Month: January 2016 (page 2 of 2)

Morning on Urgull

Photo Dec 11, 8 51 37 AM

Monte Urgull in the morning light from La Concha

During my recent trip to the Basque Country to take part in the Durango Book Fair and attend to other CBS books business, I awoke early on one of my mornings in Donostia-San Sebastián, and with no meeting until 1:00 pm decided to go for a walk along the seawall of La Concha, up through the cobblestoned streets of the Old Town, and up Monte Urgull, the old city fortress turned into city park. It’s not the first time that I have climbed up the mountain’s paths, criss-crossing among heavy stone walls, old barracks and artillery battery sites, and usually populated by a variety of tourists and regular city users with their dogs or their children or their running shoes pounding the pavement.

Photo Dec 11, 10 59 59 AM

High above looking through the turrets on the city below

This morning was a bit different though. It being pretty early (not that early, but Donostia-San Sebastián does not seem to be a city that moves quickly in the morning), there was no one at all around and I was alone to the climb up through the walls and ramparts and among the old cannons all the way to the base of the giant statue of Jesus on the hill’s summit.


Photo Dec 11, 11 13 58 AM

As I walked up I realized something else, aside from the beauty and stillness of the morning. Without the usual clamor of residents and tourists it became much easier to imagine this place as it had once been—an important castle and contested point for armies fighting back and forth across the northern Iberian Peninsula. In 1813, for example, the Allied (mainly British and Portuguese) forces besieged the castle and the city as they forced Napoleon’s armies out of the Iberian Peninsula. In the course of this siege, the walls were breached and the city was burned and up to 1,000 city residents killed (of course, mostly innocent civilians suffering the horrors to war, this number is as most numbers are probably contested, via Wikipedia, The Siege of San Sebastian). The French, meanwhile, shut up on the hill’s formidable castle, were able to surrender with honors and the officers allowed to keep their swords.

Photo Dec 11, 10 58 37 AM

Among the old cannons and looking over the ramparts at the top at the city shining below it was easy to imagine the horrors of war, women and children running to and fro bearing water and running errands, peasants carrying the heavy loads, liveried artillerymen sighting and shooting over the burning city below, officers commanding with pomp and circumstance.

Photo Dec 11, 11 05 34 AM

Then, of course, a man with his dog arrived, the dog sniffing around the the cannons didn’t care anything about this history, and then below, an older group walking across a sunny glade pointing out the sights below and the place became what it really is now again, a city park.

If you’re interested in the history of the Basque Country since the Napoleonic Wars mentioned above, check out Cameron J. Watson’s Modern Basque History.

Donostia-San Sebastián: European Capital of Culture 2016

European Capital of Culture is a title awarded to a city or cities in the European Union in order to showcase that city during a specific calendar year. After receiving the award, the place in question then organizes a series of cultural events throughout the year to both promote the city itself and European culture more generally. In 2016 Donostia-San Sebastián will be the European Capital of Culture.


Donostia, the city by the sea. Photo by Mikel Arrazola, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

As a result, the city has organized numerous events to coincide with this prestigious title, and here at the Center we will be following these developments with close interest. If you’re planning a trip to the Basque Country (or even elsewhere in Europe) in 2016, don’t forget that Donostia-San Sebastián will be one of the main hot spots to visit in Europe this coming year…

For more information about Donostia-San Sebastián as European Capital of Culture in 2016 (abbreviated to DSS2016) click here.

See also a report by The Guardian on DSS2016 here.

For general tourism information click here.

Check out, too, the video here from our good friends at USAC (the University Studies Abroad Consortium) about US college students who have spent time in Donostia-San Sebastián on the USAC program there.

Maskarada season begins in Zuberoa

The Maskarada–wild carnivalesque outdoor public theater combining song and dance and performed by regular people all from the same community–kicked off on Sunday, January 10 in the Basque province of Zuberoa (also known as Xiberoa).  This year, residents of the village of Sohüta-Hoki (Chéraute-Hoquy) will be performing the Maskarada all over Zuberoa, over a series of Sundays, between January 10 and April 10.

The Maskarada performance follows an established pattern, with performers representing different characters that are defined as either “Reds” or “Blacks.” The Reds include characters like zamaltzaina (the hobbyhorse) and the marexalak (blacksmiths) while the Blacks include buhame jauna (the gypsy king) and pitxu (the fox). The Reds are well behaved, formal, and elegant, performing specific dances and songs, but the Blacks move in a wilder, untamed, and more spontaneous way, grunting and shouting in joyful abandon. The Reds, then, support the central narrative of the performance; they give meaning to the story, while the Blacks attempt to subvert and undermine that meaning. The video below, shot in Atharratze (Tardets) in 2013, shows the introductory sequence of the Maskarada: the breaking of the barrikada (barricade) and introduction of the principal characters, with the Reds first and then the Blacks.

The following video, meanwhile, also shot in Atharratze (though this time in 2014), shows several sequences and demonstrates just how much this performance is rooted in these local communities. Note how close audience and performers are, the very public outdoor setting, and the unaffected nature of the performance (as well as the famous godalet dantza, the wine glass dance, from approximately 9m 25s onward).

This is not for the faint hearted! It involves bawdy renditions and representations, most of which are intended to cast a critical eye on anyone with pretenses to “authority.”  It is, without doubt, one of the most unique and beguiling events on the Basque cultural calendar, as well as being a living, breathing testament to the persistence of strong community values in the culturally rich province of Zuberoa. The Maskarada is folk theater in its most popular form, with people spending months rehearsing and performing as a means of cementing community ties and maintaining their language and culture.

For general information from the Basque Cultural Institute on the Maskarada click here.

If you’re interested in this topic, check out “The Folk Arts of the Maskarada Performance” by Kepa Fernandez de Larrinoa, a chapter in Voicing the Moment: Improvised Oral Poetry and Basque Tradition, edited by Samuel G. Armistead and Joseba Zulaika.

For Fernandez de Larrinoa, the Maskarada represents much more than just a “dance-event”–the term most commonly used to describe this performance in most studies of the phenomenon that tend to focus on its dance aspects. He sees it as more a kind of “storytelling-event” more broadly speaking, interpreting the Maskarada in the wider terms of a folk performance combining music, dance, song, spoken word, free movement, carnivalesque performance, playfulness, subversion, and so on.

Shop for the book here or download it for free here.

Center Course Offerings for Spring Term, 2016


Professor Sandy Ott teaches students at the Center. The Center offers a diverse set of classes on different subjects relating to Basque Studies.


The Center for Basque Studies will be offering five classes for the 2016 Spring semester. Come seize this opportunity with us and enjoy learning the language, culture, and history of a rich region!

Elementary Basque II (BASQ 102)

Monday — Thursday 10:00—10:50

Kate Camino

(4 units)

Introduction to the language through the development of written and conversational language skills and through structural analysis. Emphasis on Unified Basque but includes an introduction to the dialects. NOTE: Course also offered online through Independent Learning (call 775-784-4652).


Second-year Basque II (BASQ 204)

Tuesdays & Thursdays 11:00—12:15

Kate Camino

(3 units)

Structural review, conversation and writing. Includes further work with the unique structure of the Basque verb and system of suffixes. Completion of BASQ 204 satisfies the College of Liberal Arts foreign language requirement.

Prerequisite(s): BASQ 203.


Basque Cultural Studies (BASQ 220)

Tuesdays & Thursdays 2:30—3:45

Joseba Zulaika

(3 units)

Examines the representations of Basques worldwide in the media, the arts, scholarship, international politics and the Internet. (Diversity course.)


Identity Across Borders (BASQ 378)

Wednesdays 4:00—6:45

Xabier Irujo

(3 units)

Theories of globalization, social identity, diaspora foreign policy, identity construction, and nationalism are utilized to compare Basque individual and institutionalized ethnicity in the United States. (Diversity course.)


War, Occupation, and Memory (BASQ 477/677)

Tuesdays & Thursdays 11:00—12:15

Sandra Ott

(3 units)

The experiences of Basque resisters, evaders, collaborators, and Jewish refugees in World War II in the French Basque Country provide the focus for discussions about history, memory and anthropology. (General Capstone course.)

Prerequisite(s): CH 201 or CH 202 or CH 203; ENG 102 ; junior or senior standing.

Zelestina Urza in Outer Space Earns Rave Review in Foreword

foreword review

David Romtvedt’s novel Zelestina Urza in Outer Space reviewed in Foreword, “But underneath all of the playfulness, the novel reveals a deep heart.”

We were very excited and proud to see the review that our novel Zelestina Urza in Outer Space, by David Romtvedt, received in the widely circulated book review journal Foreword. The reviews calls Romtvedt, “an enchanting natural storyteller, with a light touch and a wry sense of humor” and calls the novel “wildly imaginative.”

Zorionak David on such a great review.

If you haven’t gotten a copy yet, you should!  Shop for it here.

CBS author Koldo Zuazo interviewed in Berria

CBS author Koldo Zuazo was interviewed in Berria on January 5 about the current state of Basque dialect use. While the interview starts off on a positive note, with Zuazo noting that if a language is changing, it’s a sign that it’s alive and kicking, he also shows some preoccupation for the gradual loss of Basque dialect use. This is one of the reasons he has set up a new website,, as a means of recording and celebrating the richness of the Basque language through its dialects. As Zuazo argues, if it loses its dialects, then ultimately it is Basque that loses.



This is not to suggest that Euskara Batua, Unified or Standard Basque, is not important as a means of common expression among Basque-speakers, but Zuazo calls for a more balanced approach to promoting Basque in general, with time and space given over to transmitting Basque dialects as well.

Read the full interview (in Basque) here.

See Koldo Zuazo’s informative and accessible introduction to Basque dialect variety, The Dialects of Basque.  Here, Zuazo outlines how Basque dialects differ from one another, but also contends that mutual comprehension is not as difficult as has previously been assumed. He also offers a new classification scheme for the different Basque dialects, categorizing them as Zuberoan, Western, Navarrese, Central, and Navarrese-Lapurdian, while also offering some observations on Basque-language use in the Americas.

And, as a great companion to this work on Basque dialects, check out Pello Salaburu’s Writing Words: The Unique Case of the Standardization of Basque, which charts the remarkable story of how a standard form of Basque was envisaged, hotly debated, eventually agreed on, implemented, and accepted by Basque society as a whole, all within the space of a generation.

On the same subject, see also The Challenge of a Bilingual Society in the Basque Country and Basque Sociolinguistics: Language, Society, and Culture (the latter also available free to download here).


Welcome to 2016 at the Center for Basque Studies


Such a pleasure representing the Center and helping to produce so many great books. Bring it on 2016!

Welcome back Dear Readers!

We are looking forward to a great year here at the Center for Basque Studies! We are so proud to have gained so many readers this past year who are interested in the work that we are doing here at the Center for Basque Studies. It is shaping up to be a great year, with tons of books in the hopper, many visitors to welcome, conferences to attend, lectures and music to host, and much more. One of the true blessings of being able to spend my time here is that every day brings something new:  a new book to edit, author or reader to meet, a new visitor to welcome, someone new interested in our books and events.

Newer posts