While reading Bizkaia to Boise I couldn’t help but have the image of Pete Cenarrusa as the dashing male protagonist in a Golden Era of Hollywood film directed by Frank Capra. He fit the role perfectly, a child of Basque immigrants, grew up on a ranch and knew all about agriculture, did not speak English when he first went to grade school but worked his way to become a graduate at the University of Idaho, a fraternity member, a skilled boxer, a Marine Corps pilot that served in World War II, and a passionate teacher and politician. He was friendly, caring and determined. If his life story could have been written about 60 years earlier, you just know it would have been adapted into a screen play and Cenarrusa would’ve been played by the likes of Jimmy Stewart or Carey Grant. There was no doubt that Cenarrusa was a classic example of a true American man.
All the while, Cenarrusa was still undeniably Basque. The child of Jose Mari Zenarruzabeitia-Muguira from the countryside of Munitibar and Ramona Gardoqui from Gernika, Cenarrusa always spoke Basque at home. His interest in his heritage extended to his time at University of Idaho, where he was often found at the library researching the current events of Euskadi, which at the time were troubling, WWII was brewing and he researched as well the recent bombing of his mother’s hometown of Gernika and the dictatorship of Franco. Based on this research, Cenarrusa was up on and involved in Basque politics for the remainder of his life, and even planted three seedlings of the tree of Gernika in the Boise.
Lt Governor Brad Little with Pete Cenarrusa from Emmett, Idaho via Wikimedia Commons
It is clear that Cenarrusa was a person of great character, even in the arena of politics, where most people reputations are tarnished and their worst sides are pointed out, Democrats and Republicans alike couldn’t say much bad about Cenarrusa. It seems that in the end, Cenarrusa just wanted the best for his family, his state and his country, and was one of the few who got in and took action to do what he thought was best for the future. In the end, I think the best way to summarize this book is a quote from the intro of Bizkaia to Boise written by C.L. “Butch” Otter: “There is no one I know in the public life who is more respected, more admired, and more beloved than Pete Cenarrusa. After reading this book, I think you’ll know why.”
There’s a great quote by Wilhelm von Humboldt from his study Das achtzehnte Jahrhundert (The Eighteenth Century, Gesammellte Schriften vol.2, 38) that goes: “The individual can only represent the ideal of human perfection from a single angle (i.e., from his own uniqueness). However, comparative observation of many of these partial and different representations draws us closer to a clear idea of a comprehensive view of Man.” I first came across this quote while reading Selected Basque Writings: The Basques and Announcement of a Publication by Wilhelm von Humboldt. He was talking about comparative anthropology, but I enjoy the image it provokes. That we in our own uniqueness are in ourselves a variety of human perfection, but in only one interpretation, and that it takes various perspectives and “different representations” of perfection to discover what it truly means to be human. Humboldt’s view of what it means to be human is apparent in his account of his travels through the Basque Country. Just as the quote above, it shows his value not only for the study of anthropology, but for the human experience.
Being the first English translation of Humboldt’s account of his travels to the Basque Country in 1801, these Selected Basque Writings are often praised as an essential work in the study of the Basque Country and its culture.
WIlhelm von Humboldt by RaphaelQS via Wikimedia Commons
The book is broken up into chapters, each of which describe a different area in the Basque country with vivid description, from the path into mountain wilderness in Deba to the “sea with its pyramid of mountains” in Somorrosto to the industrial sights of Victoria-Gasteiz. Not only does Humboldt describe the Basque landscape in great detail, but the Basque people, as he admires their strength and independence, as well as their ways of governing themselves with a strong sense of nationalism to their homeland. Humboldt also looks into the Basque language, dress, food, dance and many other aspects of culture.
Fiestas en la localidad de Deba by Vicente Martin via Wikimedia Commons
An incredibly insightful and interesting read, it has something for anyone interested in anthropology, politics, philosophy, history, travel or just anyone looking to better understand the Basque Country and its culture.
I read My Mama Marie by Joan Errea about a month ago and while reading it, I was reminded of the summer vacations my family and I would take to my mom’s childhood house outside Enterprise, Oregon. My mom’s family raised sheep when she was growing up and have been in and out of the ranching business for generations, so there were many stories in My Mama Marie that reminded me of sitting around in my mom’s childhood home looking through old photographs, letters and books, while my older relatives told stories that we had all heard a million times and walking around the hills of rural Oregon that used to be my grandfather’s sheep’s grazing grounds. Both the book and the experiences I have with my mom’s family are a way of understanding people who have been gone for years, that we can only know through the memories of others and photographs and trinkets they left behind.
Family is a complex and defining part of life, often shaping the foundation for the way we live and view the world through the course of our lives. Errea in her book My Mama Marie shares her memories of growing up on the ranches of rural Nevada, focusing on her relationship with her mother, Marie Jeanne Goyhenetche.
Farmland near Enterprise, Oregon by Adam Vogt via Wikimedia Commons
Errea goes through the course of her mother’s life starting with her childhood in the French Pyrenees to her immigrating to the United States and starting a family with Errea’s father, Arnaud Paris, on the ranches of rural Nevada. My Mama Marie is full of stories of celebration, heartbreak, love and understanding. Though there are many stories of what it is like to live on a ranch and what it is like to live in rural Nevada, My Mama Marie is at its core a story about how a daughter begins to understand her mother, which I think is why in the end it is so relatable.
Currie, Nevada Depot by Mark Hufstetler via Wikimedia Commons
I started loving books about prisons when I was about fifteen, when I picked up The Green Mile by Stephen King, which is still one of my all-time favorites. I then moved onto The Shawshank Redemption by Stephen King and I am now beginning to read One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey (which one is technically a short story and the other isn’t technically about a prison, but you get the idea). They are just so gritty and dark, yet hopeful and understanding, usually saying more about life and death through the tales of those who are vulnerable enough to really understand their existential value, than you get out of most books.
So it wasn’t surprising when I fell in love with At Midnight by Javier Arzuaga, a book I absolutely adore for three reasons. First of all, the book’s plot itself is fascinating; it is a true account of Arzuaga’s experience as a Catholic priest at La Cabaña, the prison where the accomplices of the overthrown dictator after the Cuban Revolution were held. Arzuaga’s job was to console those who were sent to be executed. Through the process of Arzuaga consoling fifty-five men sent to death, he shares his thoughts on life, death, God and religion, from the perspective of someone whose job it is to deal with these existential topics constantly.
A view of La Cabana, Havana, Cuba, photo by Micheal N. Escobar via Wikimedia Commons
The second reason is this is the first book I had ever read before it was published and it was downright magical seeing the process of publication and seeing something materialize from just words on a screen become a book. It is one nice looking book as well, with the artwork making you feel as though you are walking through the door to the afterlife.
The third reason I loved this book is that, unlike The Green Mile or The Shawshank Redemption, At Midnight a true account, which adds a whole new level to it. Not only is it interesting that this actually happened, but since Arzuaga was an actual person, instead of a character, it gives it a sense of irony and comfort that you can’t get from a fictional book; that the author, who had to deal with so much death, has an afterlife through his accounts of life and death.
NOTE from BasqueBooksEditor: Welcome to Carly Sauvageau. Carly is a journalism student here at UNR and has joined the team as our student assistant—and the latest contributor to the Basque Books Blog! Welcome aboard Carly and thanks for sharing your thoughts about this amazing book with us! All you all out there, if you don’t have a copy of At Midnight, you should get one soon 🙂
Udaleku is an annual summer camp for Basque kids, ages 10 to 15, for two weeks in the middle of July. While at Udaleku, the kids learn about their Basque culture and heritage and make friends with other Basque kids from seven different states, Canada and the Basque Country.
This year, Udaleku is being held in Reno, and we were lucky enough to have the campers stop by Center as they were touring the UNR campus! To start off, the participants were welcomed by Jacqueline Casey for the Jon Bilbao Basque Library. She explained to them the library’s work with archives, books and the support for the diaspora. CBS Press book editor, Daniel Montero, welcomed the young Basques to the Center and told the campers about CBS’s history starting with William A. Douglass researching Basque sheep herders through the Desert Research Institute in the 1960s and how the CBS Press is now the main publisher for Basque books in English in the world. He also talked about the two main aspects of the CBS, with the academic side of the Center with the various programs and degrees of studying the Basque culture, and the media and book publishing side with the CBS Press.
After that the kids were free to look around the library. Some then began to look at the books, one Udaleku participant went straight for a copy of Basques in the United States Volume 2: Iparralde and Naforroa, finding with great delight his great grandfather among the book’s short biographies.
Another girl, interested in Basque mythology, found a copy of Wentworth Webster’s Basque Legends and immediately sat down at a table and read. Others wandered around, some looking at the displays put up around the library, finding a photo they were in from Udaleku 2010 and others looking at the tree carvings and pelota equipment. While there were many kids who were enthralled by all the books and displays the CBS has to offer, many others were fascinated by a visitor favorite at the library—the moving book shelves.