Author: katu (page 1 of 36)

Legendary pelota player bids farewell to game

On June 24, in the Labrit fronton or pelota court in Pamplona-Iruñea, Navarre, one of the greatest pelota players of all time, Juan Martinez de Irujo, made an emotional farewell to the sport. Born in 1981 in Ibero, Navarre, he debuted in the professional game in 2003 and went on to win five individual championships in the handball variety, the blue ribbon event in modern pelota. In 2016, however, he announced his temporary retirement from the sport (a decision later confirmed as permanent) due to heart issues.

On Saturday, Irujo was only in attendance, not taking part in a game, but following the completion of the games taking place, he went down to the court dressed in his archetypal pelotari uniform and accompanied by his daughter to receive the warm applause of all those gathered, spectators that included Uxue Barkos (President of the Navarrese Government) and Joseba Asiron (mayor of Pamplona-Iruñea).

Check out this report (in Spanish) and accompanying video of the afternoon’s events.

*Image by bedaio3000, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

 

June 23, 1448: The Burning of Arrasate-Mondragón

On June 23, 1448 an infamous conflict–the Burning of Arradsate-Mondragón–took place in Gipuzkoa. In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries the Basque Country was the setting for what came to be known as the factional struggles or wars. In the words of Gregorio Monreal Zia, in The Old Law of Bizkaia (1452) (p. 36):

Among the Basques, as elsewhere in Europe, the Late Middle Ages witnessed violent social confrontations. In the Basque case, initially, it was a conflict between the leaders of lineages (the great traditional lineages–not unlike Scottish clans–were primarily based in the rural districts) and subsequently a rural aristocracy with the inhabitants of the recently-founded urban nuclei or villas.

The two main factions were the Gamboinos (incorporating the families Gamboa, Guevara, Balda, Olaso, Abendaño, Salazar, Ayala, Leguizamones, and allies) and the Oñacinos (made up of the families Oñaz, Mendoza, Lazcano, Mújica, Butrón, Calleja, Zurbarán, and allies).

Like other areas of the Basque Country the town of Arrasate-Mondragón was divided across these factional lines with the Bañez family part of the Gamboinos and the Guraia family belonging to the Oñacinos. In the mid-fifteenth century the town was, in fact, clearly divided between these two factions, with two mayors and two governing councils. On June 23, 1448, in an attempt to take control of the whole town, the Bañez family (with the help of forces loyal to the jauntxo or squire of nearby Oñati) invaded the Guraia neighborhood. Th Guraia family immediately enlisted its own support from Bizkaian allies and managed to repel the attack.  But the incident did not end there. The Oñacinos regrouped and tried once more. However, seeing the impossibility of their objective they instead decided to raze the town to the ground, with the ensuing fire leaving just two houses standing.

The ruling monarch at the time, Juan II of Castile and León, was so incensed by these events that he exiled those behind the plan, eventually forcing the families to sign a peace treaty.

*Image: La pacificación de los bandos en el banco de Vizcaya de la Plaza de España de Sevilla, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

 

 

The Bilbao connection of Rafael Padilla, the first major black entertainer in France

Thanks to Iñaki Azkarraga, a friend of the Center and authority on all things Bilbao, we recently came across the remarkable story of Rafael Padilla, who, under the stage name Chocolat, was the first major black entertainer in France.

Padilla was born into slavery in Cuba in 1868 and raised in the slums of Havana. He was “purchased” for 18 ounces of gold by businessman Patricio Castaño Capetillo, declared a “servant” to circumvent the newly introduced slavery abolition laws, and brought to Sopuerta, Bizkaia to do menial chores for the family. However, he managed to escape this environment in his early adolescence and found work (and freedom) in several of the many Basque quarries around Bilbao, before moving into the heart of the city itself to work in the docks in the early 1880s.  It was in Bilbao that he met Tony Grice, a traveling English clown, who, noting his strength and dexterity, hired him as an assistant and domestic servant, and out of this connection he gradually entered the entertainment world, acting as a stuntman in Grice’s act. Indeed, it was Grice who gave him the stage name Chocolat, and the duo found fame in the vibrant circus industry in France. Later, Padilla teamed up with another British clown, George Foottit, to form one of the most famous slapstick acts in France at the turn of the century; gaining great renown, he was filmed by the pioneering Lumière brothers and painted by Toulouse-Latrec (see video report below). The duo split up in 1910 and Padilla subsequently died in 1917.

For more information, see the Wikipedia article on his life here. And check out this report by Basque public television (in Spanish).

In 2016 a French movie was released about his life, titled Chocolat.

The main sponsor of the above plaque, which can be found on the Bilbao waterfront, on the Martzana Dock, near the San Anton Bridge, was Jesús Ahedo, who runs the Kalao gallery specializing in African art.

*Image of Chocolat courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

June 14, 1959: Famous Basque woodchopper Latasa achieves major feat

Ramon Latasa Elizondo (1930-1991)

On June 14, 1959, in Lekeitio, Bizkaia, the renowned Basque aizkolari (woodchopper) Ramon Latasa achieved one of his most memorable feats: that day, on the basis of major betting on the outcome, he cut through the trunk of a Eucalyptus tree with a girth of just under 17 feet (!) within 4 hours; specifically, in 3 hours and 17 minutes, and with 5,259 ax blows.

 

Ramon Latasa Elizondo was born on the Aguria baserri in Sunbilla, Nafarroa, in 1930 into a poor family. At age 17 he began working in the logging industry, gaining special fame among his coworkers for his woodchopping prowess. His most famous feat took place on April 26, 1959, when he won a legendary challenge in competition with Luxia (Juan Jose Narbaiza Ibarbia), from Azkoitia, Gipuzkoa.  In this “challenge of the century” (as it was termed at the time), the humble woodchopper from Sunbilla finished a whopping 5 minutes before his rival, leaving onlookers stunned at the feat.  Latasa continued taking part in thee challenges through the 1960s and even into the 1970s, retiring at age 47. Remembered by many as the greatest aizkolari of all time, he died in 1991.

New exhibition celebrates Alfred Hitchcock’s 1958 visit to the Basque Country

We’ve already discussed in a previous post how a lot of Hollywood royalty, like Charlie Chaplin for example, spent time in the Basque Country (and we’ve still to tell the tale of Ava Gardner and Errol Flynn’s time there…but for that, watch this space!). Now it has come to our attention that the Didam art gallery in Baiona recently premiered an exhibition (running through September 3) celebrating Alfred Hitchcock’s 1958 visit to promote the movie Vertigo at the Donostia-San Sebastián international film festival that year.

Hitchcock in the Basque Country, from the Bayonne website.

After arriving at Biarritz airport, “Hitch” and his wife, Alma Reville, spent four and a half days taking in the sights of Donostia and Pasai Donibane in Hegoalde (dining in the famous Camara restaurant in the latter) as well as Hendaia, Biarritz, and Baiona in Iparralde, all accompanied, perhaps not unsurprisingly given that this was a promotional visit, by numerous (and prolific) photographers. The exhibition curator, photographer Pedro Usabiaga, researched the project for five years, checking out different archives and sources. Some of the photos, such as Hitchcock posing in the pulpit of Baiona Cathedral, reveal a playful side to the master of suspense but would most likely have been banned from appearing in any publication in Franco’s Spain at the time.

Read the exhibition program (and see some of the pictures) here.

See a report on the exhibition (in French) in Sud-Ouest here.

June 4, 1873: Basque rebel priest’s squad of soldiers execute 37 border guards

On June 4, 1873, a squad of volunteer soldiers, under the command of the rebel priest Manuel Santa Cruz Loidi (pictured above), executed 37 border guards on the Endarlatza bridge between Gipuzkoa and Navarre during the Carlist War of 1872-1876. From that moment on the civil and military authorities in Gipuzkoa held annual remembrance services for those executed until the entry of Carlist forces into the province during the Spanish Civil War in 1936, when the service was suspended (despite the fact that during the nineteenth-century war Santa Cruz himself had been condemned to death on account of his sanguinary exploits by the very Carlist forces he purported to support). During that same Carlist War Sant Cruz’s squad carried a black flag with a skull and the inscription “Battle to the Death.”

Information sourced from Iñaki Egaña, Mil noticias insólitas del país de los vascos(Tafalla: Txalaparta, 2001), pp. 193.

The Carlist Wars are discussed in Cameron Watson’s Modern Basque History: Eighteenth Century to the Present, available free to download here.

Premiere of Aberne, a short movie about women in pelota, on Sunday

Sunday will see the premiere of the movie Aberne, a short film that was the result of a Master’s thesis by Irati Santiago, from Villabona (Gipuzkoa), at Columbia College Chicago. It was produced by Santiago and written and directed by Emma Johnson. From the movie website:  “Aberne tells the story of a young, Basque woman struggling to be accepted amongst external societal pressures in a region where friends, family and co-workers all come together under one sport, pelota. Aberne seeks the opportunity to break free from the culture’s limitation and prove herself worthy of not only playing pelota, but of the general public’s respect.”


<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/165637744″>Aberne Interview H264</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/user19210914″>Irati Santiago</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a>.</p>

The film was shot in the Tolosa district of Gipuzkoa, in Basque, and with English subtitles.  It tells the story of a young woman who aspires to be a professional pelotari or Basque handball player in the face of much resistance, including on the part of her mother, who attempts to convince her to stick to the family bread-making business.


<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/165733435″>Aberne Teaser English H264</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/user19210914″>Irati Santiago</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a>.</p>

See a report on the movie premiere by the Noticias de Gipuzkoa (in Spanish) here.

Check out Basque Pelota: A Ritual, An Aesthetic, by Olatz González Abrisketa, which seeks to contextualize this sport within Basque culture more generally.

Great new video guide to Kakueta Gorge

There’s somewhat of an end-of-term feeling around here and our thoughts have turned to the approaching summer, travels, and of course the beautiful Basque Country. And once again we will shamelessly borrow a video from our good friends at About Basque Country, this time one that showcases the amazing Kakueta Gorge.

We did already write about this landmark site in a previous post but we also think it’s well worth revisiting one of the truly remarkable spots in the Basque Country, a little piece of Amazonia in Xiberoa/Zuberoa!

This also got us to thinking about other interesting or emblematic sites … especially those off the beaten track somewhat.  So if you have any suggestions why not let us know? We’d be happy to share your thoughts!

May 31, 1910: Premiere of opera Mirentxu

On May 31, 1910 the Basque-themed opera Mirentxu, with music by Jesús Guridi and libretto by Alredo Echave, premiered in the Teatro Campos Elíseos in Bilbao. It actually premiered as a zarzuela, but was transfomred into an opera in two acts and an epilogue in 1912.

It’s an intense Romantic tale of a love triangle involving three principal characters, Mirentxu,  Raimundo, and Presen,  with Mirentxu ultimately representing the tragic heroine of the piece.

See Natalie Morel Botrora, “Mirentxu, idylle lyrique basque en deux actes” (in French).

New study reveals that Basque-speakers have highly developed predictive language mechanisms

Noticias de Gipuzkoa reports that a recent study by a team of researchers based largely at the Basque Center on Cognition, Brain and Language, published in the journal Cognition, reveals that native Basque-speaking bilingual people have a more developed capacity to anticipate the words they are reading than their native Spanish-speaking bilingual counterparts.

Linguistic prediction is a basic mechanism of the brain that allows it to relate to the environment around it. In order to speed up communicative processes the brain attempts to anticipate what it will hear or read.  According to the study, when reading in Spanish, the native Basque-speakers studied demonstrated a faster brain response, the result of the nature of the Basque language itself, in which the important information when it comes to structuring a sentence comes at the end of the statement.

Chief author Nicola  Molinaro concludes that, “Basque speakers have learned to anticipate which words will appear, because they need to do so in order to structure the linguistic material that they have already heard or read … thus they have optimized their predictions and have gotten used to putting them into practice before the age of three, and this mechanism is also activated when they speak or read in another language.”

The findings of the study challenge previous notions that question the ability of people to predict in another language.

See the newspaper report (in Spanish) here.

See the original study here.

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