assistant and domestic servant, and out of this connection he gradually entered the entertainment world, acting as a stuntman in Grice’s act. Indeed, it was Grice who gave him the stage name Chocolat, and the duo found fame in the vibrant circus industry in France. Later, Padilla teamed up with another British clown, George Foottit, to form one of the most famous slapstick acts in France at the turn of the century; gaining great renown, he was filmed by the pioneering Lumière brothers and painted by Toulouse-Latrec (see video report below). The duo split up in 1910 and Padilla subsequently died in 1917.

For more information, see the Wikipedia article on his life here. And check out this report by Basque public television (in Spanish).

In 2016 a French movie was released about his life, titled Chocolat.

The main sponsor of the above plaque, which can be found on the Bilbao waterfront, on the Martzana Dock, near the San Anton Bridge, was Jesús Ahedo, who runs the Kalao gallery specializing in African art.

*Image of Chocolat courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

Summer fun in the Basque Country

For those of you living in the Basque Country, Eresbil–the National Archive of Basque Music in Errenteria (Gipuzkoa)–has put together a map and website of upcoming music and dance festivals celebrated across Euskal Herria.

Here’s a bit of information about the organization itself, from its website:

ERESBIL comes forth in 1974 as a result of the repertoire needs for programming MUSIKASTE, a week’s festival devoted to the diffusion of works by Basque composers in the town of Errenteria. The initiative for creating a centre, which would gather the works to be spread by the above mentioned festival, is born by the hand of José Luis Ansorena in the bosom of the Choir Andra Mari, the organiser of MUSIKASTE since 1973. During that same year 1974 began the compilation of scores created by Basque composers throughout the time. The first list of composers, comprising up to 300 names, is made up in September. On 31st December 2008, ERESBIL had already identified 1.775 authors as Basque-navarraise composers.

Be sure to check out the concerts, which kick off on Thursday in Urkizu, near Tolosa, with the group Et Incarnatus to celebrate the summer solstice. To learn more, be sure to read “Eresbil publishes a guide and map of music and dance festivals for summer 2017 in the Basque Country online” by Euskal Kultura.

Winnemucca Euskaldunak Danak Bat Basque Club Scholarship 2017

39th Annual Basque Festival in Winnemucca

While looking through the program for the Winnemucca 2017 Basque Festival, I discovered that the Euskaldunak Danak Bat Basque Club has a yearly scholarship for graduating seniors, going back to 1981. This year, the sisters Tiana Marie and Amaya Michon Herrera have received the award for their studies at UNR. We look forward to a visit from them to the center! Here’s a bit of information on the ahizpak from the program:

Photos from the Festival Program

Tiana Marie Herrera and Amaya Michon Herrera have been dancing with the Winnemucca Irrintzi Dancers since they were three. They have thoroughly enjoyed each and every year of dancing and hope to continue dancing in the years to come at the University of Nevada, Reno. They have enjoyed all of the people that are involved with the Winnemucca Club–their instructors, everyone who has been at a festival or a Christmas Party or a Summer Picnic. They have really enjoyed working with the younger kids on different dances. They will both be attending UNR in the fall, Amaya will be majoring in History and Tiana will be majoring in Elementary Education and hope to pursue a master’s degree in Counseling. Tiana and Amaya are extremely grateful for this scholarship and all of the support they have received from so many people involved with the Winnemucca Euskaldunak Danak Bat.

Zorionak, neskak!

 

 

Lagunak Tour

Today, a small group of Basque-Americans will leave to the Basque Country to reconnect with their roots. I recently spoke to Florence Larraneta Frye, who organizes the Basque Women’s Luncheon I wrote about a few months back, about the trip.  Each laguna (friend) first had a family tree put together by Lisa Corcostegui (check out her website), and the itinerary was then designed around it. They will travel to their ancestral homes to visit their roots from the source. As Frye noted, “They see, and know they are indeed Basque, with pride that they can validate.”
The tour itself is composed of all things Basque, flexible within the 10 days they’ll be abroad on this intensely personal trip. Frye commented on the initiative:
As our Lagunak luncheon grew in size, it was not surprising to me that I realized how comfortable and bonded these women were–almost like joining a family reunion of relatives for the first time.  The noise and chatter was deafening, a Basque tradition I remember always, when Basques meet Basques!

I also sadly noticed some women feel only slightly Basque and not worthy to even to come to our luncheon as they are, say, 1/8th Basque… but all women of Basque decent are welcome to our luncheon.  We have name tags, they write their names, and also their Basque names, they always know that, and feel a great sense of pride for their Basque (grandfather, etc) name. We are a very proud culture, our blood line is diluting, and will be more so as time goes on…this diaspora is “falling between the cracks.”

What a life changing gift for many that only felt Basque because someone told them, now they have a picture in their minds and know they are indeed Basque. This first tour will be an experiment of what we will change in the future for our ladies.  My friends from Euskadi make me feel like I belong, and I hope to accomplish this for my lagunak.

We look forward to hearing more about the trip. Sorte eta bidaia on!

 

June 14, 1959: Famous Basque woodchopper Latasa achieves major feat

Ramon Latasa Elizondo (1930-1991)

On June 14, 1959, in Lekeitio, Bizkaia, the renowned Basque aizkolari (woodchopper) Ramon Latasa achieved one of his most memorable feats: that day, on the basis of major betting on the outcome, he cut through the trunk of a Eucalyptus tree with a girth of just under 17 feet (!) within 4 hours; specifically, in 3 hours and 17 minutes, and with 5,259 ax blows.

 

Ramon Latasa Elizondo was born on the Aguria baserri in Sunbilla, Nafarroa, in 1930 into a poor family. At age 17 he began working in the logging industry, gaining special fame among his coworkers for his woodchopping prowess. His most famous feat took place on April 26, 1959, when he won a legendary challenge in competition with Luxia (Juan Jose Narbaiza Ibarbia), from Azkoitia, Gipuzkoa.  In this “challenge of the century” (as it was termed at the time), the humble woodchopper from Sunbilla finished a whopping 5 minutes before his rival, leaving onlookers stunned at the feat.  Latasa continued taking part in thee challenges through the 1960s and even into the 1970s, retiring at age 47. Remembered by many as the greatest aizkolari of all time, he died in 1991.

New exhibition celebrates Alfred Hitchcock’s 1958 visit to the Basque Country

We’ve already discussed in a previous post how a lot of Hollywood royalty, like Charlie Chaplin for example, spent time in the Basque Country (and we’ve still to tell the tale of Ava Gardner and Errol Flynn’s time there…but for that, watch this space!). Now it has come to our attention that the Didam art gallery in Baiona recently premiered an exhibition (running through September 3) celebrating Alfred Hitchcock’s 1958 visit to promote the movie Vertigo at the Donostia-San Sebastián international film festival that year.

Hitchcock in the Basque Country, from the Bayonne website.

After arriving at Biarritz airport, “Hitch” and his wife, Alma Reville, spent four and a half days taking in the sights of Donostia and Pasai Donibane in Hegoalde (dining in the famous Camara restaurant in the latter) as well as Hendaia, Biarritz, and Baiona in Iparralde, all accompanied, perhaps not unsurprisingly given that this was a promotional visit, by numerous (and prolific) photographers. The exhibition curator, photographer Pedro Usabiaga, researched the project for five years, checking out different archives and sources. Some of the photos, such as Hitchcock posing in the pulpit of Baiona Cathedral, reveal a playful side to the master of suspense but would most likely have been banned from appearing in any publication in Franco’s Spain at the time.

Read the exhibition program (and see some of the pictures) here.

See a report on the exhibition (in French) in Sud-Ouest here.

Winnemucca Basque Festival

Continuing on our summer Basque Festival tour of the West, some of us at the CBS and Jon Bilbao Basque Library had the chance to visit Winnemucca and attend its 39th Annual Basque Festival. Once again, we got up early (but thankfully not as early as the weekend before) and set off east toward Winnemucca. On the way there, we had a lovely breakfast in Lovelock!

Cowpoke Cafe in Lovelock

Mmm…breakfast

Once in Winnemucca, we watched the Basque Festival Parade. Many of the dance groups and clubs had floats parade down Winnemucca Blvd. The local fire and police department were also present. It seemed as if all of the town had gone out to watch the parade, and the children were giddy with excitement over the candy being thrown to them from all of the participants.

Parade

More parading!

Next up, we headed to the convention center. Right outside, on the Nixon Lawn, festival goers had set up for the picnic, and everywhere you looked, you could see young boys and girls dressed in their traditional outfits ready to have fun.

Txiki dancers

Inside the convention center, everyone was buying tickets for the lunch and merriment. The Boise Basque Museum had set up a table with various gift items and souvenirs. Our Basque Books Editor was also present with a display of our many publications and eager buyers.

Inside the Convention Center

Our Basque Books Editor!

Before the eating began, the national anthems were sung and dance performances kicked off the event. Throughout the day, various groups danced and competitions were held. Among them, dance-offs and weight lifting competitions. A professional wood chopping display was the highlight for me. Stephanie Braña did a great job! To learn more about her, see the following article in Euskal Kazeta.

Dantzaris

Wood-chopping

Lunch was delicious! We had salad, beans, lamb stew, and steak, accompanied by wine and bread. Hats off to the cooks! We then had the chance to watch more performances but left before the concerts began. Too bad we couldn’t stick around!

Lunch!

Once again, these Basque festivals and picnics do not disappoint! Not only was it a lovely day in the sun, but we were surrounded by fun people and entertainment. Can’t wait till the next one!

Nothing like the Nevada views

Photo credits: Edurne Arostegui, Iñaki Arrieta-Baro, and Irati Urkitza.

An update from Irati Urkitza, our Basque Library Intern

We here at the blog have decided to check up on Irati Urkitza, who you may have read about in a previous post. The following is an update from the Algortarra, who we are happy to have here at the Jon Bilbao Basque Library and at the Center for Basque Studies. She is doing a tremendous amount of work in the archive and it’s a pleasure seeing her every day.

Five months have passed since I landed in Reno and I couldn’t be happier! First off, this is my first experience related to working in archives so I had a lot to learn. When I arrived, I had the opportunity to familiarize myself with the archives and the materials in them. I couldn’t believe how interesting they are. I’ve found all kinds of documents, some dealing with exile, others with the first sheepherders in the West as well as boardinghouses, and the personal stories behind all of them. On example is the story of the migrant to Colombia “El Cojo” Gómez, who happened to be from my hometown, Algorta. He was a “good” smuggler in the sense that he told on “bad” people, even though he was murdered in retaliation for having killed three men. This is just one of the many stories hidden in the archives of the Jon Bilbao Basque Library.

After the process of getting to know the materials, I received training from the library staff in various programs that I’ve been using to catalog archival documents. I think it’s wonderful that they spend time teaching new interns not just how to use the programs but also helping us throughout the way. I still have questions sometimes, but I think I’ve learned quite a bit.

One of the tasks I carry out here besides cataloging is working at the library by attending to visitors and students. It is also my first time working with the public in this way, and I think I’ve improved a lot since I first sat in front of the main desk. Most of the people who come are interested in learning what we do at this library as well as Basque culture and history. Others come because of their interest in their backgrounds, thinking they may have Basque ancestors. We also get a lot of students because our library is quieter than the main library.

We currently have a window exhibit on the bombing of Gernika that I helped to put together. Not only did I record one of the testimonies, that of Mercedes Irala, but I also helped to translate the texts and edit the video on display. The Gernika exhibit is just a small homage to this historic event, but I think it’s important for the diaspora to remember the events that marked our grandparent’s generation.

For now, I’m continuing to discover new treasures that were forgotten in the many boxes that comprise the archive. I’m trying to figure out what it is we have exactly and see if we can create new collections for cataloging. As you can see, I’m working hard and enjoying every minute of it.

Besides working at the library, I’ve had the chance to get to know Reno as well as its surroundings and people. For example, I spent a wonderful weekend at Black Rock Desert for the rendezvous organized by Friends of the Nevada Wilderness and Friends of BRD. I also had the chance to attend the Basque Picnic in Petaluma (CA), which was a way for me to take part in the Basque-American experience. I look forward to traveling more across the West.

Before I end this post, I just wanted to thank everyone at the Basque Library and in the Main Library for giving me this opportunity, especially Iñaki Arrieta-Baro, the Basque librarian, who has to deal with me every day and answer all of my questions. Mila esker!

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