Month: January 2017 (page 1 of 2)

An Interview with Irati Urkitza, the New Basque Library Intern

The Jon Bilbao Basque Library recently welcomed a new intern, Irati Urkitza, who has arrived from Getxo (Bizkaia), a town neighboring Bilbao on the coast. She has a Bachelor’s Degree in Philosophy and a Master’s in Teacher Training from the University of the Basque Country, giving her the qualifications to teach high school philosophy. We took a moment to interview Irati so that we could introduce her to you, our readers. We look forward to having her around here at the center and library, as she is a welcome addition to our little community.

What brings you to the Center for Basque Studies and how long will you be here?

I am here on a grant called Global Training, which is given by the Basque Government, and I will stay here for six months, until July.

Tell me a bit about the Global Training program

Every year some Basque organizations and entities, with the help of the Basque government, offer several internship programs in foreign companies. The aim of these programs is to give the intern an opportunity to get some work experience abroad and then to come back and somehow enrich the Basque Country in their new jobs.

How did you learn about the Center for Basque Studies and its Basque library?

While I was reading the list that the University of the Basque Country offered for the Global Training program, I saw the name of the Jon Bilbao Basque Library. It immediately caught my attention and I researched a little bit about it. I found it really interesting and I decided that it was the place that I wanted to go.

What are you working on at the Jon Bilbao Basque Library?

I will be mainly working in the archives with Iñaki Arrieta and Shannon Sisco. We want to transfer all the information about the Basque collection to a new management system that will improve the access to them, so anyone from the main library can have access to the information in the archives.

What are your interests and hobbies?

I have various interests, but most of them are related to social and cultural issues. In my free time, I enjoy reading, watching films and TV shows, and taking walks or hiking.

Are you enjoying the U.S.?

Yes, although it is cold and dry, I am having a very good time here.

What are you looking forward to in your stay here in Reno and in the United States in general?

I am willing to learn more about American culture and about the Basques in the States. I would like to travel around to visit some other important places for the Basque diaspora and, certainly, I would love to travel to the wonderful National Parks you have here.

What have you missed the most since youve been here?

I have only been here for a week, so I haven’t had enough time to miss lots of things, but I believe that what I will miss the most will be my boyfriend, family and friends, and, of course, the food and the sea!

 

New online archive launched to preserve memory of Civil War in Bizkaia

On Friday, January 27, in tandem with International Holocaust Remembrance Day, a day on which we remember genocide in all its forms, the cultural association Durango 1936 Kultur Elkartea launched its new website to preserve the memory of the Spanish Civil War–and especially its effects on individual people–in the Durango district of Bizkaia: the area made up of Durango itself together with the towns of Abadiño, Amorebieta-Etxano (Zornotza), Atxondo, Berriz, Elorrio, Garai, Iurreta, Izurtza, Mañaria, Otxandio, and Zaldibar. As we have mentioned in previous posts (see here and here), this area was a particularly important target for Franco’s rebel forces (with the material support of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy) and witnessed civilian bombing on what was, to that time in European history, an unprecedented scale. It is the effects of this civilian bombing–death, injury, persecution, and exile–as well as the repression that followed that the association seeks to portray in the content of its new website.

As well as including a fascinating inventory of both primary documents and photographs, the website is also interesting for its inclusion of video interviews (in Basque and Spanish) with people who were directly affected by the war–first-hand witnesses themselves or the relatives of people who suffered during the conflict–and as such serves as an important database for preserving the memory of the civil war in this part of Bizkaia. These interviews can be accessed in four different ways: by the name of the person being interviewed, by the particular event with which the interview is concerned, by the name of the town from which the person being interviewed comes from, or by the name of a particular victim of the war. The video interviews can be accessed directly here and the list of people mentioned can be found here. Check out the sample interviews with Maite Andueza Zabaleta (Durango) and Joseba Angulo Tontorregi (Abadiño) below.

The site is still be developed but you can check it out here.  If you have a story to share about someone from the area and their experiences during the civil war, please do not hesitate to contact the association either via its contact form here, or via email at durango1936@durango1936.org.

Gernika, 1937: The Market Day Massacre, by Xabier Irujo, looks at the case of the bombing of Gernika, but many of the book’s findings are equally applicable to the impact of the civil war on the Durango area of Bizkaia as well.

Check out, too, War, Exile, Justice, and Everyday Life, 1936-1946, edited by Sandra Ott, which takes a broader look at the impact of war, particularly on noncombatants. It should be remembered that Basques were among the refugee peoples of Europe in the aftermath of both the Spanish Civil War and World War II and many Basques lived in exile and as refugees for many years following this, including our own professor Xabier Irujo. This book is available free to download here.

 

 

January 25, 1853: Birth of pioneering Basque photographer and ethnographer Eulalia Abaitua

Eulalia Abaitua (1853-1943), a pioneering photographer whose work remains a key historical and ethnographic record of the Basque Country. Image by Kurt Reutlinger, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Born Maria Elvira Juliana Abaitua Allende-Salazar on January 25, 1853 into a wealthy Bilbao family, she was renamed in honor of her deceased mother (who died soon after she was born) and thereafter known as Eulalia Abaitua. She would go on to become a renowned photographer and one of the first people to record nineteenth-century Basque culture at a key transitional time in Basque history, taking her camera outside into the real world to capture images of fiestas, traditions, and working practices–and at the same time breaking with the convention of the time centered around studio-based montages–and paying special attention to the everyday lives of Basque women. In short, she remains one of the most important, if unsung, Basque ethnographers of the nineteenth century.

Mother and child, by Eulalia Abaitua (c. 1890). Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Her father, Luis Allende-Salazar, had business interests in the growing trade operating between Bilbao and Liverpool in England and, with the deepening political crisis of the 1860s that would eventually result in the outbreak of the Second Carlist War, the family relocated to the vibrant English port city, “the New York of Europe” whose wealth for a time exceeded that of London. As noted in a previous post, the multicultural port city of Liverpool was already home to many Basques, and even though from the more economically comfortable echelons of society, the family continued in a time-honored Basque tradition of settling in a place in which they already had family connections. Once settled in Liverpool, Eulalia took photography lessons and discovered a passion for the newly emerging art form.

River Nervion scene, by Eulalia Abaitua. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

On May 16th 1871, Eulalia married her cousin Juan Narciso de Olano (of the Liverpool-based Basque shipping firm Olano, Larrinaga & Co), at the church of St Francis Xavier in Liverpool, and the couple would go on to have four children. Following the end of the Second Carlist War in 1876, they returned to Bilbao, where would live there for the rest of their lives the Palacio del Pino, near the Basilica of Begoña, a home custom-built to resemble the red-brick Victorian merchant houses the family had seen in Liverpool. On her return to the Basque Country, Eulalia fully realized her passion for both photography and her homeland, setting up a studio in the basement of he family home and traversing Bilbao and Bizkaia in search of her subject matter.

 

The arrival of the sardines (1900), by Eulalia Abaitua. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

She worked wherever possible in natural light and sought out spontaneous rather than staged images. Among her most evocative works are images of the legendary sardineras, the women who transported sardines from the port of Santurtzi to the center of Bilbao on foot, selling their wares in the city center; the washerwomen of Bilbao, whose daily grind consisted of doing laundry on the banks of the River Nervion in Bilbao; and the rural Basque milk maids who also came to the Bizkaian capital to ply their trade.

Women selling their wares in Bilbao (c. 1890), by Eulalia Abaitua. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

In A Collection of Prints (see below) Miren Jaio describes her work in the following terms (pages 11, 13, 17):

Eulalia Abaitua reflected the day-to-day life of the Bizkaian proletariat on glass plates. The insurmountable social inequality between the portrait photographer and those portrayed would also pervade the photographs of this high bourgeois woman who depicted normal people, especially women . . .  In a series of portraits of old people in the Arratia Valley, she recorded the physical types and dress and hairstyles that were on the verge of disappearing along with those who served as her models. This series demonstrated her curiosity in ethnography . . . In other prints, Abaitua collected work scenes. Images of women working the soil with laiak (two-pronged forks), water-carriers, housemaids, nannies and female stevedores reveal the process of change which Basque society was going through . . . Although she belongs to the social group of those who “represent,” she, like all of her gender, would have been denied the right to do so. This explains her choice of topic, one which she had easy access to, the working woman, a female other. Whatever the case, one should ask to what extent her photographs, in the mutual recognition of the portrayer and the portrayed they seem to reveal, do not transcend the hierarchy imposed by the social order and that of the camera.

Group of women (c. 1900), by Eulalia Abaitua. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Naturally, she also took many pictures of her own family as well, and she also traveled extensively throughout her life, recording her travels to Crete, Italy, Venice, Morocco, Lourdes (France), Malaga, Madrid, and the Holy Land. She lived a long and productive life, and died in her beloved Bilbao in 1943.

Further Reading

Eulalia de Abaitua at the Hispanic Liverpool Project.

A Collection of Prints by Miren Jaio. Free to download here.

500 Posts! What a pleasure to reach this milestone of sharing!

Yesterday witnessed the 500th post on the Center’s blog! And we think it entirely appropriate that we mark the occasion with a post looking toward the future of Basque Studies, with a roundup of what our young scholars here at the William A. Douglass Center for Basque Studies have been doing and hope to do in the future. Particularly exciting for us is the eclectic nature of our graduate students, who hail from all over the world. With such talented and committed young people, Basque Studies has a bright future!

Just like reaching the summit at Anboto, our CBS blog has reached a milestone, but we will continue to climb beyond

In honor of our milestone, today we are looking back, first at the posts that have most engaged you, our readers, over the past couple of years:

 

1. Our most read post, by a fairly long way, is the tragic case of Basque sheepherder Txomin Malasechevarria. This is a cautionary tale about just how hard it was for some people to cope with the extreme solitude of life in the mountains, the psychological effects of this loneliness, and the devastating effects this could have on not just their own lives but also those around them. There are no “winners” in this immigrant story. Check out the post here.

 

2. Next, we have a happier tale that celebrates the key role played by women in maintaining the foundations of Basque communities, through their work in Basque boardinghouses, part of the Basque immigrant experience in the United States.  Check out the post here.

 

3. Then we come to what was, for us at the time, a bit of a surprise, pleasant though it was! It’s a post reporting where the Basque Country ranks in the latest Human Development Index (HDI) league tables. The HDI is a United Nations statistical rating based on life expectancy, education, and per capita income indicators that are used to measure human development. In short, it’s a means of measuring the health of a nation. Check out the post here.

 

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4.Coming in at number four is a post that continues to rise steadily in the rankings. It’s our post on the classic Basque song “Txoria txori” (The bird is a bird), a pivotal work in the Basque songbook that touches on quintessential themes in Basque culture, sung by folk, rock, and pop singers alike as well as sports fans and even reworked into an orchestral piece. Check out the post here.

5. Last in our top 5 is a post on the remarkable life and work of Juanita Mendiola Gabiola, the woman sheepherder who was winning races, age 92, at the Third Age Olympics and died a centenarian. Check out the post here.

And then, of course, we would be remiss if we didn’t mention some of our personal favorites over the years!

  • One of our favorite pieces of writing was this “post within a post,” if you will, dated June 8, 2015, a review of one our most cherished books, My Mama Marie by Joan Errea, which in its focus on the introduction to the work goes beyond mere review to actually engage with and write about the landscape that serves as the backdrop to the book. Check out the post here.
  • Who doesn’t like chocolate? We certainly do! And we like it so much, we wrote a post about it! Check out our rambling thoughts on Basque chocolate, culture, and history in this post, dating from November 2, 2015.

  • One of our most transcendent posts, dated February 12, 2016, concerns what came to be known as the infamous 1911 “Last Massacre” in Western Folklore. This was a major incident in the history of the American West in which Basques featured prominently and serves as proof, if needed, of how the Basque immigrant experience is an essential part of the fabric of this history. Check out the post here.

  • In another post that takes landscape as its primary focus, dated February 24, 2016, we explore how another Basque Country was “imagined” thousands of miles away from home in the remote Nevada mountains. For a great piece of original writing on the Basque experience in the American West check out the post here.

  • We’re especially proud at the Center to try whenever possible to emphasize the role of women in Basque culture and history. This post from March 8, 2016, on the occasion of International Women’s Day, served as a roundup of some of the many posts we had published in this regard.  Keep checking in with the blog because this year we will be doing special posts throughout the month of March to celebrate women’s history month.

  • A relatively recent post, dated December 12, 2016, and one that is dear to our hearts emerged out of a reader’s inquiry about native Basque sheep and pig breeds. It got us thinking so much that we wrote a post about it. Check it out here.

Thanks so much for reading and here’s to another 500 and more. It is all because of you, dear readers, so eskerrik asko once again for engaging with us and for sharing our love of Basqueness!

CBS Graduate Student News

UNR’s spring semester began on Monday, and the grad students at the CBS are busy preparing for their coursework, working on their dissertations and embarking on fieldwork. Here’s a look at what they’ve been up to this past year and their plans for the year ahead.

Amaia Iraizoz

After completing her comprehensive exams in May 2015, Amaia Iraizoz went to the Basque Country to carry out fieldwork. She did research in the notarial protocols section of the Royal and General Archive of Navarre, as well as in the municipal archives of towns in the Aezkoa Valley. In December 2015, Amaia participated in the Amerikanuak 40 Urte conference. From April 8-9, 2016, she attended the IV Krakowska Konferencja Latynoamerykanistyczna, Migraciones y diásporas de la América Latina contemporánea conference in Krakow, Poland. There, she presented a paper on “La emigración de retorno en un valle del Pirineo Navarro.” Amaia also gave a lecture at the Catedra de Lengua y Cultura Vasca of the University of Navarre and at the Migration Museum of La Rioja (Spain). Last August, she returned to UNR and is now writing her dissertation on the influence of migration and return in Aezkoa, Navarre

What have you been up to this semester? 

Just writing and working on my dissertation, which takes up all of my time! As I did archival research this past year, I’ve had to go through all of the documents I gathered, which number in the thousands.

Have you attended any other conferences or have any future lecturing plans?

I presented at the CBS’s Fall 2016 Basque Multidisciplinary Seminar Series, with a talk entitled: “Returning Home: Marriage Strategies of Aezkoa’s Migrants in the Nineteenth Century.” I also had the chance to present with Edurne and Kerri at the  Galena Creek Visitor’s Center. I’m currently planning my trip to the Southern American Studies Association’s 2017 conference in March, which I’m attending with Edurne.

Do you have any new research interests?

I have enough with my dissertation!

What are your plans for next semester?

After defending my dissertation, I’m looking forward to moving back home and taking it easy while I look for positions as a history professor in the Basque Country. I’m going to start taking part again in Etniker Nafarroa, a group which works on ethnography of the Navarrese region.

Ziortza Gandarias

In the fall of 2015, Ziortza presented a paper for the Basque Lecture Series in the Center entitled: “Behind the Imagined Community of the Basque Diaspora.” She also presented a paper at a conference at Vrije Universiteit Brussel, in Brussels. The paper, “Basque Exile and the Translation of World Literature into Basque: A Postcolonial Approach,” dealt with the importance of translation for understanding minority languages. In the spring of 2016, she presented a paper, “The Perfect Womanhood: Basque Women Behind the Basque National Textual Body,” for the College of Liberal Arts Graduate Students’ series. The paper analyzed the importance of women in the maintenance of Basque identity in diasporic communities. In April, she gave another paper, “Basque Exile: More Than a Geographical Concept, an Engagement Movement,” for a conference on Exploring Diversity and Equity Through Access, Retention & Engagement at UNR. This fall Ziortza is doing dissertation-related research in various Basque archives. She has also started to interview contemporary Basque writers and intellectuals to enlighten the main focus of her doctoral research: What is the impact of the diaspora on the Basque Country’s hegemonic cultural establishment?

What have you been up to this semester?

I was in the Basque Country in the fall, doing archival work. I visited different archives such as those at Euskaltzaindia, the Sabino Arana Foundation, and the Basque Historical Archive. I also spent some time interviewing diverse people that work around my dissertation topic.

What projects are you carrying out or have you finished? 

Now that I’ve returned, I’m trying to put together all of the documentation I found in the Basque Country as well as using the Jon Bilbao Basque Library’s resources to expand upon my work.

Any future conference plans?

I’m part of a panel with Amaia, Edurne, and Iker Arranz, a former student at CBS, for the UNR Diversity Summit in March. I’m also submitting paper topics for various other conferences.

Do you have any new research interests?

When I was in the Basque Country, I realized that what I’m studying for my dissertation is truly what I enjoy. I didn’t necessarily open my research interests, but I was able to understand how important my research is to me and hopefully the wider public will think the same.

What are your plans for next semester?

Reading and dedicating myself completely to my research.

Horohito Norhatan

Horohito Norhatan is a doctoral candidate in Basque Studies and Political Science. His research interests include global political economy, international relations, comparative politics, cooperative movements, and community based economic development. While pursuing his Ph.D., Horohito has been working at the Center for Basque Studies as a Graduate Assistant. During the Fall 2016 semester, Horohito has begun his third year field research in Cleveland, Ohio, where he is conducting a comparative analysis between the Mondragón Cooperative in the Basque Country and the Evergreen Cooperative in Ohio. His research draws on survey inquiry, administrative data, and micro-simulation of policy process and analysis.

What have you been up to this semester? 

I have been traveling back and forth from Reno to Cleveland, Ohio, and Chicago. The purpose of my trips to both cities was to obtain permission to investigate the cooperative in Cleveland. The founders of this cooperative are professors at different universities across the nation.

What projects are you carrying out or have you finished? 
I am writing my research prospectus. This prospectus is crucial for my data collection. Once approved, I can start inquiring into and investigating the cooperative in Ohio.

Do you have any new research interests?
My research interests have been the same for some time. My research has always been related to economic development, community development, public policy, political economy, comparative politics, international relations, and the cooperative movement.

What are your plans for next semester?

I will teach PSC 211 Comparative Politics at UNR.

Do you have any news from the Basque Country or on the Basque Diaspora you’d like to share with the wider public?

Check out this fun newspaper article I came across about California Congressman Garamendi:

http://www.latimes.com/politics/la-pol-ca-garamendi-basque-roots-20160702-snap-htmlstory.html

Kerri Lesh

Last summer Kerri spent two months studying the Basque language in a barnetegi in Lazkao, Gipuzkoa. This fall she started her second year of graduate level coursework at UNR. She passed her comprehensive exams in December. In January 2017, Kerri will return to the Basque Country to begin a year of fieldwork in which she will study the intersection of language and Basque gastronomy. In the fall of 2016, Kerri served as a teaching assistant in Sandy Ott’s “Basque Culture” course. She also attended the annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association in Minneapolis, where she expanded her academic network.

What have you been up to this past semester?

Studying for my Comprehensive Exams, spending my first semester as a TA, preparing to live abroad, and improving my salsa dancing skills.

What projects are you carrying out or have you finished?  

I finished my first poster on the Basque language for a class and have worked with the GSA and the BOAS anthropology grad group for the Winter Clothing Drive, as well as working on my visa application. In addition to all this, I have been studying for the Certified Specialist of Wine exam, which I will take next year.

Do you have any new research interests? 

Yes, always!  I have expanded my interests in indigenous cultures and have started comparing their language revitalization efforts to those of Basque.

What are your plans for next semester? 

I will be living in Euskal Herria and improving my knowledge of the Basque language.

Do you have any news from the Basque Country or on the Basque Diaspora you’d like to share with the wider public? 

Lots will be happening for the Basque subregion of the Rioja Alavesa this next year.  I might also be visiting South America over break and gathering more information about how cultural identity is retained there through gastronomy.

Edurne Arostegui

As the newest addition to the graduate student cohort, Edurne has been “learning the ropes,” keeping up the CBS blog, and focusing on her classes. She has also found time to kick off the CBS’s Fall 2016 Basque Multidisciplinary Seminar Series, in which she spoke about her current research interest: the creation of Basque-American identity through theories of representation and recognition. Together with fellow students Amaia Iraizoz and Kerri Lesh, she gave a talk at the Galena Creek Visitors’ Center. She was thrilled to see so many people from outside the academic world who had come out to learn about their research and the Basques in general. Lastly, and perhaps her most favorite activity to date, Edurne led a class on the Athletic Club of Bilbao and “soccer madness” in Sandy Ott’s “Basque Culture” course. Edurne has found a family and a home here at the Center and in Reno.

What have you been up to this past semester? 

It took some time to adjust to my new life here in Reno, but I have been pleasantly surprised. I took three classes last semester in different departments and am looking forward to my classes this year. I basically spend all my time in my office, which is my second home!

What projects are you carrying out or have you finished? 

Besides my coursework, I’m reading for my dissertation and trying to network with the Basque community in Reno and beyond.

Any plans for future conferences?

I’m going to Virginia in March for the Southern American Studies Association’s 2017 conference with Amaia. We are also planning on getting in contact with some of the Euskal Etxeak on the East Coast to visit during our trip. I’m also going to present on a panel with Amaia, Ziortza, and Iker Arranz at the UNR Diversity Summit.

Do you have any new research interests?

More than new research interests, I have rediscovered how much I enjoy theoretical writings on diverse subjects, and that has led me to spend my time revisiting the classics as well as new thinkers. Although I’m a historian, Professor Boehm’s seminar on cultural anthropology really opened my eyes to new theories and I look forward to applying them to my own research.

What are your plans for next semester?

This semester will be as busy as the last. Besides my classes and conferences, I’m working with Hito to organize a conference series at the CBS. I’m also thinking ahead to different opportunities to research during the summer.

Do you have any news from the Basque Country or on the Basque Diaspora you’d like to share with the wider public?

I was surprised to hear that Miguel Zugaza, the former director of the Prado Museum in Madrid, had decided to return to Bilbao and its Museum of Fine Arts. Although I love the Prado, Zugaza has good taste: who wouldn’t want to go back to Bilbao! The Museum of Fine Arts was one of my favorite places to spend time in when I was living in Bilbao and I look forward to returning and seeing what changes he makes. For more information, check out the following article, in Spanish:

http://cultura.elpais.com/cultura/2016/11/30/actualidad/1480510027_504389.html

Chillida art explained scientifically!

Today we’d like to share a short but nevertheless fascinating Basque-related news item. Volume 55 of the chemistry journal Angewandte Chemie: International Edition, published on behalf of the German Chemical Society, recently included on its front cover a sculpture by renowned Basque artist Eduardo Chillida (1924-2002). The image accompanies an article in the journal: “Structurally Defined Molecular Hypervalent Iodine Catalysts for Intermolecular Enantioselective Reactions,” by Dr. Stefan Haubenreisser, Dr. Thorsten H. Wöste, Dr. Claudio Martínez, Prof. Dr. Kazuaki Ishihara, and Prof. Dr. Kilian Muñiz. According to the abstract: “The monumental ‘Elegy to the Horizon’ by the Basque artist Eduardo Chillida oversees the Atlantic coast at the town of Gijón (Asturias, Spain). A similar structural shape is involved in the enantiodiscrimination of alkenes through a chiral iodine(III) catalyst.” It would appear, then, that Chillida captured in his art the structural shape of the intermediate molecule of a chemical process. Remarkable!

Check out the article here for an enchanting intersection between science and art.

 

 

The Maskarada: A Unique Basque Cultural Event

Zamalzain, the hobbyhorse/centaur, one of the striking characters in the masakarada performance. Photo by Oier Araolaza, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Yesterday, January 22, the annual maskarada begin its annual odyssey. Part drama, part dance, part poetic performance (both memorized and improvised),  and with more than a coincidental resemblance to the forthcoming carnival antics across the Basque Country, this is a cultural form unique to Xiberoa (or Zuberoa) in the far northeast of the Basque Country, in which a group of amateurs from the same area traditionally perform a form of transgressive, subversive, and parodic open-air popular theater with the declared aim of poking fun at those in authority. The traveling troupe always includes the same characters, a set group made up of ostensibly “good” and “bad” figures, although the lines do get blurred. At root, this is a tradition designed to cement community ties and one that celebrates both the Basque language and traditional music and dance. It has been practiced since at least the sixteenth century.

This year’s event is being performed by  a group of young people aged 15 to 24 from the villages of Ezpeize-Ündüreine, Ürrüstoi-Larrabile, Ainharbe, Sarrikotapea, Onizepea, and Mitikile in the Pettarra region of northern Xiberoa, and kicked off in Ezpeize itself. The maskarada is returning to this region 100 years after it was last performed here. In the video above you can see the introductory dance following the so-called fall of the first barricade.

One of the most spectacular moments in the maskarada is the godaleta(a) dantza (dance of the glass of wine), in which dancers attempt to momentarily hop on and off a glass of wine. Check out this video of dancers attempting the feat at a separate event in Donibane Lohizune, Lapurdi:

Check out, too, “The Folk Arts of the Maskarada Performance” by Kepa Fernández de Larrinoa in Voicing the Moment: Improvised Oral Poetry and Basque Tradition, edited by Samuel G. Armistead and Joseba Zulaika. In his article, Fernández de Larrinoa explains who the characters are in this performance as well as the set pattern of scenes they perform, and what all of this means within the wider context of the culture of Xiberoa.

This book is available free to download here.

 

January 20, 1935: First National Bertsolaritza Championship held

January 20, 1935 is a key date in Basque cultural history as it marks the first time a national championship was held for bertsolaritza (improvised sung oral poetry) one of the most dynamic and singular forms of Basque cultural expression.

Inazio Eizmendi or “Basarri” (1913-1999) in October 1937. One of the great figures of bertsolaritza who dominated the art form for thirty years. Image by Jesus Elosegui, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Termed at the time the First Bertsolari Day, the event was held in the Poxpolin Theater in Donostia and included the participation of some nineteen competitors. In the collective mindset of the organizers it was hoped that this relatively new format, an organized contest with a panel of judges evaluating the quality of the bertsoak (verses) on their technical features alone (or their degree of difficulty if you will) on a points-based system, would help to propel bertsolaritza into the twentieth century and away from what some at least considered its rather dubious connections with the raucous world of taverns and cider houses. That said, some of the traditional older bertsolariak (oral improvisers) who came from the latter tradition did take part in the championship, most famously of all Txirrita (Jose Manuel Lujanbio), the greatest of all cider house bertsolariak. As Gorka Aulestia observes in Voicing the Moment, “Txirrita, the elderly patriarch of traditional bertsolaritza –at the age of seventy five, weighing 260 pounds and dressed in the customary long black shirt– did not fit the image envisaged by” the more progressive organizers.

In the end, and much to their relief, the event was won by a young twenty-two-year-old from Gipuzkoa, born in Errezil but who had lived in Zarautz from age seven: Inazio Eizmendi, who went by the name “Basarri.” And the runner-up was Matxin Irabola from Senpere, Lapurdi. Basarri was the ideal winner for the modernizers who had encouraged the idea of moving bertsolaritza toward a championship format. He was young, forward-thinking, and would ultimately lead bertsolaritza out of the taverns and into more the neutral public settings of towns and squares. In short, this first national championship served a s a springboard to change the whole face of bertsolaritza, marking not just a generational change among its leading exponents but also a transformation in the very way the art form was conceived and performed.

Further reading

Voicing the Moment: Improvised Oral Poetry and Basque Tradition, edited by Samuel G. Armistead and Joseba Zulaika. Free to download here. The definitive introductory guide to bertsolaritza in English that not only outlines the history and sociocultural impact of the art form in the Basque Country but also explains how it functions, the changes that have taken place in recent years with the coming of the technological age, and sets all this within a global framework by also discussing other worldwide examples of improvised oral art forms.

Improvisational Poetry from the Basque Country by Gorka Aulestia. An essential history of bertsolaritza to the modern age.

Bertsolaritza: The Reality, Tradition and Future of Basque Oral Improvisation by Joxerra Garzia. Free to download here. History and contemporary analysis of the art form by a leading theoretician of bertsolaritza.

 

Basques get ready for San Sebastian Day

Tomorrow, January 20, is a key date on the calendar for some Basques at least: San Sebastian Day, celebrated above all in Donostia-San Sebastián and Azpeitia, Gipuzkoa. The central event in this exuberant, 24-hour party is the danborrada, a loud and proud drum festival in which everyone who can takes part. The festival kicks off at exactly midnight on January 20 and goes on for the next 24 hours, nonstop.

In Donostia, at midnight the mayor hoists the flag of the city in Constitution Square, a central hub of the city’s old quarter that is jam-packed for the celebrations. Meanwhile, participants dressed up as cooks or in old fashioned military uniforms beat out a nonstop rhythmic (and almost deafening) sound as the city well and truly lets its hair down. With carnival season just around the corner, there is more than just a hint of he carnivalesque in all this. The origins of this unique celebration are said to date back to the military occupation of the city by Napoleon’s troops toward the end of the Peninsular War (1807-1814), when some women, whose daily chores included fetching and carrying water from public fountains, began to mock the French soldiers’ drumming by banging on their water pails. Thereafter, in the 1830s local residents began mocking the daily changing of the guard by soldiers stationed in the city. Probably in connection with the carnival season, a traditional time to mock authority, some locals began a raucous custom–like those women a generation before–of using buckets and hardware to mimic the solemnity of these daily military parades.

With time, various clubs and associations–mot famously, gastronomic societies such as the famous Gaztelube (hence the dressing up as cooks)–began to get involved in the celebrations, and this is the tradition that lasts to this day, with members of these associations taking the event very seriously indeed, practicing their drumming until the big day arrives. And even kids get involved, with school groups performing their own danborrada during the daytime on January 20. A traditional repertoire of musical compositions accompany all this drumming, most famously “The March of San Sebastian” (1861), with music by Raimundo Sarriegui (1838-1913) and lyrics by Serafin Baroja (1840-1912)

Modern Basque version 

Bagera!
gu (e)re bai
gu beti pozez, beti alai!

Sebastian bat bada zeruan
Donosti(a) bat bakarra munduan
hura da santua ta hau da herria
horra zer den gure Donostia!

Irutxuloko, Gaztelupeko
Joxemaritar zahar eta gazte
Joxemaritar zahar eta gazte
kalerik kale danborra joaz
umore ona zabaltzen hor dihoaz
Joxemari!

Gaurtandik gerora penak zokora
Festara! Dantzara!
Donostiarrei oihu egitera gatoz
pozaldiz!
Inauteriak datoz!

English translation

Here we are!
us too
we’re always happy, always cheerful!

There’s a Sebastian in the sky
one unique San Sebastián in the world
that’s the saint and this is the town
That’s what our San Sebastián is!

From Irutxulo, from Gaztelupe
The Joxemaritarras old and young
The Joxemaritarras old and young
from street to street playing the drum
there they go spreading good cheer
Joxemari!

From now on away with any hardships
Let’s party! Dance!
Shouting out to all the people of Donostia
Joyful!
The carnival is coming!

And don’t forget, the great town of Azpeitia also celebrates San Sebastian Day in its own unique way…

From sea to mountain, some beautiful aerial views of Iparralde

The pretty village of Ainhoa, Lapurdi, captured in some stunning video images below. Photo by Harrieta171, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The newspaper Sud-Ouest recently posted the following video of the bay of Donibane Lohizune/Ziburu (Saint-Jean-de-Luz/Ciboure) in winter and we liked it so much we’d  like to share it with you all. Of course, the bay of Donibane Lohizune/Ziburu is one of the most significant points on the Basque map, with its rich maritime history sprinkled with the odd exotic tale of pirates and corsairs.

This got us to thinking that there are so many great visual portraits of the Basque Country out there, so why not include a few more? Who not, indeed!? Moving inland a little, then, here are some great images, from both yesteryear and today, of the hamlet of Dantxaria and the village of Ainhoa, undoubtedly one of the most picturesque corners of our beloved Basque Country. This is borderland country between Lapurdi and Nafarroa (and between France and Spain), the Xareta region, so it once had a reputation for quite a bit of gau lana (night work) – what some people would call smuggling and others a little local entrepreneurship:

Farther east, inland into deep into mountain territory, check out this dramatic portrait of Aldude (Les Aldudes) in Baxe Nafarroa (Nafarroa Beherea, Lower Navarre), the original terrain of so many Basque sheepherders in the American West.

 

Finally we’ll head even more inland, to the Wild East of the Basque Country, the timeless, almost mythical province of Xiberoa (Zuberoa), where the people sing rather than speak Basque!

These two videos are part of a wider collection available here via Xibero Telebista.

If all of this has inspired you to delve more deeply into the wonders of Iparralde, the Northern Basque Country, then check out Philippe Veyrin’s classic The Basques of Lapurdi, Zuberoa, and Lower Navarre: Their History and Their Traditions. And see, too, our very own Sandy Ott’s The Circle of Mountains: A Basque Shepherding Community, a marvelously evocative ethnography that recounts the traditional way of life, and how people tenaciously hold onto it despite the changes taking place all around them, in a small Basque mountain community in Xiberoa.

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