The Provincial Council of Bizkaia is one of the sponsors of the forthcoming Foodies Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland (This Friday through Sunday, August 4-6), in part to celebrate a new direct air link between the capitals of Bizkaia and Scotland.
As part of the activities, which will attract around 25,000 visitors, there will be a stand showcasing Basque food and wine production as well as the restaurant industry. The stand will be serving 13 different dishes and there will be Basque music and talks about Basque culture in general.
Two specifically Basque-themed events will be part of the official festival agenda:
Aitor Garate from Asador Etxeberri Erretegia (No 6 in Top 50 Restaurants in The World) will be speaking at the Chefs Theatre on Friday and Sunday.
‘Bizkaiko Txakolina’ An Introduction to Biscay Wines in the Drinks Theatre at 4:30 pm on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.
For those of you lucky enough to be in the Basque Country, jaiak (festivity) season is well underway. This past weekend brought thousands out to celebrate San Inazio, with jaiak across the Basque Country.
We will try to highlight some of these festivities here at the CBS books blog throughout the month. But for now, check out the website http://www.jaiak.net for complete schedules of these colorful festivities, not only in the Basque Country but throughout the peninsula.
All I can say for now is that, man, I wish I was over there!
Arguably the most iconic dish in Spain is the tortilla, the Spanish or potato omelet, a staple of households across the country and almost always an option–whether in pintxo or tapa form–in any bar, cafe, or restaurant you may step into. But did this humble, tasty dish actually originate in the Basque Country? While some have suggested the idea that an “egg omelet” of sorts was known during Spain’s imperial expansion in the 16th century, still others point to more concrete evidence dating from the 19th century.
The first documented mention of the tortilla dates from 1817 in a message to the Parliament of Navarre–part of a system whereby people could leave messages for the parliament to discuss–detailing the sparse living conditions of the inhabitants of the more remote mountainous areas north of the capital of Iruñea-Pamplona; specifically, the message stated that typically 2-3 eggs (and even less) were used with whatever was to hand to thicken the mixture, including potatoes or breadcrumbs, to feed between 5 and 6 people.
Still another legend states that, in 1835, during the Carlist siege of Bilbao led by Tomás Zumalacarregui, the Basque general demanded a meal at a farmhouse one day and all that was available–with most of the local food sources reduced to a bare minimum–was a few eggs, a potato, and an onion. The extekoandre or woman of the house combined the scant provisions and the resulting dish so pleased the Carlist leader that he adopted it as a quick nutritious meal for his troops.
Check out the fascinating story of Zumalacarregui in The Most Striking Events of a Twelvemonth’s Campaign with Zumalacarregui in Navarre and the Basque Provinces, by C.F. Henningsen.
*Tortilla image by LLuisa Nunez courtesy of Wikimedia Commons; Zumalacarregui image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
If you haven’t already read it, check out a report by the BBC Travel website on Euskara, the Basque language. One of the interviewees in the piece, Karmele Errekatxo, offers a profound perspective on Euskara: “Language is the identity of a place … If you take language from a place, it dies.” Also interviewed is a good friend of the Center, Pello Salaburu, author of Writing Words: The Unique Case of the Standardization of Basque, and coeditor (with Xabier Alberdi) of The Challenge of a Bilingual Society in the Basque Country.
Check out the full BBC article here.
The Center has published a number of books on the topic of the Basque language.
Basque Sociolinguistics: Language, Society, and Culture, by Estibaliz Amorrortu, is a great introduction to the social dimension of Basque. This book is available free to download here. See, too, Koldo Zuazo’s fascinating study The Dialects of Basque.
And these works are complimented by the handy and instructive CBS-Morris English-Basque/Basque-English Dictionary-Hiztegia.
* Image: Inkscape 0.91 screenshot in Basque (Fedora 22) by Assar, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Too Many Kisses is a 1925 movie directed by Paul Sloane and based on John Monk Saunders’s story, “A Maker of Gestures.” It is notable for being the earliest surviving film to feature Harpo Marx, but also for its setting: Iparralde or the Basque Country in France. The plot concerns a father who sends his Lothario son to Iparralde in the belief that he will not be able to leave a trail of broken hearts behind him there because Basques only marry among themselves (!) Harpo Marx plays a minor role as the Village Peter Pan. See a full description of the film, for a long time thought to have been lost, here.
As the above clip demonstrates, the movie makers were fairly liberal in their interpretation of Basque culture but it’s an interesting testament, nonetheless, to showing that the Basque Country was known in the US in the 1920s as somewhere singular and different. What do you think? Does Harpo make a convincing Basque?
News comes our way of a rather unique business idea: marketing Bilbao rainwater! Why not? This is, after all, Bilbao! A city not renowned for its modesty but definitely known for its bilbainadas. As Joseba Zulaika observes in That Old Bilbao Moon (p. 180):
The bilbainada is a too-muchness that, except in Bilbao, is unaffordable. It is the city’s alter-ego behavior, the extravagant antidote to the frustrations of an understated, modest lifestyle. Going for the Guggenheim Museum was for many a typical bilbainada. What for an outsider seems a braggard’s exhibitionism is for Bilbainos ritual consumption.
As the saying goes, “The only virtue that is lacking for Bilbainos to be perfect is modesty.” It goes with such grandiosity that there can be nothing greater in life than being from Bilbao.
Just by way of clarification, if the initiative takes off, the intention is to make the product in centers for people with mental disabilities and donate part of the profits to worthy local causes. If you’d like to get your own particular bottle of Bilbao rainwater, click here.
Check out a short but interesting interview with star Basque chef Eneko Atxa, who not only runs Azurmendi just outside Bilbao, but also has a more informal London restaurant, Eneko.
We picked up on a couple of things he mentions and think they’re pretty important when it comes to understanding Basque culture. For Atxa, “Basque people are born around the dinner table. We are unique in that when we are eating we are also speaking about our dinner; we are just crazy about our food and it dominates our conversations every day.” So true! It’s one of the first things those of us not born into Basque culture notice when hanging out with Basques on their own terrain … they not only love preparing and eating food, they love taking about it as well, while they are actually eating it! And just a heads up for anyone who didn’t know, if you ever get invited into someone’s home in the Basque Country for a meal, be sure to compliment the chef early on into the meal (“Zer goxoa!” “How tasty!”)…
Atxa continues: “my mother and grandmother always showed me the importance of the kitchen and healthy eating, and giving pleasure through food. I understood that it could be one language that could translate and transport people to a space and a culture.” Food as a language! What a great idea! Of course, we as humans communicate through food. It’s one way we transmit our tradition, culture, and love… in fact, what better way to do that than by sitting round a table enjoying great food, great conversation, and great company? Isn’t this the very basis of society, sitting down and sharing common sustenance? We think so!
See the full interview here.
If you haven’t already done so, be sure to take a look at Hasier Etxeberria’s On Basque Cuisine, a publication of the Etxpeare Basque Institute free to download here.
This past weekend was the Reno Zazpiak Bat’s 50th Annual Basque Festival and it was packed with activities and Basque spirit. My weekend actually kicked off in Sparks, at the Thursday Night Marketplace event, which collaborated with Zazpiak Bat to have a Basque theme. Besides the farmer’s market, there was dancing by the Zazpiak Bat Basque Dancers and the public. Later in the evening, Errebal, a music group from the Basque Country, had their first performance. It was a great way to start the weekend!
Dancing in Sparks
The official schedule of events began on Friday at the Santa Fe, with the President’s Dinner and subsequent performance by Errebal. After plentiful dining alongside merry Basques, Julen from Errebal helped us learn the different steps to euskal dantza. You could tell who had experience and who didn’t, although we all had fun! To end the night, Mercedes Mendive played the accordion accompanied by much dancing.
Saturday’s events were held at Wingfield Park, by the Truckee river in Downtown Reno. Bright and early, Apaiza Aita Antton gave the mass. After a welcoming from the President of Zazpiak Bat, Joe Leonis, the Winnemucca Dancers performed, and it’s always a pleasure watching them. Throughout the day, there were different herri kirolak demonstrations, including harrijasotzaileak (weight lifters), aizkolariak (woodchoppers), and Txingas, a competition that was open to the public. There was dancing at all times, and of course, I can’t forget the food and drink. Accompanied by the warm weather, the festivities in the park made the day fly by.
But that wasn’t all. Saturday evening, Errebal had their final performance at Louis’ Basque Corner. It was packed! People danced, drank, and were merry! Overall, it was a great weekend and I can’t wait till next year!
On July 13, 1955, one of the great characters in the modern age of pilota (also spelled pelota) was born in Azkaine, Lapurdi: Panpi Ladutxe (also spelled Pampi Laduche). The son of another famous pilotari or Basque handball player, Joseph Ladutxe, he began his career in the four-walled trinkete (closed court) version of the sport more common in Iparralde or the Northern Basque Country, where he was from, becoming world champion in this version at the tender age of 19. He later switched to the three-walled (open court) fronton variety more common in Hegoalde or the Southern Basque Country in his mid-20s, winning two doubles titles in 1987 and 1989, partnered by Joxean Tolosa.
Ladutxe stood out in many ways, being the first player from Iparralde to gain success in Hegoalde in the modern age. After retirement he went on to promote and develop the sport in and train fellow players from Iparralde, two of whom in particular–Sebastien Gonzalez and Yves Salaberri or “Xala”–went on to enjoy great success, following in his footsteps. He has also been a great showman away from the court, enjoying some success as a singer of traditional Basque songs both live and in the release of two records: Aitari (1995) and Chansons du Pays Basque (2002).