Month: April 2016 (page 1 of 3)

April 29, 1999: Juanito Oiarzabal reaches last eight-thousander summit

Born in 1956 in Vitoria-Gasteiz, Araba, Juanito Oiarzabal is still one of the most renowned mountaineers in the world today.


Juanito Oiarzabal (2007). Photo by Javier Mediavilla Ezquibela (crop and editing by Lucas, same licence). Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

On April 29, 1999, on reaching the summit of Annapurna in Nepal, he completed an odyssey that had begun way back in 1985: to reach all fourteen eight-thousander summits, that is, the fourteen mountains on earth that are more than 8,000 meters (26,247 ft) high above sea level. He was the sixth verified person ever to do so, behind Reinhold Messner (Italy, b. 1944), Jerzy Kukuczka (Poland, 1948-1989), Erhard Loretan (Switzerland, 1959-2011), Carlos Carsolio Larrea (Mexico, b. 1962), and Krzysztof Wielicki (Poland, b. 1950), and the third to reach all the summits without supplementary oxygen.

Additionally,  he went on to be the first person to conquer the top three summits  (Everest, K2, and Kangchenjunga) twice and, with  a record of twenty-seven successful eight-thousander ascents in total, is second only in ranking to the Nepalese mountaineer Phurba Tashi (on thirty).

Here are the figures for his successful ascents of all fourteen eight-thousander summits with the years he did so in parentheses.

  1. Everest (1993, 2001)
  2. K2 (1994, 2004)
  3. Kangchenjunga (1996, 2009)
  4. Lhotse (1995, 2011)
  5. Makalu (1995, 2008)
  6. Cho Oyu (1985, 2002, and 2003, the latter on two separate occasions)
  7. Dhaulagiri I (1998)
  8. Manaslu (1997, 2011)
  9. Nanga Parbat (1992)
  10. Annapurna I (1999, 2010)
  11. Gasherbrum I (aka Hidden Peak) (1997, 2003)
  12. Broad Peak (1995)
  13. Gasherbrum II (1987, 2003)
  14. Shishapangma (1998)

As if all this were not enough, Oiarzabal is now seeking to be the first person to complete all eight-thousander summits twice! As you can see from the list above, he is four ascents shy of reaching this amazing goal, and this year he’s planning ascents on Dhaulagiri I in May and, if successful there, on Broad Peak thereafter.

Just out of interest, Basques are pretty well represented in the order of mountaineers who have reached the summits of all eight-thousanders, with Alberto Iñurrategi (b. 1968) from Aretxabaleta, Gipuzkoa, coming in at tenth (being the youngest person, at thirty-three years of age, to accomplish the feat), and Edurne Pasaban (b. 1973), from Tolosa, Gipuzkoa, at twenty-first (and the first woman to do so).

Ultimate Disc (aka Frisbee) making waves on the Basque Coast


Euskadisk players model the teams new jerseys. Unlike many other sports, ultimate is often played co-ed, men and women players sharing the same field.

We all know about pelota (not least of all because of Olatz González Abrisketa’s terrific book on the subject Basque Pelota: A Ritual, an Aesthetic), and we know about the other Basque sports such as the rural games or herri kirolak, and of course everyone knows about beloved soccer/football, but there is another sport that might soon be taking the Basque Country by storm! The first ultimate disc team on the Basque coast, Euskadisk, formed in 2014 and continues strong today. They have played in a variety of tournaments and are active online, including, in addition to the website linked before, have a Facebook page. They sometimes join forces with the team from Pau to field tournament teams. The team aspires to be a encompassing Basque team, and thus their name is a play on Euskadi and ultimate disc (spelled with the Basque K instead of the the Latin C).  In February of this year they placed 4th in the Pau indoor championships. A great placing for their first national level tournament and in March they debuted their new logo (seen in the image above).

One note of disclaimer, your Basque Books Editor is an ultimate player and fanatic and so when I learned about this team I couldn’t help but share the news with you all! Ultimate is a field sport game that has been around since the late 1960s. It is played worldwide, and teams of 7 players (in the field edition, for a beach game teams are usually 5 players) are fielded for national and international tournaments, including a world finals that only invites each country’s best teams. The game is scored in an end zone like American football and the disc is advanced by team members throwing and catching it. Once it is caught the person with the disc must stop running and establish a pivot foot as in basketball and if he or she moves the pivot foot it is a violation. The person holding the disc then has 10 seconds to throw the disc to another team member, thus advancing the disc until it is caught in the end zone. If the player doesn’t throw the disc on within 10 seconds, or if it is intercepted or the pass is incomplete, then the team on defense takes over and tries to score in their own end zone. Play continues until a team scores. It is often called Ultimate Frisbee because Frisbee is the most well-known version of the flying disc, although the discs generally used in ultimate competitions are not made by the Frisbee company but by another company called Disccraft. There are also now 2 professional ultimate disc leagues in the United States.

Play on Basque Frisbee Players!!! Readers interested in sport, and Basque sports, should also check out Playing Fields: Power, Practice, and Passion in Sport, edited by Mariann Vaczi.

Gregorio Salegui, the St. Francis ice-cream maker


The St. Francis Hotel kitchen. Gregorio is the second from the left.

We have had an amazing response to our series of stories from the 2-volume work, Basques in the United States, with principal research by Koldo San Sebastián, and with the assistance of Argitxu Camus-Etxekopar, Joxe Mallea-Olaetxe, Jone Laka, and José Luis Madarieta and more. We’d like to thank everyone who’s gotten in touch with us and remind anyone out there with a story to tell from their own family history to visit the special site we’ve set up (details below at the end of the post).

This week, just to show you that there are many, many more such stories to tell, we’re delighted to introduce a guest post, written by Koldo San Sebastián himself, featuring a someone who didn’t make it into the first edition of this monumental work, but will certainly feature in future editions. So many thanks to Koldo for sharing this with us, and let this be an inspiration to those of you out there with your own family stories to tell!

St Francis

The emblematic St. Francis Hotel on Union Square, San Francisco. Opened in 1904, it immediately gained a reputation as one of the most fashionable places to stay in the city.

The St. Francis on Union Square in San Francisco is one of the most famous hotels in the world, because of both its history and its guests, and, of course, its cuisine.  Its guests once included the likes of Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, Cecil B. DeMille, Sinclair Lewis, and Isadora Duncan, as well as US presidents who stayed there while visiting the city. The St. Francis gained a global reputation for its cuisine thanks to its legendary French chef, Victor Hirtzler, whose extravagant recipes were published in The Hotel St. Francis Cookbook (1919). The deserts and ice creams on the St. Francis menu were equally famous and included fruit salad in iced water as well as nectarine, peach, banana, pineapple, vanilla, and coffee ice cream, together with “fancy ice cream,” “orange souffle glace,” “biscuit glace,” and many more. And into this world of opulence and ice cream, in which he left an important mark, came a burly carpenter from Deba, Gipuzkoa, Gregorio Salegui, after a long odyssey full of contrasts.

Gregorio was born in Itziar on February 14, 1889. He was the fifth of the six children of Francisco Salegui and Francisca Urain, both from Itziar. Another two sisters had died shortly after being born. As custom dictated, he was expected to help out at home and, while still a child, he was sent to nearby Mendaro to study carpentry. However, he didn’t take to the trade and, on the point of being called up for the Spanish military draft, he decided–like many other Basques–to “head for the Americas and make his fortune.”

As a matter of fact, Gregorio Salegui’s American adventure began in an ice-cream parlor in Manhattan, having arrived in New York in 1909. He had crossed the Atlantic with José Uruazabal and his family. Uruazabal was from Usurbil, Gipuzkoa, and owned a fruit shop on 7th Avenue. Gregorio moved in for a while into the Uruazabal home, lodging there with a number of cooks, waiters, and other hotel employees in the neighborhood. One of these was the landlord’s brother, Frank Uruazabal, who was an ice-cream maker, and Gregorio soon found employment as a waiter in the ice cream parlor where Frank worked.

Beaver 2


Beaver 1

The river steamer and its crew.

In the meantime, his sister Concepción, who was married to a friend of his from Mendaro, Eufemio Lizarzaburu, had arrived in the US. Eufemio worked aboard a river steamer on the Columbia River in the Pacific Northwest, known for possessing the greatest flow of any North American river draining into the Pacific. And in 1911, Gregorio left his job in the ice-cream parlor to head west and settled in Portland, Oregon, with his family there. Through his brother-in-law he got a job aboard the Beaver, a ship owned by the Clatskanie Transportation Company. And thereafter he worked as a deckhand, kitchen assistant, and cook for five years, before trying his luck in California.

Ocean Park

The lively Ocean Park neighborhood of Santa Monica.

In 1917 he was working at the celebrated Symmes Café in Ocean Park, Santa Monica, CA, which, what’s more, also included a renowned ice-cream parlor. There at the Symmes he improved his ice-cream making skills, but this was interrupted when he was called up to serve the US during World War I.

Salegui 1

Gregorio in uniform, 1918.

In 1918 he joined the 2nd Light Infantry Regiment as a cook, although a few months later he was discharged on medical grounds. While in boot camp he began the naturalization procedure to become a US citizen.

Salegui 2

Gregorio in later life.

In 1920, having married Berta Clark from Kansas, he was working as a cook in San Diego. He was later employed as a cook at the Clifford Hotel before getting a job in the kitchen at the St. Francis. In 1928, he married again, this time to French-born Marie Therése Mesplou with whom he had three children: Jean François, Eugene, and Genevieve. He died in San Francisco on March 31, 1957.

We intend for this work to be more than just an encyclopedic reference; we’d like it to be a true forum for sharing stories and anecdotes about the thousands of Basque women and men who forged new lives for themselves in the US.

If you’d like to share your own family stories with us, please click here at our dedicated Basques in the United States Project website.

How two Basque sportswomen balance their professional and sporting lives: Maider Unda and Patricia Carricaburu

Today we’re going to take a look at how two Basque sportswomen at the top of their game balance their commitments both inside and outside the sporting arena. In both cases, they take part in their respective sports for the love of playing rather than for any major financial remuneration. And both women demonstrate a strong connection to the land of their birth.

Born in 1977, Maider Unda is one of the top Basque sportswomen today. She is from the Atxeta baserri in Oleta, a neighborhood of Aramaio, Araba, where she still lives, herding sheep and producing the renowned Idiazabal cheese in partnership with her sister. She is a successful freestyle wrestler who, in the 72 kg category, finished in fifth place at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and won the bronze medal at the 2012 Games in London. In the same category she has also won a bronze medal at the World Championships (2009), a bronze at the European Games (2015), and a silver (2013) and two bronzes (2010, 2012) at the European Championships. She is currently attempting to qualify for this year’s Summer Olympics, to be held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in August.

In the following report (in Spanish) she discusses her professional and sporting life, including how she took over the family farm after her parents retired:

Check out Maider’s personal website here.

Born in 1988, Patricia Carricaburu, from Altzürükü, Zuberoa, is a French international rugby player who plays in the prop forward position, in which Basques have a long and noble tradition of playing. She was part of the French team that won this year’s 6 Nations Tournament, the premier championship in European rugby. At the club level, she made her debut for local team US Menditte, nicknamed the “Neska Gaitz” or “Bad Girls,” in Mendikota, Zuberoa, before moving to the RC Lons team, near Pau in Béarn.

Check out this report on Patricia (in French), which as well as including some glowing comments about her by the coach of the French national team and fellow Basque, Jean-Michel Gonzalez, also shows her in her day job as an accountant in an automobile repair shop in Maule, and includes her singing traditional Basque songs–another personal passion inherited from her family–toward the end of the clip (at approx. 2m 30s). Indeed, she also sings in the Bedatse Liliak (Spring flowers) group, with friends from her home village:

Women, and gender issues more generally, in sport is one of the principal themes running through Playing Fields: Power, Practice, and Passion in Sport, edited by Mariann Vaczi.

Nafarroaren Eguna, Navarre Day, celebrated in Baigorri

Yesterday, April 24, the annual Nafarroaren Eguna or Navarre Day was held in Baigorri, with the (slightly tongue-in-cheek, one suspects) slogan: “Separatismorik ez! Nafarroa bat eta bakarra” (No separatism! One single Navarre).


The flag of Navarre. Image by Oren Neu Dag. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

A number of different events were held throughout the day, including a tribute to musician and writer Manex Pagola, born in Landibarre in 1941, and author of well-known Basque songs like the children’s song “Urtxintxak” (The squirrels) and the evocative “Azken dantza” (Last dance), both memorably recorded by Pantxo eta Peio. The event was also attended by the president of the Foral Community of Navarre, Uxue Barcos, and the mayor of Iruñea-Pamplona, Joseba Asiron.

See a report on the day (in Spanish and Basque) by Nafar Telebista here.

And check out some photos from the event, courtesy of Berriahere.

Another key part of the day’s proceedings saw the Etxauzia Association raising funds as part of its campaign to buy the Etxauzia Castle. Its goal is to make it the premier cultural center for all Navarrese, on both sides of the border.  It is currently pursuing a fundraising campaign based on the idea of “one Basque, one euro.” Check out the following video, with images of the castle, accompanying this campaign:



April 20, 1913: Aviron Bayonnais wins French rugby championship for first time

On April 20, 1913 Basque rugby team Aviron Bayonnais (Baionako Arrauna in Basque) defeated Paris-based SCUF (Sporting club universitaire de France rugby) 31-8 to be crowned champions of France for the 1912-13 season. It was the first time that the team–and indeed any Basque team–had won the championship, established in 1892. And it is still considered one of the great final championship deciders in the history of French rugby. See this ESPN article for a fuller account of the famous final.


French rugby championship winning side Aviron Bayonnais, 1914.

What really marked this victory, and the team as a whole, was its spectacular playing style, known as the “Bayonnais way,” which revolutionized the rugby of that era. This was in the main down to Harry Owen Roe, a Welsh rugby player who had relocated to Baiona to work as a shipping clerk and join the ranks of the team. He introduced new methods of speed, offense, and “total rugby” (in which all members of the team, whatever their position, were encouraged to run at the opposition). This was copied from the Welsh style of rugby at that time and incorporated into the Aviron Bayonnais game, and this kind of play would have a huge impact on French rugby as a whole in the years to come. Indeed, for some it even represents the origins of what has been termed the “French flair” style of rugby.

Founded in 1904, Aviron Bayonnais subsequently finished runners-up in the championship two years in succession (1922 and 1923), losing out on both occasions to Stade Toulousain (still, today, one of the great forces in European rugby). However, the team went on to more success and indeed enjoyed its golden years during the 1930s and 1940s, winning the championship on a further two occasions, beating arch rivals Biarritz Olympique in 1934 and then, nearly a decade later, SU Agen in 1943. It contested two more championship finals, against USA Perpignan in 1944 and, most recently, against SU Agen in 1982, but was unsuccessful on both occasions.

If you’re interested in the topic, check out Alban David, Histoire du rugby au Pays Basque: De 1900 à aujourd hui. Éditions Sud Ouest, 2014.

See Cameron Watson’s Modern Basque History: Eighteenth Century to the Present for a general overview of sport (both traditional and modern) in Basque culture, including some discussion about the importance of rugby in Iparralde. This work is also available free to download here.


The Center’s Advisory Board Meets at the University


Advisory Board members and guests take a moment for the camera Nestor Basterretxea’s Orreaga, installed this year in the Matthewson-IGT Knowledge Center’s main hall, downstairs from the Jon Bilbao Basque Library.


UNR President Marc Johnson speaks to the Center Advisory Board

The Center’s annual meeting of the Advisory Board brought almost 100% of its members together in Reno on April 16th. Sixto Jimenez and Pello Salaburu made the longest journey (from the Basque Country) to attend. Eskerrik asko to all for having made the event such a success! President Johnson opened the meeting with words of welcome and university news. He and Provost Carman joined us that evening for a family-style dinner at Louis’ Basque Corner. The noise level matched the level of collective enjoyment!

Tales from Basques in the United States: The Basque Scammer

Today in our series of stories from Basques in the United States, adapted from volume 1, we meet Esteban “Steve” Astigarraga, the Basque scammer; “a fellow,” as Joxe Mallea-Olaetxe notes in his translator’s introduction to the same volume, who “had the police busy from the Mexican border to Canada.”

Basques in the US vol 1

Astigarraga was born in Abadiño, Bizkaia, on Aug. 3, 1886, and arrived in New York City on Nov. 1, 1909. He went initially to Rock Springs, CA, and in 1920 was working as a sheepherder in Price, Carbon Co., UT. By 1930, however, he was living in  Domingo Muguira’s ostatu (hotel) on Aliso Street, Los Angeles: a remnant of the city’s once thriving “Basque town” at the intersection of Alameda and Aliso Streets (once a major route into and out of downtown LA, Aliso Street morphed into the 101 Freeway in the 1950s; see some old pictures of this historic LA district and a report on its Basque community here). Interestingly, at this time “Steve” still appears to have been working as a sheepherder, while resident in LA, and soon after, some time in the early 30s, he married an Italian named Lucille.

In Dec. 1936 the California press reported on a mysterious 50-year-old “Basque-Italian” who had been arrested in Colusa and who police suspected to be a clever forger. During the arrest, the authorities found  “equipment of a peculiar nature” in his De Soto sedan, namely the necessary equipment for counterfeiting. The “thing” must have been important because leading experts in the field, both the state police and the FBI, arrived quickly on the scene (Woodland Daily Democrat, Dec. 12, 1936). And when the LA County Sheriff’s Office learned that the Basque had been detained in Colusa, he asked that Steve not be released until the sheriff arrived.


A 500 dollar bill (1928 & 1934 series). Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Under the headline “Man Held in Extortion Plot,”  the Colusa correspondent for the Woodland Daily Democrat reported that Astigarraga was suspected of a “clever impersonation and extortion scheme” by which, “posing as a Federal officer … he is said to have preyed upon fellow Basque sheepherders and illiterate Italians, some of whom he threatened with death if they did not give him liberally of their earnings,” with a trail of victims from the border of Mexico to Canada. Police officers remarked on his unique extortion method: “he tells victims he can make them rich. He gives them a crisp new $20 bill, saying that any bank will cash it. The victim is so surprised when the bank accepts the bill, that he becomes interested in Astigarraga’s scheme and parts with his money when Astigarraga displays his money-making equipment, saying ‘there is more where that came from’.” Then he would show them the counterfeiting machine (which, apparently, he never actually used) and asked them to hand over a large sum so that he could manufacture and then deliver them a huge amount of bills. Police officers found a 50-page notebook in his possession filled with the names and addresses of who they suspected to be his victims (Woodland Daily Democrat, Dec. 15, 1936).

Then his victims began to show up. In the book there were more than 375 names, mostly Basques and other foreigners who worked throughout the West, but primarily in Fresno Co. One of the first to show up was Pedro “Pete” Recondo, a Dixon, CA sheepherder whom Astigarraga had bilked for $5,000 (his entire life savings deposited in a San Francisco bank) in 1935. Recondo hadn’t reported Astigarraga at the time, it seems, because that would have implicated him as well in the (non-existent) money-making scam. Ultimately, though, the FBI had to withdraw from the case because they had found no counterfeit money in Astigarraga’s possession. What’s more, because Astigarraga did not speak English, or even Spanish, very well, and continued maintaining his innocence, the police had to wait for an interpreter from Fresno who spoke Basque. Meanwhile, the LA police gave way to their Fresno colleagues because that was where the scammer’s activities were mostly concentrated (Woodland Daily Democrat, Dec. 16, 1936). Fresno officers then arrived with a Basque interpreter (a hotel owner) and another of the victims, a Polish sheepherder who had lost his $1,300 bonus money. The Pole could not identify Astigarraga, but he did recognize the machine! (Woodland Daily Democrat, Dec. 17, 1936).

Eventually, on the instructions of the FBI, Astigarraga was returned to LA (where he lived with his wife Lucille) to be delivered to the City Police, who were the first to claim him. We know little of what happened thereafter but he died in LA on Jul. 2, 1962.

Basque terroir: The red chili peppers of Ezpeleta


Red chili peppers dying on the facades of buildings in Ezpeleta. Photo by Harrieta171. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Continuing with our occasional series on Basque terroir, today we’re celebrating Ezpeletako biperra, the red chili pepper of Ezpeleta, Lapurdi. Chili peppers, native of course to the Americas, were introduced into France in the 16th century, and chili pepper cultivation in and around Ezpeleta began in the mid-17th century. Although originally used for medicinal purposes, it was later embraced as a means of conserving meats, and later still as an ingredient in many different recipes. Today it enjoys both controlled designation and protection of origin status.


Chili peppers being cultivated in Ezpeleta. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

These chili peppers are not just cultivated in Ezpeleta, but in nine other towns in the same area: Ainhoa, Haltsu, Itsasu, Jatsu, Kanbo, Larresoro, Senpere, Uztaritze, and Zuraide. They are harvested in late summer and hung outside, typically on the facades or balconies of buildings, to dry in the early fall. The annual Ezpeleta chili pepper festival, held during the last weekend of October, is a major event in Iparralde, attracting thousands of visitors every year.

Their protected status means that certain protocols must be followed in the cultivation process: there must be between 10-20,000 plants per hectare in the plots where the chili pepper is cultivated; watering is forbidden, except during the months immediately after planting (May-June) or in the event of a drought; the plants must be harvested by hand, and harvesting season runs from August until the first frost of the year.

According to Wikipedia, the Ezpeleta chili pepper attains only a maximum grade of 4,000 on the Scoville scale and is therefore considered only mildly hot. It can be purchased as festoons of fresh or dried peppers, as ground pepper, or pureed or pickled in jars.


Sign to an “official” village on the Ezpeleta chili pepper route. Photo by Harrieta171. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Nowadays, it is a key ingredient in the cuisine of Iparralde. Specifically, it is used to cure the famed Baiona ham, and is also the key ingredient in piperrada sauce, a blend of mild green chili peppers, the red Ezpeleta peppers, white onion, and tomatoes (forming the green, red, and white of the Basque flag). This base sauce can then be added to, for example, with minced beef (to make the dish known as axoa) or grilled or roast chicken; or it can be served separately as a starter or main dish with the addition of eggs, scrambled into the sauce, and/or slices of Baiona ham. And if all that were not enough, you can always finish up a meal with some Baiona chocolate infused with Ezpeleta chili pepper, as noted in a previous post here.


Axoa, one of the classic dishes of Iparralde. Photo by Tangopaso, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

For a great introduction to Basque food, check out Hasier Etxeberria’s On Basque Cuisine, a publication of the Etxepare Basque Institute. You can download a free copy here.

From the Backlist: Hollywood and I and Mad City

In a literary world that tends to define Basque literature very much by place–most Basque authors come from the Basque Country, live and work there, and typically center their stories on events in that particular corner of the world–Javi Cillero stands out as a completely distinct voice. His own personal experience of detachment, displacement even, from the Basque Country, and especially that of living for many years in the United States, infuses his work to such an extent that it might almost be more accurate to describe him as an American author; or at least as a keen and informed observer of popular American culture, an outsider whose external gaze tells us a great deal about life on the inside.


In Hollywood and I and Mad City, two works first first published in Basque and collected here in one volume, we are treated to a sharp, quirky, and eclectic blend of short stories that ooze with Americana and emblematic sites of memory in the American West: from Alcatraz and Chinatown to Virginia City, Pyramid Lake, and the Nevada desert. This is a world of dive bars and Mack trucks, casino lights, bank robbers, private detectives, and mobsters; but also of Basque and Native Americans, sheepherders and cowboys, and even college professors and students.

Check out the following excerpt from the book:

The Silver Legacy hotel-casino tower stood tall and proud in the middle of downtown Reno. There was a giant dome on the back of the building, something like a space station. Inside there was a fake starry sky, and under the sky there was a large mine wheel. Hundreds of lasers started twinkling in that sky, accompanied by music by Tchaikovsky.

Near the huge mine wheel there was a wide open area. There were souvenir shops, restaurants open twenty-four hours a day, and slot machines on either side of something like an avenue. And, unexpectedly, the Silver Legacy bar next to a row of slot machines.

As usual, it was full of people. Waiters were going here and there carrying pints of reds, porters, and lagers. The musicians were taking a break, and the people in the bar’s voices easily drowned out the television’s weak sound.

A Czech girl and the Spanish teacher were sitting in one corner. They were silent, each of them looking at their own glasses of beer. The Czech girl poured a little more for the Spanish teacher. He thanked her with a hand gesture.

Here we are, like two Hitchcock characters. Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant in that old movie Notorious. “Officer Devlin? I’ve got a job for you.” OK, I know, I know: too many movie references for a single night. What can I do about it? Hollywood made me, to paraphrase Graham Greene. Hollywood’s influence is so big in our education that when two friends get together now they could easily be acting out a scene from a movie. We don’t mean to. It’s our only reference. In fact, it’s wiped out family, school, and church references. Young people only pay attention to the images and roles they adopt from screens. And people who aren’t so young, too. It’s impossible to count all the men who wander around like poor wretches from Woody Allen movies without knowing what they’re doing.

The Spanish teacher had gold-framed glasses. They slipped down his nose as he spoke. He had to put them back in their place with his index finger time and again. The Czech girl took that gesture to be an invitation to say something.

“Thanks for helping me present my project. I didn’t think the university press was going to be so interested in heterodox Basque women.”

“We work with all types of subjects. In fact, we’re about to bring out a book by a Japanese writer about Ozu’s movies. It would be good for you to publish the book in Reno. When it comes down to it, the States is the only place where work like that is done. The editor’s told me the book looks very good; it’s very appropriate. And here I am, ready to lend a hand. You know, Officer Devlin’s hand . . . Hey, why don’t you stay a few more days? You’ll be able to make good use of your stay if you come to the Basque Library.”

A big man who’d come to listen to a country group came up to them to take a chair. He picked it up by its wooden back with confidence, master in his own land. The Spanish teacher looked at him with contempt when he turned away.

“And I’ll show you around. Lake Tahoe, for instance. It’s where they shot The Godfather. You know, Al Pacino: ‘My father taught me a lot of things in this room. He taught me to keep my friends close and my enemies even closer.’ I’ve got my Toyota here in the casino lot.”

“Do you have classes tomorrow?”

“I only teach Spanish classes once a week. Hefty nineteenth-century novels, Galdós and Clarín. I spend most of my time in the casinos. I’m putting together a book about Old West mythology. I don’t think America’s final frontier is the Pacific; it’s the Nevada casinos. It’s here that men and slot machines come face to face. Like in the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral . . .”

Anyone interested in contemporary urban Western storytelling, with particular reference to Reno, Northern Nevada, and California, will enjoy this book. This is classic Americana with a Basque twist!

Shop for the book here.

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