Month: August 2015 (page 1 of 2)

Discover the Basque Country: The Sara Caves

For those of you who may be lucky enough to get to visit the Basque Country sometime, we thought we’d share a few of our favorite places with you.


Entrance to the Sara Caves. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

The Basque Country abounds with caves that point to the prehistoric origins of modern Europeans. One of the best prepared cave complexes for visitors lies just outside the beautiful and historic village of Sara (itself well worth a visit) in Lapurdi. The Sara Caves are a actually a complex of different cavities, and there are guided visits to the Lezea Cave, inside Mount Atxuria. Onsite, there is also a free museum highlighting human evolution in the area and a megalithic park in which visitors can see reconstructions of monuments dating back to the  Neolithic Age (4000 to 2500 BCE).


Jose Miguel de Barandiaran. Photo by Jesus Mari Arzuaga, Oñati City Hall, via Wikimedia Commons

Visitors to the caves (whether in person or just online) will also note the importance of Jose Miguel de Barandiaran. His figure adorns the website, and the guided tour of Lezea Cave is actually dedicated to his memory. Barandiaran (1889-1991) was a pioneering ethnographer who did much to establish the discipline of Basque anthropology and lived to the age of 101. Caves and dolmen excavation were a central feature of his academic work but he also recorded the legends, and superstitions of the Basque people. Although from Ataun (Gipuzkoa), he spent 13 years in exile in Sara during the initial period of the Franco dictatorship, and felt a great attachment to the area.

The diverse nature of Barandiaran’s research, with a biographical introduction by Jesús Altuna, can be seen in Selected Writings of José Miguel de Barandiarán: Basque Prehistory and Ethnography. This is a wonderful collection of articles on a wide range of topics from magic to hunting and includes surveys of the various stages of prehistoric human settlement in the Basque Country.

Flashback Friday: No Escape

On August 28, 1937, Joseba Elosegi (1915-1990), a captain in the Basque Army, and other Basque soldiers –-or gudariak–- were imprisoned in the Francoist camp of Castro Urdiales, in Cantabria (Spain). After the war ended in the Basque Country in the victory of Francisco Franco’s army, a considerable body of Basque nationalist troops escaped westward to Cantabria. On August 24, 1937, they were arrested there in Santoña by the Italian Fascist division, the Black Arrows, which was aiding Franco’s army. The Basque Army surrendered to the Italian militia and they signed an agreement, commonly known as the Pact of Santoña. Among other things, the agreement would have allowed all the Basque authorities in Cantabria at that time to leave Spain. Thereafter, however, when Franco received word of this pact, he dismissed the agreement and ordered the immediate imprisonment of the Basques. These Basque prisoners were then moved to El Dueso prison in Santoña.


El Dueso prison in the 1940s

Every Friday we look into our Basque archives for interesting historic events that happened on the same day.

Related reading

War, Exile, Justice, and Everyday Life, 1936-1946, edited by Sandra Ott, is a collection of articles that examine the impact of war, occupation, and exile on ordinary Europeans in the conflicts that engulfed the continent between 1936 and 1946. Many of these articles focus especially on the Basque experience during this tumultuous decade. The book is also available free to download here.

The events described in the post are also discussed in detail in Cameron Watson’s Basque Nationalism and Political Violence: The Ideological and Intellectual Origins of ETA.

Interview with visiting professor Asier Barandiaran from the University of the Basque Country


Asier who came through USAC, is a professor in the University of the Basque Country ( Irakasleen Unibertsitate Eskolan, Hizkuntza eta Literaturaren Didaktika departamentuan). He is also  part of  Basque literature research group, LAIDA coordinated by Jon Kortazar.

  • What brings you to the Center for Basque Studies?

What brings me here is the good work atmosphere that reigns in the Center for Basque Studies and the spirit of collaboration among scholars in order to do research about anything related with the Basque culture. The CBS is a great plataform within the American culture where dialogue and reflection about contact between cultures can be conctucted and it is a pleasuer to take advantage of it


  • Can you tell us what the goal of the project is?


My aim is to conduct research into the diaspora (Basque emigration is an alternative term) in Basque literature (written in Basque) in order to assess its weight and importance within this literature, as well as analysing what resources, strategies and trends can be seen in its development.

The fact of the diaspora is a fundamental part of Basque culture, but it does not seem to find so much of an echo in the European Basque Country in defining Basque culture. Probably because of this, nor has it been strongly reflected in Basque literature. That is why problably now it is time to pay attention to this topic in Basque Literature in order to become more aware of this important aspect of our culture.

I woul also like to make comparisons with other cultures such as the Irish Diaspora in Literature.



  • Would you say that this research, is quite unique?

The Basque migration or diaspora has been considered from different points of view and its importance has been recognised: the historical, social, cultural and economic angles have been taken into account. However, literature is without a doubt one of the ways human beings have of constructing our individual or collective identity. This way (of approaching the diaspora) has not been extensively pursued in Basque culture in respect of literature, and we hope that both writers and arts administrators will become aware of it so that they can take the literary aspect of such an important part of our reality into consideration, and so strengthen links between the different Basque diasporas in the world.


  • What have you accomplished since you arrived?

I accomplished providing a context of other Basques literatures (written in Spanish or in Englis) to the Basque literature (written in Basque) when it comes to deal with the diaspora (as a topic, as an literary element…). I have also now a clearer map of the course of action in the following months thanks to the many resouces and references that I could find at the Basque Library.

The recent conctact with some Basque oral Poets has given me a new insight about how they see their art and how they see their role in the Basque diaspora.


  • Are you enjoying the U.S.?


Yes I am. This is a special opportunity to learn more about different cultures and different ways of life and I feel very grateful for the help and opportunities given by people living here in order to become my staying more fruitful and enjoyable.



David Romtvedt reads from Zelestina in Outer Space

Wednesday, August 26: David Romtvedt will read from his latest novel, Zelestina Urza in Outer Space. at Cody Library, Wyoming.


Romtvedt, who is an accomplished accordion player, will be joined by his daughter violinist Caitlin Belem. They will perform Basque music following the reading today. The free program starts at 6:30 p.m. Click here for more information about the event.

In the novel, Romtvedt tells an absorbing tale about a Basque woman from Iparralde who settles in a small Wyoming town. The life of Zelestina Urza intertwines with that of Yellow Bird Daughter, a dispossessed Cheyenne Arapaho. The plain-speaking, at times argumentative narrator who reconstructs their story takes the reader on a journey from Zelestine’s birthplace in Arnegi to the far reaches of the American West. In an engaging conversation with the reader, the narrator poses many questions about life, death, and the after-life and explores the human experience through a multi-ethnic lens with a Basque focus.

“Like his music, Romtvedt’s novel is full of magical invention, driving emotion, and sustained notes of grace–an intimate and adventurous journey defined by dislocation, violence, and redemption.”  –Kim Barnes, author of In the Kingdom of Men.

Free-to-view documentary about contemporary Northern Basque Country

Anyone interested in the reality of the present-day Northern Basque Country should check out the free-to-view documentary Iparraldea XX1, which looks into several aspects of contemporary culture in the region including music, dance, and surfing. The documentary, in Basque and French with English subtitles, was produced on the initiative of the Basque Cultural Institute and can be viewed here.


Surfing in Biarritz, Lapurdi. Photo by Gaël LE HIR, via Wikimedia Commons

If you’re interested in the history and culture of the Northern Basque Country, Igor Ahedo Gurrutxaga’s The Transformation of National Identity in the Basque Country of France, 1789-2006 is a fascinating survey of how national loyalties and identities, that primary sense of belonging people feel to a particular community, have changed over time in Iparralde. Specifically, he charts the resurgence of a new kind of Basque identity with the dawn of the new millennium.

On Iparralde, see also CBS Co-Director Sandra Ott’s The Circle of Mountains: A Basque Shepherding Community and War, Judgment, and Memory in the Basque Borderlands, 1914-1945, as well as Hills of Conflict: Basque Nationalism in France, by James E. Jacob.

Discover the Basque Country: The Basque Coast Geopark

For those of you who may be lucky enough to get to visit the Basque Country sometime, we thought we’d share a few of our favorite places with you.


The flysch formation on the coast of Zumaia revealing different eras of geological development through time. Photo by Jean Michel Etchecolonea, via Wikimedia Commons

Geoparks are areas that are committed to a strategy for sustainable development based on their natural and cultural values. The Basque Coast Geopark is the first of its kind in the Basque Country and seeks to promote both the natural and cultural environment of the coastal area linking the towns of Zumaia, Deba, and Mutriku, all in Gipuzkoa.

This particular part of the Basque coast offers a world famous example of the flysch formation: a sequence of successive rock strata uncovered as a result of erosion by wave action. These flysch strata thus reveal an entire span of geological development stretching back some 60 million years (from about 110 to 50 million years ago). In short, this is a stunning visual record of the earth’s development. This area is likewise known for its karst landscape – a topography formed by the eroded limestone of an ancient tropical sea. This erosion led to the formation of caves that also bear witness to very early human habitation.

The Basque Coast Geopark is an example of new ways of thinking about tourism and how we can interact with rather than harm nature. If you’re interested in these issues, check out Sustainable Development, Ecological Complexity, and Environmental Values, edited by Ignacio Ayestarán and Miren Onaindia. Here you’ll find a collection of articles that address environmental questions from a Basque perspective including, for example, an evaluation of millennium ecosystems from the Basque Country, the environmental value of the karstic landscape of the Urdaibai Biosphere Reserve, Basque forest systems, and the social values and sustainable practices of Basque inshore fishermen.

Flashback Friday: The Desolation of Bilbao

On August 21, 1808, early in the morning, Jose de Mazarredo y Salazar (1745-1812), a Basque naval commander, arrived at the city of Bilbao (Bizkaia). Immediately after his arrival, he wrote a letter to the French general Antoine Christophe Merlin, in which he asked diplomatically to move the foreign military forces away from the city. Some days earlier, on August 16, the French army had occupied Bilbao, plundering and pillaging the local population, in response to a Basque military rebellion against Napoleon Bonaparte’s rule. Mazarredo was profoundly affected by what the French occupiers did to his place of birth and its people. Finally, on September 19, the French troops were expelled from the city of Bilbao. Months before this event, Napoleon aimed to make his brother, Jose, King of Spain, after the aspirants to the crown, both Carlos IV and his son Fernando VII, had renounced royalty in favor of Napoleon Bonaparte. Napoleon’s incursion into the Iberian Peninsula, as part of his desire to realize his expansionist ambition all over Europe, initiated another international war that lasted until 1814.


Portrait of Jose de Mazarredo y Salazar (1745-1812)

Every Friday we look into our Basque archives for interesting historic events that happened on the same day

Ismael Manterola Ispizua from the University of the Basque Country visits the CBS


Ismael Manterola Ispizua, art history professor at the EHU/UPV

What brings you to the Center for Basque Studies Ismael?

A couple of years ago I presented my project to obtain the Douglass Scholarship. It was a project I had in mind since then.  In fact I decided to publish a book. In recent years I made some progress on the book so I decided that it would be a good idea to consult the Basque Library and applied for USAC scholarship.

Can you tell us what the goal of the project is?

My aim is to finish the book I am writing. The book is about the transmission of values in the twentieth-century art in the Basque Country. I think there are certain values that artists transmitted throughout the twentieth century, from the modern project of the early twentieth-century to the end of the 90s (values like the trend associations, thinking about identity, the link between art and ethical positions, etc.). Basically, it is the research of a kind of an intergenerational continuity or continuities in Basque contemporary art.

What have you accomplished since you arrived?

I am working very hard and I managed to finish some chapters due the rhythm of work you have in the library. In my opinion it is a good place to work. You can work for 8 straight hours at a time and you have all the books you need to hand.

Are you enjoying the U.S.?

Yes, a lot. I am discovering different aspects of American life very quickly. In addition I am in a USAC program and they organize lot of activities to get to know the country better, especially the cultural life you have here. Besides this, summer in Reno is exciting with an interesting cultural program in different places, but especially in downtown: music, art, cinema…

Talking Txakoli, with sommelier Mikel Garaizabal

What are the chances that Jaialdi-one of the largest Basque festivals in the world and celebrated only once every five years-would take place the summer after I start my studies at the CBS in Reno?!

Thanks to a couple of acquaintances and friends of friends, I was able to get in touch with sommelier Mikel Garaizabal at Jaialdi. As someone who has worked in the wine industry and has been studying for the CSW (Certified Specialist of Wine exam) it was quite an honor to meet this man who is also an enologist at Mendraka winery (website in progress) making txakolina, expert in working with Tourism and Hospitality,  and an author of four books, one of my favorites-the award-winning Txakoli de Bizkaia. El Viaje (Txakoli of Bizkaia: The Journey). Mikel graciously made time for our interview despite his busy schedule, and displayed his enthusiasm as he shared his knowledge of wine and travel.  Over the course of the interview, we talked about the history of Txakoli, and a bit about similar wines made in Chile that are remnants of the Basque diaspora.  For more information on Mikel Garaizabal check out his website and video below. (In Spanish and Euskera) (In Spanish)


Can worker cooperatives alleviate income inequality? A1.2 million dollar investment from the New York City government is the latest boost to Cooperatives




Cooperative models as a post-crisis development have gained popularity, as seen in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in 2008 as well as during the 2008 financial crash.  The resilience of the cooperative business model in such times of crisis has attracted the New York City government to invest as much as $1.2 million in developing worker cooperatives in the city. Indeed, it is the largest investment ever made by a city government in the cooperative movement.  Yet doubt still exists regarding the real impacts of cooperatives within the context of the larger national economy.

Cooperatives have been one of the most successful solutions to tackle popularly publicized inequality issue in many urban areas. The pay ratio between the highest and lowest workers in cooperatives is between 3 to 1; in contrast, in traditional corporations the ratio can go as much as 600 to 1. Without the middlemen or placement fee, cooperatives can also provide decent incomes for their members. In many mega metropolitan regions like New York, where many of the low income citizens are freelance, self-employed, or temporary, a workers cooperative is a feasible solution. La Mies Bakery in New York, for example, where workers own and manage the company, has created decent stable jobs for 18 workers.  In the United States there are 233 worker cooperatives, yet this is a low number in comparison to non-cooperative businesses in the country. As the United States continuously deindustrializes its economy, cooperatives should expand their impact on the larger national economy, thereby creating more jobs for those impacted by industrialization.

In order to expand their impact, cooperatives should go beyond their traditional boundaries in the area of anti-poverty and income inequality programs. Instead, cooperatives should evolve and embrace modernization and transform into an alternative management practice model in the production of goods and services. That way, the democratic ethos and spirit in their organization can catch on and change the broader national economy.

For further reading please visit

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