Category: Bizkaia (page 1 of 6)

August 12-13, 1912: 112 Basque fishermen die in sudden storm

On the evening of August 12, 1912, as they were accustomed to doing every day, the fishermen of several ports along the Bizkaian coast set out in small 40-50 feet boats to fish in the waters close to their homes. This was a form of coastal rather than deep-sea fishing, a typical Basque practice and one intimately linked to the traditional culture of Basque fishing communities as a whole. It had been a mild day with a warming southerly wind, but all of a sudden, as the evening drifted into night, there was a dramatic change, and a cold northerly wind came in from an area of low pressure in the far North Atlantic, around Iceland: an unprecedented phenomenon for that time of year.  The air temperature fell dramatically, and the sea became increasingly more squally.

At the time a number of these boats were approximately 45-50 miles off of the Bizkaian coast. This would have been just about the moment they were thinking of returning to port with their evening catch, but instead they got caught up in the storm, which carried on ferociously all night and into the morning of August 13. The boats could not cope with such appalling conditions and many sank.

On shore, people realized that their loved ones and neighbors were in danger, and an appeal was made to send out rescue launches, but between the terrible conditions at sea and the time it was taking to alert the authorities in Bilbao, help was not immediately forthcoming.

In total, there were 143 recorded deaths, most of them fishermen from Bermeo, but including others from Lekeitio, Elantxobe, and Ondarroa. A memorial service was held for all the dead on August 23 in Bermeo, to which King Alfonso XIII also came.

The tragedy marked a watershed moment in fishing practices and techniques in the Bay of Biscay.

Check out the following two-part video about the tragedy, recreating life in fishing communities at the time (in Basque):

Basque Economic Agreement Explained

Check out the following video, part of the Bizkaia Talent initiative and featuring Pedro Luis Uriarte (President of the Bargaining Commission of the Economic agreement from the Basque Government side in 1980), which explains succinctly the very special fiscal system that exists in Hegoalde or the Southern Basque Country.

If you are interested in this topic, check out Basque Economy from Industrialization to Globalization, by Mikel Uranga, free to download here.

See, too, The Basque Fiscal System Contrasted to Nevada and Catalonia: In the Time of Major Crises, edited by Joseba Aguirreazkuenaga and Xabier Irujo.

Bizkaia sponsors Basque products at Edinburgh Foodies Festival

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.

 

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.

Santurtzi honors Basque refugee children on 80th anniversary of their evacuation

May 24 saw an emotional act marking the 80th anniversary (May 23) of the evacuation of more than 4,000 Basque children from the port of Santurtzi in Bizkaia as a result of the impending fall of Bilbao to Franco’s forces during the Spanish Civil War.  The act was organized by the Santurtzi City Council and Gogora: The Institute for Remembrance, Coexistence and Human Rights.

At around 1 pm the sirens of war once again symbolically sounded out in Santurtzi, as official representatives and the general public awaited the arrival of a group of people, all in their 80s and 90s and all former niños de la guerra,  aboard the Txinbito boat. As the senior citizens stepped ashore, local schoolchildren released a sea of white balloons as the public applauded.

Check out the BCA ’37 UK website, an organization dedicated to preserving the memory of those children evacuated from the Basque Country.

Images courtesy of the BCA ’37 UK website.

See, too the following articles:

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/may/22/the-reception-of-basque-refugees-in-1937-showed-britain-at-its-best-and-worst

https://theconversation.com/the-blockade-running-british-women-at-the-forefront-of-basque-evacuations-77676

Anchovies or Tornadoes?

I arrived in the town of Ondarroa on the second Saturday of May to observe the celebration of Antxoa Eguna 2017.  My bus had arrived a bit early, so I had the opportunity to see everyone setting up their booths in preparation to serve pintxos-all of which honored the anchovy.  As I walked around in the lovely weather, admiring this quaint little coastal town in the province of Bizkaia, I was quickly transported back to my home state of Kansas.

The sound of an air-raid siren filled the air with an ominous howl.  Unlike the famous Dorothy and Toto from the Wizard of Oz, I was lucky enough to grow up with warnings of this kind when a tornado had touched down back home in Wichita.  A small part of me instinctively felt the urge to go hide in a basement as I observed people strolling around in the sunny warm weather, free of any funnel clouds.  I later learned that the siren was a call used to notify people that fishermen were returning from sea with the catch.  As my roommate later told me, this signal meant that all hands on deck were needed to unload and get the fish prepared for their auctioning off at the market.

Pretty soon the action started with people arriving at the booths to buy their fried anchovies, croquetas made of anchovies, tortilla with anchovies, and the famous txakoli to wash it all down.  As with many celebrations in the Basque Country, plenty of eating and drinking in the street alongside the sound of the trikitixa (and a good amount of Basque-speakers I might add!) ensued.  The celebration lasted a few hours with families heading home before dinner.  Final observations: I’d take anchovy season over tornado season any day.

 

Photo from Deia, Ramon Basaldua

Deia article for Anchovy Day

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

Lehendakari Urkullu plants a Tree of Gernika in Auschwitz

Last Thursday, April 20, Lehendakari Urkullu participated in the planting of the Tree of Gernika in Zasole Park (Oświęcim, Poland), close to the infamous Nazi concentration camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau. As Urkullu put it: “Auschwitz and Gernika represent a heartbreaking cry that lasts throughout time.” This event mirrors the numerous plantings of the tree throughout the world as a symbol of peace.

Deia

Urkullu noted, “We planted this tree of Gernika in this land of Auschwitz, together affirming  our commitment to and sowing of hope in a better world, a world respectful of life, dignity, and the human rights of all people.” The mayor of Oświęcim, Janusz Chwierut, attended the event alongside the president of the Bizkaian Juntas, Ana Otadui, and the president of the Association Pro-Tradition and Culture in Europe (APTCE), Enrique Villamor. Both Basques and Poles were present, including around 500 young people.

El Correo

The Tree of Gernika represents so much to Basques, and symbolically, its plantings around the world bring light to its history, that of the town of Gernika, and Basque culture more generally. It’s heartwarming to see so many people come together for an event such as this one.

Information for this post from Noticias de Gipuzkoa, published in Deia (in Spanish): http://www.noticiasdegipuzkoa.com/2017/04/20/politica/euskadi/urkullu-auschwitz-y-gernika-representan-un-grito-desgarrador-que-perdura-en-el-tiempo

To read more about other plantings, check out this article in Deia (also in Spanish): http://www.deia.com/2017/04/23/bizkaia/el-legado-de-iparragirre-se-abre-al-mundo

Dr. Irujo’s new book: Gernika, 26 de abril 1937

This Wednesday, April 26 marks the 80th anniversary of the bombing of Gernika, during which the Nazi Luftwaffe and fascist Italian forces carried out a devastating aerial bombing of the market town for Franco’s forces during the Spanish Civil War, leaving thousands dead. Our own Professor Irujo has published extensively on the topic, and today we’d like to share the latest fruit of his labor: Gernika, 26 de abril 1937, published by the Editorial Crítica, part of Planeta de Libros, España.

Here’s a translation of the synopsis provided by the publisher:

A necessary book to clarify many of the lies about the bombing of Gernika and its hidden aspects in the public light to this day.

The bombing of Gernika is a very complex event, combining military, strategic, ideological and political aspects, as well as personal interests. Generally, it has been studied from the point of view of its victims, that is, from below. This book is a study of the logic underlying the attack and a detailed description of the bombing’s planning, organization, and execution. It is therefore a study of the bombing from the point of view of its engineers, a study “from above.” The book answers some of the basics of this story, namely who gave the order of attack, why Gernika was chosen, what resources the perpetrators had, how Gernika was bombed, why Gernika was bombed to the point of its disappearance, and how many fatalities were caused by the bombing.

Gernika was a turning point in the history of terror bombings and also the prologue of the subsequent saturation bombings of World War II. For the first time, German air command experimented a combination of ‘carpet bombing’ and ‘chain bombing’ in Gernika. Flying from three to six degrees deep in closed formations through a narrow air corridor, successive groups of bombers unloaded a novel mixture of explosive and incendiary projectiles over the urban area of ​​Gernika that was barely 1 km2, while ground attack aircraft and fighters created a ‘ring of fire’ around the village by machine-gunning civilians from the air. The effect was devastating.

The book also addresses an issue closely linked to the history of the bombing: General Franco ordered everyone to lie about the bombing of Gernika on April 27, less than 24 hours after the attack. Specifically, Carlo Bossi’s telegram includes Franco’s order to deny the bombing and denounce “the fiery system of Reds burning all urban centers before withdrawal.” The negationism resulting from this policy of the dictatorship has given rise to subsequent historiographic reductionism. Franco’s order has made this historical fact one of the most paradigmatic frauds of twentieth-century historiographic revisionism.

For anyone interested in this tragic event, this book is a must read.

We’d also like to bring your attention to a new review of Dr. Irujo’s book Gernika, 1937: The Market Day Massacre, by Ian Patterson for The American Historical Review, it’s definitely worth reading!

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.

 

Older posts