Author: katu (page 1 of 31)

February 18, 1934: Fashion icon Paco Rabanne born

On February 18, 1934, Francisco “Paco” Rabaneda Cuervo was born in Pasaia, Gipuzkoa. He would go on to become Paco Rabanne, the enfant terrible of the French fashion world in the 1960s and one of the most illustrious names in the history of fashion design.

Not long after his birth, the Spanish Civil War broke out in 1936 and that part of Gipukoa where he was from, close to France, witnessed an early invasion by rebel troops in an attempt to cut off access to the border. Indeed, his father, a colonel in the Spanish army who remained loyal to the democratically elected government of the Second Republic, was executed by the insurgent forces. The family subsequently fled to France, first to Morlaix (Montroulez in Breton) in Brittany and then to Les Sables-d’Olonne, a coastal town in the western Department of Vendée.

Iconic metal and plastic dress designed by Paco Rabanne (1967). Worn by Baroness Helen Bachofen von Echt at New York party at which she danced with Frank Sinatra. Image by Nadia Priestly, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Rabanne would have been aware of the fashion industry from an early age as his mother had been chief seamstress at the Balenciaga salon, owned by the other great Basque fashion icon, Cristóbal Balenciaga (see an earlier post here). Although he originally studied architecture at the French National Fine Arts School in Paris in the 1950s, by the end of his studies he was already designing jewelry for Givenchy, Dior, and of course Balenciaga. He founded his own fashion house in 1966 and gained a reputation for his radical and striking designs, often incorporating a diversity of colors and unconventional materials such as metal, paper, and plastic, and with more than a hint of a futurist or post-industrial elements. Indeed, he was responsible for the costume design in the iconic science fiction movie Barbarella (1968), starring Jane Fonda.  In the late 1960s he began a collaboration with Barcelona-based fragrance company Puig, which resulted in the launch of the Rabanne perfume line, one of the best-known brands in the world. More recently, from the 1990s on, he began exhibiting his drawings and paintings, but he remains one of the great fashion icons of the world today.

Check out the official Paco Rabanne website here.

 

Old European culture and language finds new home and thrives thousands of miles across the Atlantic: Does this sound familiar?

Do you know the name of a small stateless nation in Western Europe with a vibrant and distinct old culture and language (which predates later languages like English, French, and Spanish), has a flag composed of the colors red, white, and green, and from where people left in the nineteenth century to settle an inhospitable landscape in the Americas, while today their descendants celebrate their cultural heritage by maintaining many of the customs and the language of their forbears?  Got it? Yes… it’s Wales!

The flag of Wales. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

We’ve posted before on the cultural and historical links between the Basque Country and Wales, and we think this is yet another great story that will resonate with people with Basque connections. In 1865, a group of Welsh people settled in Patagonia, Argentina, developing the inhospitable landscape to forge what is today Chubut Province. The capital of Chubut is Rawson (from the Welsh ‘Trerawson’) and other Welsh place names include Puerto Madryn (‘Porth Madryn’ in Welsh), Trelew, and Trevelin. Interestingly, these were all Welsh-speakers, and the settlement was a planned effort to try and establish a new Welsh-speaking community 7,000 miles away from home. Its founders were worried that, with the growing emphasis placed on English, the Welsh language would die out in Wales and thus embarked on this extraordinary journey. To this day, and despite many ups and downs, Welsh exists as a language of everyday use in this part of Argentina, in the area known as Y Wladfa (the Colony), and is strongest in the coastal towns of Gaiman and Trelew, and the Andean settlement of Trevelin. Today, estimates vary on there being anywhere between 5,000 and 12,000 native Welsh-speakers in this area, with a further 25,000 speaking it as their second language. After a number of years through the twentieth century when official Argentinian government policy sought to establish a Spanish-only society, in the last few decades Argentina has embraced what it sees as the general benefits of a multicultural and multilingual society. This has led to a flourishing of the Welsh language, with schools full of learners and newspapers like Y Drafod (established in 1891) and the newer Clecs Camwy (2011).

The flag of Puerto Madryn, representing the Welsh-Argentinian experience. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

If you have a spare hour, check out this amazing documentary, in English, Welsh, and Spanish (with subtitles!), made by the BBC Cymru/Wales, about this community.

So what of the Basque connection? Well, apart from the obvious similarities in the immigrant experience as a whole, as we all know, Basques also settled in Argentina. There is a Basque community in Chubut as well, represented by the Centro Vasco Etorritakoengatk in Puerto Madryn and the Centro Vasco del Noreste del Chubut in Trelew. And we know that both the Welsh- and Basque-Argentinians have taken part together in many multicultural events.

While such stories may be somewhat anecdotal to the great “narrative” of the history we are taught more generally, footnotes at best within larger, supposedly more important stories, I do think they are valid examples of the triumph and endurance of the human spirit; of how we as groups cherish our cultures, our minority (and minoritized) languages, and the lengths we go to in order to maintain and extend our community ties via these cultures and languages. And there are many lessons to be learned here for Basque-Americans. Cautionary tales do abound, of course, such as that of the Scottish Gaelic-speaking community in Prince Edward Island and Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, Canada, which numbered around 200,000 people in 1850–helping make Gaelic, in both its Scottish and Irish varieties (the latter found principally in Newfoundland) the third most spoken language in Canada after English and French at the time–but today stands at around 7,000. That said, the Government of Nova Scotia did establish an Office of Gaelic Affairs to support and promote the Gaelic language there and current efforts to revitalize the language include literature and even movies in Gaelic.  Check out the following short documentary movie about the Gaels (Gaelic-speakers) in this regard:

If you’re interested in this topic, you may like our multi-authored work, Language Rights and Cultural Diversity, edited by Xabier Irujo and Viola Miglio. This work addresses the themes of language rights and language protection, and how minority languages contribute to enriching the lives of all those around them (something that is explicitly made clear toward the end of the BBC Cymru/Wales documentary).

 

“The Time of the Lambing and Shearing” – A New Exhibit at the Basque Museum & Cultural Center in Boise

If you’re near Boise this week, check out the opening of what promises to be a fascinating new exhibit, “The Time of Lambing and Shearing,” at the Basque Museum & Cultural Center. The opening and reception take place on Thursday, February 23, at 6:00 pm.

The exhibit is based on the work of photojournalist Jan Boles, who in 1976 photographed the last lambing and shearing operations at the J.D. Aldecoa and Son, Inc ranch for a feature for the Idaho Free Press. Just recently, we posted a response to a reader’s query about native Basque breeds of sheep (see the post here) and it got us to thinking that there is a potentially a major narrative to be written about the role of sheep and sheepherding in forging the American West.  Lambing and shearing are two key cultural as well as practical events in the calendar of any sheepherding culture, bringing communities together. In the Basque case, such times would have represented a great example of auzolan. According to Wikipedia, the sheep-shearing feast is the setting for Act IV of Shakespeare’s A Winter’s Tale. And sixteenth-century English poet and farmer Thomas Tusser even created  a verse for the occasion:

Wife make us a dinner, spare flesh neither corne,
Make wafers and cakes, for our sheepe must be shorne,
At sheep shearing neighbors none other thing craue,
but good cheer and welcome, like neighbors to haue

Even if you can’t  make it to the opening tomorrow, this promises to be well worth a visit. We’re sure the exhibit will be yet another wonderful addition by the Basque Museum & Cultural Center to a greater understanding of the importance and contribution of Basques to this more general story.

It goes without saying that the seminal Amerikanuak: Basques in the New World, by William A. Douglass and Jon Bilbao is  must read for anyone interested in the importance of the sheep industry to the Basque experience in the United States. For the Old World experience, check out Sandra Ott’s superb ethnography, The Circle of Mountains: A Basque Shepherding Community.

February 16, 2015: First edition of rare Basque manuscript discovered

Cover of Dotrina christiana (first edition, 1617), by Esteve Materra. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

On February 16, 2015 it was announced that a unique first edition of Esteve Materra’s Doctrina Christiana (Christian Doctrine, Bordeaux, 1617) had been discovered in the Royal Library, Copenhagen, Denmark. The discovery was made by the Aziti Bihia linguists’ and philologists’ association, a group of doctoral students at the University of the Basque Country whose interests lay predominantly in historical linguistics linked to Basque philology. The young people involved in the find were Borja Ariztimuño, Dorota Krajewska, Urtzi Reguero, Ekaitz Santazilia, Oxel Uribe-Etxeberria, and Eneko Zuloaga.

Flyer to promote the official announcement of the find, February 16, 2015. From the Aziti Bihia website.

Doctrina Christiana was one of the first ever books published in Euskara, the Basque language, and is written in classical Lapurdian. Its author, Esteve Materra (or possibly Materre), was a Franciscan monk and abbot of the La Réole monastery in southwestern France when the book was first published, although by the time it went to a second edition (1623) he had moved to the Franciscan monastery in Toulouse. Although not a native Basque-speaker, Materra spent some time in Sara, Lapurdi, where he had been sent at the height of the Counter Reformation to bolster the rearguard action of the Roman Catholic Church, including in its Inquisition policy. In barely twelve months in the Basque Country he learned Basque, although the very clarity and perfection of the text makes the members of Aziti Bihia suspect that he may have received help in writing it. Masterra himself notes in the prologue to the book that he was aided by Axular. Pedro Axular (1556-1664) was the parish priest of Sara and author of the first great literary text in Basque, Guero (1643). Whatever the case, the book is an important work when it comes to understanding the historical development of written Basque.

The first edition of the work is relatively simple in appearance, as if written for children or young people, in question and answer style; by the second edition, however, an additional section had been added, specifically for seafarers, and the work as a whole was more serious in tone and longer. This is important because originally the Aziti Bihia group had been working on transcribing the second edition of 1623, a copy of which is housed in the Bodleian Library, Oxford, before stumbling across a reference to the earlier edition in Denmark.

For more information on the text itself (including transcriptions) click here at the Aziti Bihia website.

 

From an Early Basque Literature Connection to a Playground for Hollywood Royalty: The Remarkable Story of the Etxauz Château

Set amid the lush green hills surrounding Baigorri in Lower Navarre, the Etxauz Château is one of the most important buildings, historically and culturally speaking, in Iparralde, the Northern Basque Country.  It is thought to have been constructed around 1555 on the orders of Grazian Etxauz, Viscount of Baigorri, a member of one of the oldest noble houses in Lower Navarre (whose family name has historically also been spelled Echauz, Eschaud, (de) Echaux, and Etchauz). Thereafter it enjoyed a remarkable history that included some illustrious owners and guests.

The grandson of Grazian Etxauz, Bertrand Etxauz (c. 1556-1641), inherited the title Viscount of Baigorri together with the property on the death of his father Antoine, who had been breadmaster to King Henry II of France (an important position at the French court). Bertrand entered the Church and, possessing good connections as an almoner to both his kinsman King Henry IV (Henry III of Navarre) and his successor Louis XIII, was appointed Bishop of Baiona in 1599. Then in 1617 he was made Archbishop of Tours, a post he held until his death in 1641. Bertrand Etxauz was a strong advocate of the Catholic Counter-Reformation, especially in response to the rise of Calvinism in the Basque Country in the sixteenth century (on which see a previous post on Jeanne d’Albret, Queen of Navarre) and also took part in organizing the Catholic Church’s witch hunts. In regard to the latter, however, it would appear that Etxauz called for clemency where possible and a peaceful solution o to the issue of suspected witchcraft. In The Basques of Lapurdi, Zuberoa, and Lower Navarre: Their History and Their Traditions, Philippe Veyrin notes (p. 179): “on the advice of the prelate [Etxauz], who was disturbed by the excesses of the criminal commission [on witchcraft], Henry IV recalled the cruel councilor De Lancre who had been unwisely granted overextended powers.” Etxauz even intervened personally to save the lives of five priests who had been condemned to death for alleged witchcraft activities.

Bertrand Etxauz (c. 1556-1641).

Interestingly, a 1584 letter written in Basque by Etxauz to his brother is housed in the French National Library and he was clearly involved in Basque cultural circles.  He was a friend and patron of Pedro Agerre, “Axular” (c. 1556-1644)–widely considered the most prominent among a productive school of writers of religious literature in the Lapurdian dialect of Basque in the early seventeenth century–whom he appointed parish priest of Sara, Lapurdi, in 1600; and this in the face of some protest because Axular was considered in some quarters a “foreigner,” having been born in Urdazubi, Navarre. Indeed, and probably at Etxauz’s insistence, Henry IV even had to write a letter supporting the appointment of Axular to the post – an extraordinary act in many ways, given that he was just a humble parish priest in a relatively quiet backwater of the kingdom. Toward the end of his life Axular published Guero (Later, 1643), one of the classic founding works of Basque literature, in which he included a dedication of thanks to Etxauz. What’s more, another writer and poet associated with this school, Joannes Etxeberri of Ziburu (c. 1580-c.1665), also included a dedication to Etxauz in his Eliçara erabiltçeco liburua (A book to use in church, 1636).

Imaginary portrait of Pedro Agerre “Axular,” with the title page of Guero in the background. Drawing by Jose Eizagirre Aiestaran. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The château remained in the Etxauz family, which had married into another noble family, the Caupenne d’Amous, until the nineteenth century, when the last Etxauz-Caupenne d’Amou–Jeanne Marie Marguerite de Caupenne d’Amou (1772-1830) and her husband Jean Harispe died childless. In 1848, Jeanne Marie Marguerite’s niece, who had inherited the property, sold it to Jean-Charles d’Abbadie d’Arrast (1821-1901), who lived there until his death. He was the son of a well-to-do family with a father from Ürrustoi-Larrebille (Arrast-Larrebieu) in Zuberoa and a mother from Dublin, Ireland (in fact, the couple’s children were born in Dublin). One of his brothers, Arnaud-Michel d’Abbadie (1815-1893) was a geographer who explored and wrote about the geography, geology, archaeology, and natural history of Ethiopia. Arnaud-Michel was accompanied on his travels by older brother, Antoine Thomson d’Abbadie d’Arrast (1810-1897), the great explorer, geographer, ethnologist, linguist, and astronomer, who was also a key figure in promoting Basque culture in the nineteenth century.  Antoine had his own château in Hendaia, Lapurdi, which remains an important site of historic and cultural interest to this day (see an earlier post on this château).

Following Jean-Charles’s death in 1901, the château remained in the family and was used as vacation home by subsequent generations. Prominent among these younger members of the family to use Etxauz was Harry d’Abbadie d’Arrast (1897-1968). Born in Argentina, Harry served in the French army in World War I and later became a Hollywood screenwriter and director, being nominated at the 4th Academy Awards for the now defunct category of “Best Story” for the film Laughter (1930). In the 1920s and 1930s he also entertained many Hollywood luminaries at the Etxauz Château in the heart of the Basque Country, including Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, and Gloria Swanson as well as frequent guest Charlie Chaplin (who visited in 1925, 1926, and 1931). Harry had been an assistant director on Chaplin’s classic The Gold Rush (1925) and the two formed a friendship as a result (a friendship that later withered resulting in Harry’s name being removed from the credits during future screenings of the movie). One anecdote goes that Chaplin was not best pleased with the badly functioning out-of-date phone at the château, so on one of his visits he brought his own phone with him, which he subsequently left there and which became a feature of the residence.

Harry d’Abbadie d’Arrast and and his wife Eleanor Boardman.

In yet another amazing twist, the château was occupied by Nazi forces in World War II. Many of the soldiers stationed there were actually Austrians from similarly mountainous regions back home, They left their physical mark on the place, drawing murals that still survive to this day. Harry no longer returned to Etxauz after the war. He had married retired silent film actress Eleanor Boardman (1898–1991) in 1940 and after he died in Monte Carlo in 1968 she sold the estate, which had been in the family for over 100 years, in 1976. The new owners did not treat the property so well, unfortunately, and it was left to decay. That said, in 1989 it was officially classified as a historical monument (monument historique), the designation given to a site of national heritage in France. And in the mid-1990s it was bought, restored, and turned into a guesthouse. Then in December 2003 it was bought by a Miami-based businessman and his wife (from Erratzu in Navarre).

They are now looking to sell and this has prompted a grassroots campaign to buy the property, which this campaign refers to as Etxauzia, to be used by the local community in the service of Basque culture and transformed into the Nafartarren Etxea (the home of the Navarrese). This is a campaign intended to mobilize all the Basque Country and the diaspora in order to create a singular meeting point in one of the most important historical Basque buildings still in existence.

Check out the campaign website here.

Sources:

Nagore Irazustabarrena, “Etxauz: Axular eta Chplin lotzen ditun haria,” Argia (May 31, 2015).

“A Thousand Years of History,” Part 1 and Part 2 at the Etxauzia website.

 

 

 

February 7, 1842: A controversial marriage, or two

A pandero-jotzaile (tambourine player) and txistulariak (pipe players) lead a traditional Basque wedding procession. Marriage was a key social and economic event because it signified that those joined in union would become the etxekoandre and etxekojaun, the mistress and master of a baserri or farmstead; in sum, the sole proprietors of the central socioeconomic unit of Basque culture and life. Whoever was marrying into the property, man or woman, would bring with them certain possessions: material goods, animals, and even land. Hence the all important wedding procession, typically headed by an ox-drawn cart, which showed off these worldly goods.

On February 7, 1842 Jean Bonepelts married Marie Etxeberri, of the Behorlegi baserri (farmstead) in the Ondarrola district of Arnegi, Lower Navarre. Not untypically in such border areas of the Basque Country, although administratively Ondarrola was part of Arnegi (Arnéguy) and therefore subject to French civil law, in church matters it was part of the neighboring town of Luzaide (Valcarlos) in Navarre. However, the couple were married in the parish church of Arnegi by Father Jean Baptiste Errecart. Again not untypically, the couple were blood relations, on two levels, within the third and fourth degrees of consanguinity. Accordingly, they had been obliged to seek church permission prior to getting married, which they did from the Bishop of Baiona in Lapurdi. However, when word reached the curia (church council) in Pamplona-Iruñea, which as noted had religious jurisdiction over the district of Ondarrola, a formal complaint was lodged with the bishopric of Baiona and, receiving no response to its protest, it declared that, “the wrongly married couple should separate and make up for the error committed.”

That same year, on May 17, there was another marriage between two residents of Ondarrola, Jean Etxeberri and Catalina Caminondo, which also took place in the parish church of Arnegi. This time, the church authorities took stricter measures, with the Bishop of Pamplona-Iruñea excommunicating both couples and prohibiting entry into any church for their respective parents while “their children should remain in that state of concubinage.” In the end, both marriages had to be held again, this time in Luzaide and with the blessing of the Bishop of Pamplona-Iruñea. Etxeberri  and Caminondo went through the nuptial ceremony again in June 1843 while Bonepelts and Etxeberri did so once more much later, in April 1845. Only following these “second” marriages was the excommunication order withdrawn.

Information sourced from Iñaki Egaña, Mil noticias insólitas del país de los vascos (Tafalla: Txalaparta, 2001), p.185.

With respect to traditional Basque marriage customs, Philippe Veyrin’s wonderful The Basques of Lapurdi, Zuberoa, and Lower Navarre is worth quoting at some length (pp. 328-29):

Once the date of the wedding has been fixed (usually a Tuesday), everyone proceeds, a few days beforehand (generally two), to perform what is called hatüka. This is a matter of transporting to the house where the future couple will live the furniture and the trousseau brought by the newly arrived spouse, male or female. The father leads the first wagon harnessed with oxen in full livery: bells, thick fleeces to conceal the yoke, cloth mantles with wide blue or red stripes embroidered with giant initials. The artfully arranged trousseau is covered with a counterpane with a cushion on top. On a chair tied behind the wagon are placed clogs decorated with copper nails in the shape of an ace of hearts or of spades; there are also a broom, a pick-axe, and a rake. Previously, in the case of the bride, the distaff, the spindles, and the reels were prominently displayed, and these symbolic objects were often finely carved and decorated. On other wagons, more or less numerous depending on the wealth of the bridegroom, pride of place was given to the mattresses and the furnishings, all displayed to their greatest advantage. The seamstress and the joiner, the authors of all these treasures, formed part of the procession; it was they who, on arrival, arranged the bedroom of the newlyweds. Often in the same parade, but sometimes separately, the godfather led a magnificent plump sheep with ribbons and gilded horns to be eaten at the wedding feast—escorted by a whole crowd of ewes with tinkling bells, the tzintzarrada. Not long ago, the procession also included several girls carrying on their heads big baskets furnished with napkins and filled with chicken, loaves of bread, bottles of wine and liqueur, big “spit-baked cakes” decorated with flowers , and so on—all food provided by the guests themselves. A good meal is of course given to all these visitors, and it can be said that the wedding really begins on that day. Two days later, everyone gathers at the square once more: the best men will go to fetch the bride, who gives each of them a fine cambric handkerchief. And, to the sound of a merry zinkha or irrintzina, everyone jostles and bustles to the town hall, and then, with more ceremony, to the church.

A few superstitions, now vanished, used to be in evidence at the nuptial blessing. This was supposed to have the power to sanctify the clothes worn on that particular day; so the bride would apparently cover herself in several dresses, one on top of the other—later, these would be very useful for her, affording her long-term shelter from spells. On his side, if the bridegroom feared the evil spell known as esteka, “physical deficiency,” he had to keep a fold of his future wife’s dress on his knees during the mass.

In several villages, there is a touching custom: after the wedding mass, the newlyweds, slipping away for a few moments from their entourage, go alone to the cemetery and pray at the tomb of the house that they will perpetuate. Husband or wife—whichever of the couple was until then a stranger to the estate—is thus, so to speak, solemnly associated on that day with the cult of the dead of the new family.

 

What’s in a song? Izarren hautsa

Xabier Lete performing in 1971. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

“Izarren hautsa” (Stardust) first appeared as track 6 on singer-songwriter Xabier Lete’s 1976 LP Kantatzera noazu (I’m coming to sing for you) but most Basque people will (still hopefully) be familiar with this song today, which counts among the canonical works in the Basque songbook.  Lete (1944-2010) is widely regarded as more than just a singer-songwriter and remains among the most important of modern Basque poets, with a clearly poetic sensibility that few other Basque songwriters have managed to achieve. Indeed, he published poetry throughout his life and his final book of poems, Egunsentiaren esku izotzak (Frozen hands of the dawn, 2008) won the Basque Literature Award in 2009.

“One day stardust became life.” Image by Jean-Lucien Guillaume, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

In “Izarren hautsa” Lete reflects on the meaning of life from the starting point that, in the final analysis, we are all just stardust.

Here’s the first and last couple of verses from this Basque starman’s epic “Izarren hautsa”:

Izarren hautsa egun batean bilakatu zen bizigai,

hauts hartatikan uste gabean noizpait ginaden gu ernai.

Eta horrela bizitzen gera sortuz ta sortuz gure aukera

atsedenik hartu gabe: lana eginaz goaz aurrera

kate horretan denok batera gogorki loturik gaude.

One day stardust became life,

from that dust, suddenly, at some point, we awoke.

And that’s how we carry on, relentlessly creating our own fate,

without rest: we keep on through work,

all firmly bound together in that chain.

Gu sortu ginen enbor beretik sortuko dira besteak,

burruka hortan iraungo duten zuhaitz-ardaska gazteak.

Beren aukeren jabe eraikiz ta erortzean berriro jaikiz

ibiltzen joanen direnak: gertakizunen indar ta argiz

gure ametsa arrazoi garbiz egiztatuko dutenak.

From the same trunk we were born, others will emerge,

young branches that will carry on in that struggle.

Becoming masters of their own fate and, having fallen, rising again,

those that will walk: through the power and brilliance of actions,

those that will transform our dreams through pure reason.

Eta ametsa bilakaturik egiaren antziduri

herri zahar batek bide berritik ekingo dio urduri;

guztian lana guztien esku jasoko dute sendo ta prestu,

beren bizitzen edargai; diru zakarrak bihotzik eztu,

lotuko dute gogor ta hestu haz ez dadin gizonen gain.

And transforming dreams into the form of truth,

an old people will, through new ways, face up to its doubts;

through everyone’s toil and support, they will receive, firm and upright,

the water of life; dirty money afflicts the heart,

they will control it, firmly and tightly, so it never overpowers them.

Lyrically, “Izarren hautsa” is an epic song, a tale of human life from its very beginnings to the creation of society, and Lete is profoundly concerned with the kind of society we as humans seek to create. He may, indeed, be interested in underscoring the flimsiness of civilization itself, recalling the warning in Shelley’s famous sonnet “Ozymandias” (1818) to anyone with pretensions to greatness, believing the myth that human power is timeless (And on the pedestal these words appear / ‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings / Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’ Nothing beside remains. Round the decay / Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare / The lone and level sands stretch far away). Lete also composed the music for the song although he enlisted the help of fellow musician and singer Antton Valverde to improve his original composition.

Lete sometimes found that his songs enjoyed more success when sung by others, in particular through the distinctive voice of fellow Basque folk icon Mikel Laboa (1934-2008).  Check out Laboa’s rearranged version of the song here:

Check out a faithful interpretation of Laboa’s version by singer-songwriter Anari (with great audience participation) here:

For a contemporary reworking of Laboa’s version check out the version below by the group Ken Zazpi:

Finally, check out a different reinterpretation of the song by the great Ruper Ordorika that relies more on the original Lete version for its inspiration:

Your call. Which version do you prefer?

If you’re interested in contemporary Basque music, be sure to check out Jon Eskisabel Urtuzaga’s Basque Songwriting: Pop, Rock, Folk, published by the Etxepare Basque Institute and available free to download here.

 

Bill Douglass to inaugurate “Elorriaga Basque Culture Series” at Boise State University

Bill Douglass will be at Boise State University on February 8 and 9 to inaugurate the “Elorriaga Basque Culture Series,” which will endeavor to showcase various forms of Basque culture. On campus he’ll be speaking to two courses (to which others are invited) on Wednesday, February 8: From 12:00-1:15 he will speak to the “Basque Culture” course on the topic of “Basques in Cuba” and then, from 3:00-4:15 he’ll speak to the “Navigating Identity” course on the topic of migration.

The following day, Thursday, February 9, he will offer a community talk titled “A ‘Basque’ author’s reflections,” which will be an overview of his publications in Basque Studies & beyond.

Click here for more information.

Veteran bertsolari Jon Azpillaga passes away

Jon Azpillaga Urrutia, one of the towering figures–both literally and metaphorically–of contemporary bertsolaritza (Basque poetic oral improvisation) passed away last Thursday, February 2, at the age of 81.

He was born in Pasaia, Gipuzkoa, in 1935, where his father Juan–originally from Ondarroa, Bizkaia–worked in the port. His mother, Veronica Urrutia, was originally from the Torre baserri (farmstead) in Berriatu, Bizkaia. After his father was killed in the Spanish Civil War, when he was barely a year and a half, the family moved back to the baserri in Berriatu. Azpillaga grew up on that baserri, which in total provided a home for 16 people, carrying out the obligatory farm chores.  At age 14 he began earning a living for himself away from home, in a boatyard in Ondarroa, cycling to and from work everyday.  After completing the obligatory Spanish military service, he eventually started his own repair business, alongside his brother and some other partners, in his mid-20s. Now living in Ondarroa, he also joined the local choir as a tenor. He married Maria Arrizabalaga Itsasmendi in 1960 and the couple moved to neighboring Mutriku, Gipuzkoa, where she owned a hair salon. And the couple eventually had 6 children.

By this time, too Azpillaga was already an accomplished bertsolari (versifier), making the final of the national championship in 1960 and 1962 and winning the Bizkaia championship in 1961. He had been somewhat of a child prodigy in this respect, reciting popular verses by heart at age 10. And he had performed his first spontaneous bertsoak (verses) in public, at the village fiestas of Amoroto in 1950 alongside another young bertsolari, Joan Mugartegi Iriondo (b. Berriatu, 1933). After winning the 1961 championship, he went on to perform throughout the 1960s and 1970s, especially in tandem with Jon Lopategi (b. Muxika, Bizkaia, in 1934). These performances, in what has been classified by expert Joxerra Garzia in Voicing the Moment as the “bertsolaritza of resistance” (toward the Franco dictatorship), were framed–where possible–with political references. Indeed, both had on several occasions been detained by the police for the political references they had made when performing bertsolaritza. He continued to take part in championships through the 1980s, reaching the fibal of the national champiosnhips in 1980 and 1982. And in 2000, on the fiftieth anniversary of his first public performance, he appeared once more alongside Mugartegi, just as he had done all those years ago, performing to a crowd of people from the balcony of the Amoroto town hall. Check out the video below of Azpillaga’s last public performance, on July 20, 2013, in Zarautz in honor of the great bertsolari Basarri:

Azpillaga dedicated a lot of his free time in Mutriku to fundraising for the ikastola or Basque-language school and establishing a bertso eskola (a bertso school) there to train young people in the art. The Church was an important part of his life and he even recited the Sermon on the Mount in verse. He also attended the annual July 4 church service and celebration held in honor of Saint Balentin Berriotxoa, one of the two patron saints of Bizkaia (alongside Saint Ignatius Loiola) in Elorrio.  On a personal level, he was always noted as a calm, composed, and fearless bertsolari with a great towering physical presence and a classic exponent of the bertso postura (stance). This all meant that he was invariably asked to begin any bertso session, hence the epithet “Hasi Azpillaga!” (Take it away Azpillaga!), which was also the tile of a free-to-download 2001 biography about him by Mikel Aizpurua.

Goian bego.

Further reading:

Jon Azpillaga Urrutia, at the online Auñamendi Eusko Entziklopedia.

Voicing the Moment: Improvised Oral Poetry and Basque Tradition, edited by Samuel G. Armistead and Joseba Zulaika, free to download here.

January 30, 1669: Irun and Hondarribia almost go to war over weights and measures!

Overview of the siege of the fortress of Hondarribia in 1638 with ground troops and French squadron at sea. German engraving. Irun can be seen to the top left of the engraving. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

On January 30, 1669, following a traditional custom, the neighboring town councils of Irun and Hondarribia in Gipuzkoa were due to meet to undertake their annual inspection of each other’s weights and measures in this commercially important and geopolitically sensitive border area. That year, however, the Irun council members informed their counterparts in Hondarribia that the visiting inspection had already been carried out. Not deterred by this, the Hondarribia council members swore to attend the planned visit. When they arrived, the representatives of Irun greeted them with a show of arms, which prompted those of Hondarribia to withdraw back to their own town. The latter then complained to he Provincial Council of Gipuzkoa, which mediated between the two, rescheduling the meeting for February 7.

View of Hondarribia. Painting by Luis Paret, 1786. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

February 7 arrived and the appointed Hondarribia commissioners began their inspection of Irun’s weights and measures, only to discover that the Hondarribia stamps there had been removed from the weights in question, with the name of Irun replacing them. On reporting this to the authorities, these weights were declared legally null and void. This provoked the ire of the people of Irun, leading to many taking to street with sticks, stones, swords, and firearms in protest. Worried that this could escalate into a full-blown violent conflict between the towns, the chief magistrate had no option but to restore the legal status of Irun’s weights.

Furious at the decision, the people of Hondarribia waited a few days and then sent a nocturnal expedition to attack Irun. Arriving at night in small barges traveling up the River Bidasoa, the expedition alighted near the Irun hospital, made its presence known by firing several shots and threatening the people there, an then withdrew back to the safety of Hondarribia. Thereafter, the Provincial Council made another attempt to mediate but this was in vain. The matter was then referred to the higher authority of the Castilian Royal Council, which subsequently threatened anyone who dared take up arms again in the matter with prison or even worse, namely the infamous galleys (where prisoners were sentenced o “work the oar” or become human chattel, virtual slaves). The warning appeared to work as no further incidents were reported, although neighborly relations can hardly have been too friendly!

Information sourced from Iñaki Egaña, Mil noticias insólitas del país de los vascos (Tafalla: Txalaparta, 2001), pp.126-27.

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