Month: August 2016 (page 2 of 3)

Center mourns death of Juan Zelaia

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Juan Zelaia, photo via Euskal Kultura. 

Juan Zelaia, an honorary member of the Center’s Advisory Board, passed away on August 10 at the age of 95. Born in Oñati, Gipuzkoa, in 1920, Zelaia was a towering figure of the Basque business world, but also renowned for his many and varied philanthropic endeavors in support of Basque culture in general and the Basque language in particular.

After completing a doctorate in industrial engineering from Bilbao’s School of Engineering in 1947, Zelaia went on to head several different companies.The battery company Cegasa, founded in 1934 thanks to the technical inspiration of a Basque-Chilean relative, was the family starting point from which he developed his later industrial initiatives. These included Tuboplast Hispania (plastic packaging for cosmetics, chemists, etc.: Vitoria-Gasteiz and Vichy, 1964) and Hidronor (recuperation, treatment, and management of industrial waste, 1973). He was Executive President of all three, and actively participated in industries in other sectors such as food and drink, commercialization, cartridges, etc.

Zelaia was a well-know benefactor for numerous Basque cultural initiatives such as the ikastolas or Basque-language medium schools, the terminology and lexicography center UZEI, and the Tximist Expedition to Everest. In 2000 he was awarded both the Sabinio Arana Prize and the Basque government’s Lan Onari award for his lifetime committment to Basque business. Likewise, he received both the Antton d’Abbadia Award (2002) and the Gold Medal of Gipuzkoa (2003) from the Provincial Council of Gipuzkoa for his services to Basque culture, as well as the Argizaiola Award from the Durango Book  Fair (2008) and the Nabarralde Prize (2014).  

Linked personally by family ties to the Basque-American diaspora, he always encouraged the meeting of both Basque Countries (the one on European soil and the one found throughout the world). As promoter and president of K.A. Euskal Fundazioa, he sought to make this a cultural meeting place for all Basques.

Here at the Center we would like to express our deepest sympathy to his family.

Goian bego.

The flower of the sun in Basque culture

In a previous post we discussed the importance of the solstice festival, St. John’s Eve, and today we’re going to talk about the seemingly humble sunflower–eguzki-lore (flower of the sun) or ekilore (flower of the east) in Basque. This is an important symbol in traditional Basque culture that, like the St.John’s Eve festivities, is rooted in a more general solar mythology that once extended across Europe as a whole.

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Carlina acaulis. Image by Bernd Haynold, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Clearly, as its name in English also suggests, the sunflower resembles the sun, but why is it so important in traditional Basque culture? First of all, it is important to comprehend just how important the sun was. Understandably, people venerated the rising sun as a giver of light, and life, the very means to their daily survival. Prehistoric dolmens generally face East, toward the rising sun, as do (where possible) most traditional houses and old tombs in the Basque Country. In the latter case, there is also a practical dimension to this because typically the cold and rain come from the North and West respectively.

So the sun is in general an important symbol, but more particularly, according to the old Basque beliefs, and as José Miguel de Barandiarán notes in his Selected Writings (p.79), “the Sun and the Moon are feminine divinities, daughters of Earth, to whose womb they return every day after their journey through the sky.” So much so, in fact, that people used to greet and bid farewell to the sun every day. In The Basques, Julio Caro Baroja observes that (p. 275):

there seem to exist affinities reflected in the language among the ideas of light, sun, and fire. All of this may have had a religious meaning that is lost today. However, the custom of greeting the sun (and the moon) both at their rising and at their setting has been conserved until the present by children and even by adults in some towns. These greetings are notable because in them the star of the day is treated as a grandmother and is therefore female, which also occurs among many Indo-Germanic peoples. Some old stories (particularly one from Errigoiti [Rigoitia]) seem to suggest that some people believed the earth to be the mother of the sun.

Specifically, in Errigoiti (Bizkaia), Barandiarán tells us, they used to say “Eguzki santa bedeinkatue, zoaz zure amagana” (Holy, blessed sun, go to your mother).

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Dried sunflower nailed to the front door of a farmhouse in Senpere, Lapurdi. Photo by Garuna bor-bor, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

With the sun being so important, then, it should come as no surprise that the sunflower came to represent this potent natural symbol. It is still not uncommon to see dried sunflowers nailed to the front doors of Basque farmhouses. Barandiarán (p. 112) says that this flower “performs the same mysterious functions attributed to the sun. It is believed, for example, that the sun frightens away evil spirits . . . That is why the flower is nailed above the door: to prevent the intrusion of evil spirits, witches, and the numina of disease, storm, and lightning.” This would bear out Caro Baroja’s words (p. 326), which  suggest that in traditional Basque culture “the sun may be a sort of God’s eye, protector from evils and purifier.”

If you’re interested in traditional Basque mythology, be sure to check out the abovementioned works: Julio Caro Baroja, The Basques, and José Miguel de Barandiarán, Selected Writings of José Miguel de Barandiarán: Basque Prehistory and Ethnography.

 

Basque terroir: The green chili peppers of Gernika and Ibarra

Continuing with our occasional series on terroir–a concept explaining the connection between a particular food or drink product and a particular location–in the Basque Country, today we’re going to look at the green chili peppers of Gernika (Bizkaia) and Ibarra (Gipuzkoa).

As noted in our previous post on the red chili peppers of Ezpeleta (Lapurdi), the chili pepper itself is a great example of the Columbian exchange. Whereas the red chili peppers of Ezpeleta retain much of their original heat, those of Gernika do not, although the Ibarra variety can be somewhat spicy.

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Gernikako piperrak, from the Eusko Label website.

The green chili peppers of Gernika are about 2-3 inches long and an inch in breadth, wider than those of Ibarra. Derived from the Capsicum annuum species, these chili peppers are characterized by an intense green color. Production takes place between May and October and is not limited to the area of Gernika alone; in fact, any part of the Basque Country in which evapotranspiration levels reach 585 millimeters (23 inches), indicating a temperate Atlantic climate, are potentially suitable for cultivating the pepper.

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Ibarrako piperrak. Photo by Josu Goñi Etxabe, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Like the aforementioned Ezpeleta peppers, these chilies were originally left to mature until they turned red, and indeed this is still done today, although in this latter case it is more typical in Bizkaia to dry them for later use in soups and garnishes. The green variety, however, is prepared freshly, with the classic preparation being to fry them and add a little salt at the end. They can be served separately, as an appetizer, or as an accompaniment to a main dish such as steak.

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Gildas in Donostia. Photo by Biskuit, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The green chilies of Ibarra–piperrak or piperminak in Basque, guindillas in Spanish–are slightly longer (2-5 inches) and thinner than those of Gernika, and are popularly referred to as the “king prawns of Ibarra.” They are typically planted in April or May and harvested any time between July and November, whenever they are judged to be at their optimum level. As with the Gernika peppers a typical dish involves frying the Ibarra peppers and adding a little salt at the end, serving them as an aperitif or appetizer. In contrast to their Bizkaian counterparts, however, Ibarra peppers are also pickled in wine vinegar and sold commercially in jars. Pickled Ibarra peppers can also be served as an appetizer, adding a little extra virgin olive oil, and they also form an integral part of one of the classic Basque pintxos: the Gilda – a combination of olives, salty anchovies, and peppers.

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

August 9, 1846: Famous pilota match held in Irun

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Errebotea match played in Hondarribia, Gipuzkoa, 1863. Painting by Gustave Colin (1828-1910), courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Sunday, August 9, 1846, witnessed one of the most famous ever pilota or pelota matches, held in the border town of Irun, Gipuzkoa. It was the errebotea (rebound) form of the game, a long-style form in which the teams return the ball to each other directly without hitting it against any wall. Moreover, as in Jai-Alaia, xisterak or hand-held baskets are typically used to strike the ball.

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Jean Errachun, “Kaskoina” (1817-1859).

That August day, the match involved one team from Hegoalde competing against another from Iparralde. And the latter–the eventual winners–featured the greatest player of the day, Jean Errachun (Erratxun in modern Basque orthography), who also went by the surname Darritchon, from Hazparne, Lapurdi. Knicknamed “Gaskoi(n)a” or “Kaskoi(n)a” poetry was even composed in his honor:

Kaskoinaren trunkoa/Trunko bat iduri/Orotarik hartza du iduri.
The bust of Gaskoina/ is like a tree trunk/ he himself is just like a bear.

“But beneath the rough exterior,” notes Philippe Veyrin in The Basques of Lapurdi, Zuberoa, and Lower Navarre (p. 349), “was concealed the strength of a Hercules, an imperturbable composure, and a dazzlingly adroit technique.”

In Basque Pelota: A Ritual, An Aesthetic, Olatz González Abrisketa states (p. 186):

According to the French newspaper Journal du Havre, twelve thousand people turned up for the game in Irun, and campsites had to be set up in the vicinity. People from all the Basque provinces converged on Irun; they left their homes two or three days earlier on horseback, by oxen, or other means, sufficiently supplied with money in order to wager on the game.

The centripetal force of pelota attracted thousands of people to a specific place, normally an open ground by the more representative areas of the village or villa. Grounds were leveled and slopes eliminated, and courts situated by churches or ramparts whose walls were used for the game. At first these grounds were probably unfenced, and it was the crowd itself, its bodies, that marked the boundaries of the court.

What’s more, Veyrin goes on to say that those present:

were at such a fever-pitch that some of them, unable to afford a ticket, wagered their heads of cattle, and even their future maize harvests! The hero of this joust is said to have won four thousand gold francs; he won with the help of Gamio, a priest from the Baztan Valley, Harriague of Hazparne, Saint-Jean of Uztaritze (Ustaritz), and Domingo of Ezpeleta. We know the names and nicknames of only three of their opponents: Melchior, Tripero, and Molinero. Gaskoina fell prey to typhus in 1859 and died at the peak of his powers in his native village, at the age of forty-two.

First stop on your Rioja Alavesa wine experience

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The main building, Villa Lucía. Picture taken from the center’s website.

If you are planning a trip to the Basque Country and one of your interests is the great Rioja wine of Araba, Rioja Alavesa, then an excellent starting point is the Villa Lucía Thematic Center of Wine. The center is located in Guardia/Laguardia, Araba, in a mansion that belongs to the family of the renowned neoclassical fabulist Félix María de Samaniego (1745–1801).

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The museum. Picture taken from the center’s website.

Visitors to the center can take an interactive tour of the wine-making process, visit the center’s museum and library, take part in an enogastronomic gymkhana–a fun way to find out more about food and drink by playing group-based games revolving around guessing the different aromas and characteristics of wine as well as trying to create your own pintxos–or just taste different grapes and take a crash course in wine tasting. There is also ample room on this country estate to stroll around its gardens (with over 200 plant and flower varieties) and have a drink and a meal or a snack while planning your visit to this fascinating and historic part of the Basque Country.

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A view of the gardens in the grounds of the estate. Picture taken from the center’s website.

For more information, click here.

Brown bear sighting near Garde in Nafarroa

There was a reported sighting of a rare brown bear near the village of Garde in the Erronkari/Roncal Valley of Nafarroa on August 6. Experts have confirmed it could be a male named Neré, born in 1997 to one of the Slovenian brown bears, Melba, introduced into the Central Pyrenees in 1996. This was part of a controlled program to repopulate the Pyrenees with Slovenian brown bears, genetically similar to the autochthonous but by then extinct Pyrenean bear (the last surviving wild bears in Western Europe). Neré has been recorded in this more western part of the Pyrenees since 2000.

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European brown bear. Photo by Francis C. Franklin, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

That said, the presence of brown bears in the Western Pyrenees remains limited, with only two recorded sightings, that of Neré and another male named Canelito. Their numbers are stronger, however, in the Central Pyrenees at around forty. In Nafarroa these sightings have been recorded in the area around the villages Garde and Urzainki, and Mount Ezkaurre.

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Mount Ezkaurre, Nafarroa. Photo by ga, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

As noted, the reintroduction of these bears has been part of a coordinated program on both sides of the Pyrenees among different public administrations. It is hoped that the program will encourage so-called green or nature tourism. Should the bears attack any livestock in the area the Government of Nafarroa will recompense local farmers for any losses incurred.

Read more on the brown bear in the Erronkari/Roncal Valley here.

Recent article spotlights impact of Bilbao Exhibition Centre (BEC)

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An aerial view of BEC. Image courtesy of Mikel Arrazola, via Wikimedia Commons.

The Bilbao Exhibition Centre–more commonly referred to as BEC–is spotlighted in a recent article by journalist Mikel Mujika for Basque Tribune. As its name implies, BEC is the site for a number of emblematic events that take place in the Basque Country. Built on the site of what was once arguably the most famous Basque industrial company of its time, Altos Hornos de Vizcaya, in Barakaldo, it is interesting to see how the shift to a service-based economy in the Basque Country is reflected directly in this change.

Mujika takes a retrospective look at the life of BEC and highlights the wide range of events held there. A special point is made about the variety of these events: from, for example, its globally important International Machine-Tool Exhibition to concerts by the likes of Bruce Springsteen, sporting encounters such as the FIBA Basketball World Cup, and cultural events like the national bertsolaritza championships.

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An image of the Euskal Encounter, an annual meeting of information technology enthusiasts, held in BEC, and an opportunity to exchange knowledge and take part in multiple IT activities. Image by Iñigo Sendino, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

A cursory glance at the upcoming program of events at BEC suggests that this diversity is still a major feature of the center, with meetings like Biocultura Bilbao, a fair of organic products and responsible consumption, and Intergune 2016, designed to aid Basque businesses in the field of their international outreach. For many observers, the health of BEC is synonymous with the pulse of the Basque economy as a whole.

Read the full article here.

If you’re interested in finding out more about the Basque economy, check out the introductory text Basque Economy: From Industrialization to Globalization, by Mikel Gómez Uranga, free to download here.

See, too, Innovation: Economic, Social, and Cultural Aspects, edited by Mikel Gómez Uranga and Juan Carlos Miguel de Bustos, which looks at the most recent changes in the Basque economy, free to download here.

For a provocative case study of how such changes are affecting Basque society, check out Building the Basque City: The Political Economy of Nation-Building, by Nagore Calvo Mendizabal.

Follow Basque competitors in Rio via BAT BasqueTeam Foundation

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BAT BasqueTeam is a foundation created to sponsor Basque athletes competing in a variety of sports. With the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro now underway, you can follow the fortunes of Basque competitors there via BasqueTeam on  Facebook and Twitter.

August 4, 1526: Death of Juan Sebastian Elkano and the “Basque connection” right to the end

We know you’re all smart people out there and we don’t need to tell you that Juan Sebastain Elkano, from Getaria, Gipuzkoa, was, in reality, the person who led home the first successful circumnavigation of the world in 1522 after taking over command of the Victoria from Ferdinand Magellan, who was killed en route in 1521.

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Statue of Juan Sebastian Elkano in Getaria, Gipuzkoa. Photo by Marije Manterola Iribar, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

But did you know that Elkano himself also died on a later expedition? It was 1526 and this time Elkano was second in command to García Jofre de Loaísa, leader of the expedition. For Bill Douglass, in Basque Explorers in the Pacific Oceanand fittingly perhaps, this particular voyage was “the most ‘Basque’ of any of Spain’s Pacific explorations” due to the nature of both the crews and ships involved. Indeed, these crews included two of Elkano’s brothers, his brother-in-law Santiago de Guevara, as well as a young seventeen-year-old, Andrés de Urdaneta, who would be Elkano’s page and protégé on the trip; and who would later go on to lead the second ever successful global circumnavigation.

In mid-Pacific, however, the expedition ran into trouble. Loaísa died of scurvy on July 20, 1526, and was succeeded by Elkano. But he also fell prey to the disease and died on August 4. According to Douglass:

Eleven days before his death, Elkano made out his last will and testament, witnessed by seven persons. All were Basques, including his young protégé. Urdaneta was named coequal heir of Elkano’s share in the benefits of the expedition, along with the deceased’s brother-in-law, Guevara, and his nephew Esteban.

Of the seven ships that set out on the expedition in July 1525, just one sailed into the Spice Islands on New Year’s Day in 1527.

Cutting-edge Basque technology to harness wave energy premiered

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World Wave Energy Resource Map. By Ingvald Straume. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

In a recent post we mentioned the fifth anniversary of the groundbreaking Mutriku Wave Energy Plant in Gipuzkoa and it would seem that the Basque Country is indeed at the forefront when it comes to harnessing the sustainable energy of the ocean.

Just today, the Basque company Navacel announced that it will produce a wave energy sensor device, sponsored by the Basque Country Energy Agency and designed by Oceantec Energy, which will be tested this Fall in the marine testing platform Bimep, located in Armintza-Lemoiz (Bizkaia).

The sensor will be made up of three steel plates in the shape of a buoy, with internal mechanical and electrical equipment capable of generating energy out of wave movement. The device will be 42 meters in length, 5 meters in diameter, and weigh some 80 tons. Two turbines located in the upper part of the device will generate the energy.

See a report on this new device (in Spanish) in the Basque daily Deia here.

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