Category: Bilbao (page 1 of 4)

Bilbao rainwater for sale … and why not?

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.

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.

Major food awards to be held in Bilbao in 2018

It has just been announced that the World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards, considered by many to be the Oscars of global gastronomy, will be held in Bilbao in June 2018.  Quoting the host organization:

Spain’s Basque Country has long been known as one of the most gastronomically blessed regions of the world, with the highest concentration of Michelin-starred restaurants per capita and a strong and enduring representation of restaurants in the 50 Best list. With everything from fine dining to abundant pintxos, it’s the ideal next location for the biggest culinary party on the planet.

The announcement was made at Basque chef Eneko Atxa’s London restaurant Eneko At One Aldwych.

These prestigious awards, which were held annually in London for 13 years before expanding globally to New York in 2016 and Melbourne this year, will thus make their third international port of call in the capital of Bizkaia, thanks to the generous support of the Bizkaiko Foru Aldundia-Diputación Foral de Bizkaia (the Provincial Government of Bizkaia), and we’re sure Basques will be ready for the party!

Read more about the choice of Bilbao as the host venue here.

The story of Bilbao and salt cod

While in other parts of the world, including the US, fresh cod is a typical part of the cuisine, in the Basque Country, and especially Bilbao, it is dried and salted or just salt cod that reigns supreme. Produced for hundreds of years, the drying and salting of cod was an effective way of preserving the cod caught in the Grand Banks off Newfoundland before being transported across the Atlantic for sale in Europe.

The much prized salt cod. Picture by IanH1944, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

But the story of how salt cod came to be so popular in Bilbao is particularly illuminating. In 1824 the Spanish government established state control of this important food source with all imports subject to strict controls. Smaller dealers, in turn, tried to get around the new controls by only making modest orders in an attempt to keep under the government radar, so to speak. In 1835, one such dealer, Simón Gurtubay Zubero–not, as some sources claim, his son José María (who was four-years-old at the time)–sent one of these orders to his supplier in Great Britain. However, a clerical error along the line meant that the order, which was made for “100 o 120” (as in “100 or 120” in English), was interpreted as being for 1,000,120 salted cods. With a flourish of Bizkaian self-assurance (Simón himself, though resident in Bilbao, had been born in Igorre), the intrepid Gurtubay accepted the order and began making arrangements to offload his rather large order wherever he could. Just at that very moment, though, with the First Carlist War (1833-39) already underway, Carlist troops laid siege to Bilbao in 1836, provoking a major shortage of provisions in the city. Suddenly Gurtubay became the savior of the city, with his warehouses full of this now almost priceless commodity.  The city withstood the siege, Gurtubay went on to establish one of the biggest fortunes in the country, using a lot of that wealth and influence to establish the Bank of Bilbao and the Bilbao Chamber of Commerce, as well as to build the hospitals of Basurto and Igorre, his birthplace.

See this short TV report on the Gurtubay family, cod, and Bilbao (in Spanish) here.

Cod Pil-Pil. Picture by jlastras, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

And Bilbao came to be the city of salt cod, which is served typically in two ways: in the white pil-pil sauce (really, the natural oils of the fish plus olive oil and garlic) or in the red Bizkaian sauce (made from onions and sweet dried red pepper). Check out the late Hasier Etxeberria’s On Basque Cuisine, free to download here from the Etxepare Basque Institute, for a discussion of and recipes for both sauces. See, too, of course, Mark Kurlansky’s wonderful Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World.

Salt Cod in Bizkaian Sauce. Picture by Tamorlan, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Basque speakers now in majority in Bilbao

“I want to live in Basque.” Image by Xavier Vazquez, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The Basque daily Deia reported on Sunday, April 16, that Basque-speakers now account for 51.2 % of the overall population of the city. According to the Bilbao City Council’s Office of Basque and Education, the number of Basque speakers has quadrupled in the last thirty years. Councilmember for Basque and Education Koldo Narbaiza commented that, “Out of 342,370 inhabitants of the capital [of Bizkaia], 78,727 can read and write in Basque, 96,774 know Basque although not academically, and 166,869 are non-Basque speakers … In total, 175,501 Bilbao residents, that is 51.2%, know Basque.”

Basque speakers in Bilbao, from Deia.

What’s more, and interestingly, this rise in numbers is fairly evenly spread throughout the city. And another point of interest is that the average age of Basque speakers has changed significantly in recent years, with young people now outnumbering seniors when it comes to knowledge of the language.

See the full article (in Spanish) here.

Here at the Center we have a wide range of books about the Basque language. Download a free copy of Estibaliz Amorrortu’s Basque Sociolinguistics: Language, Society, and Culture here. And check out a couple of books that discuss two sides of the coin when it comes to forms of Basque: Koldo Zuazo’s The Dialects of Basque, which explores the rich variety of the language; and Pello Salaburu’s Writing Words: The Unique Case of the Standardization of Basque, which charts how a modern standard version of the language was created and embraced by Basque society.

See, too, another couple of interesting takes on how the Basque language fits into contemporary Basque society: The Challenge of a Bilingual Society in the Basque Country, edited by Pello Salaburu and Xabier Alberdi; and This Strange and Powerful Language by Iban Zaldua.

Easter vacation festivities come to the Basque Country

The Baiona Ham Festival

The Easter vacation is becoming an increasingly important time for the growing leisure sector in the Basque Country. This week, traditional religious celebrations coinciding with Easter itself will be held,  in which towns like Durango (with its famous pasinue) and Balmaseda in Bizkaia as well as others all over the Basque Country take center stage.  But there are also a number of other activities taking place to cater for the increasing number of tourists who visit at this time of year. One of the biggest events takes place in Bilbao. The Basque Fest is a specially designed festival combining Basque traditions and gastronomy that seeks to introduce visitors to the wonderful world of Basque culture in all its facets, from traditional Basque sports to music and dance as well as, of course, food and drink. Staying on a similar theme, Baiona also hosts a wonderful festival of its own this week: the Baiona Ham Festival, a must see event for all aficionados of this famous Basque delicacy. Such festivities are, though, just the tip of the iceberg. Towns and cities all over the Basque Country will be celebrating this important holiday season in many and varied ways.

April 7, 1767: Jesuits expelled from Basque Country

Following a meeting by a commission convened by King Charles III on January 29, 1767, it was decided to expel members of the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits, from all lands belonging to the Spanish crown. The decision was made on the basis of the perceived threat of the Jesuits to royal authority. On April 7, 1767, the corregidor–the king’s representative–communicated the royal command to the public authorities in Bizkaia and the Jesuit residence in Bilbao,  San Andrés college, was immediately occupied by law enforcement officers and there gathered Jesuits from Lekeitio, Urduña/Orduña, Vitoria-Gasteiz, and Logroño. On May 3 they boarded two waiting ships in the Olabeaga neighborhood that would transport them to Civitavecchia, outside Rome.

Pedro de Calatayud (1698-1773).

Among those expelled was Pedro de Calatayud, a member of the Bilbao order from Tafalla, Navarre, and the author of a controversial book some years previously in which he criticized traders, shipowners, and iron foundry owners in Bizkaia for their excessive greed and usury, even branding them “public sinners.”  In retaliation, these business interests in Bizkaia began a campaign against him with the aim of getting the book banned or at least condemned by the Church. This campaign lasted some twenty years before, finally, in 1766 the work was indeed banned. Calatayud appealed against the ban, but the expulsion order brought an end to the matter. Calatayud died in Bologna in 1773.

Information sourced from Iñaki Egaña, Mil noticias insólitas del país de los vascos (Tafalla: Txalaparta, 2001), p. 146.

 

Women chefs and their influence on Basque gastronomy: Part 2

In a previous post we spoke about the increasing public face of women chefs and their contribution to the Basque gastronomic scene.  But did you know that women played a prominent role in establishing the Basque restaurant world in the first place? In what follows, I gratefully acknowledge the information offered by both Olga Macias Muñoz and food blogger Biscayenne (aka Ana Vega) in the articles cited below. Eskerrik asko!

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Women take a stroll on the beach in Donostia-San Sebastián in 1915. Photo by Ricardo Martín. The picture captures something of the vigor and arguably even empowerment that women could increasingly express in turn-of-the-century Basque society. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The Azcaray Sisters

Vicenta, Úrsula, and Sira Azcaray Eguileor were born in 1866, 1870,  and 1870 respectively, into a comfortable middle-class family from what is today the Abando neighborhood of Bilbao. Their mother, the redoubtable Felipa Eguileor (1831-1898), was already a successful restaurateur-businesswoman who had married Sebastián Azcaray, vice chairman of the Bank of Bilbao. In 1886 the couple founded what would become a thriving restaurant, El Amparo, in Bilbao, in which Felipa prepared traditional Basque dishes, but on Sebastián’s death, she was left widowed with four children to look after (the youngest, a son Enrique). The girls were thus sent to study cooking in France and prepare for careers in the restaurant business. On their return, they helped their mother at El Amparo and the resulting fusion cuisine–between what they learned from the traditional Basque cooking of their mother and their studies in France–led to the restaurant occupying a distinguished place at the vanguard of Basque gastronomy in turn-of-the-century Bilbao, a golden age for the city that was experiencing a major industrial boom and significant economic growth. The restaurant closed its doors in 1918 on the death of Vicenta Azcaray, although her sisters continued to operate a catering business thereafter. After the death of his last sister, Sira, Enrique gathered together all the notes and recipes written down by the siblings and published them in book form in 1933; a work that remains a classic today in Bilbao and beyond.

el-amparo

A 1949 edition of the recipe book by the Azcaray Eguileor sisters. From Biscayenne’s food blogging site.

Maria Mestayer de Echagüe: The “Marquess of Parabere”

Maria Manuela Eugenia Carolina Mestayer Jaquet was born in 1878 in Bilbao, the daughter of Eugenio Mestayer Demelier (the French consul in the city) and his local wife, María Jacquet la Salle, the daughter of a well-known Bilbao banker also of French origin. Maria enjoyed a privileged upbringing, attending the best schools and traveling across Europe, where here parents also took her to the most famous restaurants of the day (including that of Auguste Escoffier, the renowned French chef and writer who revolutionized and popularized French cuisine in the late 19th and early 20th centuries). In 1901 she married Ramón Echagüe y Churruca, a wealthy lawyer from Donostia-San Sebastián, and the couple settled in Bilbao.

Early on in her marriage, on realizing that her husband was finding excuses not to come home for lunch, she found out that it was on account of the food being prepared by the domestic staff the couple employed. She therefore decided to study gastronomy and prepare her husband’s meals herself. This she did by a voracious diet of reading everything she could about the history and culture of food. What’s more, the self-taught Maritxu, as she was affectionately known at home, found time to do all this while giving birth to eight children in the process!

Passionate about writing, she began publishing articles about food for newspapers and magazines. She also began giving cooking classes and by the 1920s she was a well-known figure in her own right in Bilbao; famously, she is reputed to have been gifted the first refrigerator to arrive in Bilbao around this time. By the end of the decade she began to use the pseudonym the “Marquess of Parabere” and published the first of her many books on gastronomy, including a work on Basque cuisine in 1935. The following year she embarked on yet another groundbreaking venture, opening her own restaurant (financed with her own money), the Parabere, in Madrid, where she settled while her husband remained in Bilbao.

An initial success, the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War that same year resulted in the Parabere being requisitioned for use by the anarchist CNT labor union, with Maritxu still at the helm. There followed a somewhat crazy period of Casablanca-like intrigues in the restaurant, which was frequented by spies and agents as well as well-known figures like Ernest Hemingway in his capacity as war correspondent during the conflict.  It was while in Madrid, too, that she received news of the death of her husband Ramón during the war. With the triumph of Franco, the restaurant closed and her children moved to Madrid. There she eventually died in 1949.

Nicolasa Pradera

Nicolasa Pradera Mendibe was born in Markina-Xemein, Bizkaia, in 1870. as a young woman she entered into domestic service for the well-to-do Gaitán de Ayala family. When one of the family’s daughters married and settled in Donostia-San Sebastián, Nicolasa moved there with the woman in question to take charge of kitchen duties. There she met and married Narciso Dolhagaray, a well-known butcher in the city. In 1912 the couple opened a restaurant, the Casa Nicolasa, which also introduced a French touch into traditional Basque cuisine and quickly attracted the attention of the city’s high society. In 1932 she sold the Casa Nicolasa to Maria Urrestarazuri and opened another establishment together with her children, Andia, in the city. And in 1933 a book of her recipes was published that still sells today. Following the civil war she moved to Madrid where she opened another restaurant, Nicolasa. She died in Madrid in 1959.

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Nicolasa Pradera’s emblematic work.

Note: Casa Nicolasa, founded by Nicolasa Pradera in 1912, continued to be one of the main reference points of the Donostia-San Sebastián restaurant scene through much of the 20th century. In 1996 the renowned Basque chef José Juan Castillo took over the restaurant, which he ran until his retirement in 2010. The site, an emblematic feature of the city center, was subsequently converted into the Casa Nicolasa guesthouse.

Publications

All these women were connected not just in the innovative techniques they introduced and the prominent roles they occupied in championing and developing Basque cuisine–one could even say in laying the foundations for the international reputation of Basque cooking–but also in their didactic or instructive influence on the gastronomy of the country.  The recipes of the Azcaray sisters were first published posthumously in 1930 as El Amparo, sus 685 platos clásicos (El Amparo, its 685 favorite recipes). Likewise, Maria Mestayer was a prolific author who published many works, among them La Enciclopedia Culinaria: la cocina completa (The culinary encyclopedia: Complete cooking) in 1933 and Platos escogidos de la cocina vasca, Entremeses, aperitivos y ensaladas (Selected dishes of Basque cuisine, appetizers, snacks, and salads) in 1934. Finally, as noted, Nicolasa Pradera’s La cocina de Nicolasa (Nicolasa’s kitchen), first published in 1933, is still a well-loved book today.

A Long List

These are just some of the important women in the history of Basque gastronomy, but they are by no means the only ones, so I list here a few more names by way of at least recognizing their contribution as well (all the establishments named here were in Bilbao): (María) Dolores Vedia de Uhagón (b. 1809) from Bilbao, author of Libro de Cocina a propósito para La Mesa Vizcaína (1892); Brígida de Murua Izaguirre, owner of and head chef at the Hotel Boulevard; Elvira Arias de Apraiz (1856-1922) from Vitoria-Gasteiz, author of Libro de cocina (1912); Pura Iturralde Gorostiaga (1898-1984), who owned and ran the famed Shanti El Marinero restaurant; Antonia Idígoras, owner of the Hotel Antonia (the first Bilbao hotel to be included in the Michelin Guide, in 1927); Josefa Aloa Ugarte, chef at the hotel-restaurant Ocerinjaúregui inn; Clarita de Armendáriz, joint owner and chef at the Armendáriz; Tomasa de Asúa, chef at the Chacolí de Zoilo restaurant; and the sisters Luisa and Escolástica Goikoetxea who ran the Las Navarras inn.

By way of conclusion, I’ll cite part of the prologue to the first edition of La cocina de Nicolasa, written by Gregorio Marañón–one of the towering figures of Spanish intellectual life in the 20th century–who wrote of Basque women’s influence on their national cuisine:

attentive and intelligent cooking dates back, without any doubt, hundreds of years in these provinces; because one does not improvise in just a few generations the profound disposition, almost specific to these people, toward the gastronomic art that Bizkaian, Gipuzkoan, and Navarrese women have, women made of ancient noble attributes, among whom I place this admirable culinary aptitude.

 

Further Reading

Biscayenne, “Bilbainas&Cocineras: las hermanas Azcaray y El Amparo.”

Biscayenne, “Bilbainas&Cocineras: Maritxu, la marquesa de Parabere,” part I and part II.

Olga Macías Muñoz, “Cocineras vascas: tradición e innovación en las postrimerías del siglo XIX y comienzos del siglo XX,” in Euskonews no. 525, March 19-26, 2010.

The Marquise of Parabere website, dedicated to the history of this fascinating woman and including photos, articles, and recipes.

 

Bilbao wharf renamed in honor of women boat-haulers

A major site in the historically important neighborhood of Olabeaga in Bilbao was recently renamed in honor of the women who used to physically haul all kinds of vessels into central BIlbao.

A representation of the sirgueras.

With the industrial development of Bilbao through the nineteenth century, so there was a major increase in shipping traffic into the heart of the city via the Nervion Estuary. However, at the point where the estuary ran through the Olabeaga neighborhood, the river was so silted up that larger boats could not complete the final stretch that would take them into the center of the city. As a response to the problem, groups of men were hired to undertake the backbreaking work of physically hauling smaller vessels by means of a sirga (towrope) along that final stretch toward downtown Bilbao. Yet with the outbreak of the Carlist Wars and the exodus of men from the city, this work was taken up by women. The sirgueras (zirgariak in Basque) who came to do this work were cheaper to hire than men and could be hired in the moment; there was no need to employ them on a permanent basis. Check out the short movie Zirgariak (2006), by filmmakers Fernando Bernal “Ferber” and Urko Olazabal, which portrays just what this job entailed.

Working in such conditions of hard physical labor and  in the dirty conditions of an ever more polluted river, this was work that was looked down upon socially; whether men or women, the people who undertook it were considered ganapanes, humble laborers who earned just enough to cover their daily needs: at the very least, a loaf of bread. This partly explains why these women, in particular, have been excluded from the major narrative of the industrial development of Bilbao.

The newly named wharf, the Muelle Sirgueras / Zirgariak Kaia, stands as a testament to this forgotten collective.

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.

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