Category: Donostia (page 3 of 3)

Pintxoak Highlight Reno’s First Artown Heritage Sessions This Friday, January 29

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The pintxo, a little bite of heaven.

Pintxoak and live music are going to be served up at the inaugural Heritage Sessions event partnership between Reno’s beloved cultural juggernaut Artown—which takes over most Reno-ites’ social schedules for in-town events during the month of July—and the Heritage Restaurant at the Whitney Peak Hotel (Reno’s only full-service nongaming and nonsmoking hotel) on Friday night. These events will celebrate up-and-coming indie music acts and innovative culinary arts and so of course it is no surprise at all, given their innovative and constantly evolving nature, that executive chef Ben Deinken has chosen to prepare Donostia*-style pintxoak. They will be served accompanied by the indie folk/baroque pop of Paper Bird from Denver, Colorado.

It’s hard not to want to try them all!

(*Donostia is the Basque name for the beautiful Basque seaside city known as San Sebastián in Spanish and officially as Donostia-San Sebastián, which is also coincidentally the 2016 European Capital of Culture.)

Pintxoak (the plural of pintxo in Basque, it is also common to see pintxos in Spanish) are Basque tapas and while sometimes they are relatively “simple” things like Spanish tortilla or jamon serrano and bread, in some places, in Donostia especially, they have evolved into complicated culinary small bites. They come in both hot and cold varieties. In Donostia and elsewhere in the Basque Country an entire evening can easily be filled up with walking from place to place sampling a pintxo  or two, or three, as in my case above 😉 and either a zurito (small beer) or a txikito (small wine).

Of course, Reno is no stranger to Basque food and culture, although Donostia-style pintxoak may be something of a surprise for eaters more used to the heartier fare of the typical family-style Western US Basque restaurant. So, if you’re reading us in Reno, this will be a fun and unique event and I for one won’t miss it!


January 20th is a special day for every citizen of Donostia. It’s San Sebastian Day, the festival where thousand of people, from kids to adults, take their drums to the streets to play Raimundo Sarriegi’s compositions. You can hear some of the compositions, including Donostiako Martxa, the unofficial hymn of Donostia, in Eresbil’s webpage.

Wearing all kind of fake military uniforms, cook costumes, and traditional Basque costumes, each of the danborrada (tamborrada in Spanish), a group of drum players representing schools, associations, and gastronomic clubs, walk the streets of the Old City, the downtown and the outskirts of Donostia.

Kids playing drums during the 2010 Danborrada, by Donostia-San Sebastian 2016.

Kids playing drums during the 2010 Danborrada, by Donostia-San Sebastian 2016.

The festival has it roots in the Napoleonic invasion of the city, when young people will make fun of the soldiers and their parades. In the late 19th century, the danborrada was one of the various carnival activities. In the 20th century, San Sebastian day grown to become the mayor festival in the city. During the last years, the main change has been the more and more active participation of women, which are now more visible.

In 2016, San Sebastian Day is even more special, because it’s the starting point of Donostia’s year as European Capital of Culture.

Morning on Urgull

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Monte Urgull in the morning light from La Concha

During my recent trip to the Basque Country to take part in the Durango Book Fair and attend to other CBS books business, I awoke early on one of my mornings in Donostia-San Sebastián, and with no meeting until 1:00 pm decided to go for a walk along the seawall of La Concha, up through the cobblestoned streets of the Old Town, and up Monte Urgull, the old city fortress turned into city park. It’s not the first time that I have climbed up the mountain’s paths, criss-crossing among heavy stone walls, old barracks and artillery battery sites, and usually populated by a variety of tourists and regular city users with their dogs or their children or their running shoes pounding the pavement.

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High above looking through the turrets on the city below

This morning was a bit different though. It being pretty early (not that early, but Donostia-San Sebastián does not seem to be a city that moves quickly in the morning), there was no one at all around and I was alone to the climb up through the walls and ramparts and among the old cannons all the way to the base of the giant statue of Jesus on the hill’s summit.


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As I walked up I realized something else, aside from the beauty and stillness of the morning. Without the usual clamor of residents and tourists it became much easier to imagine this place as it had once been—an important castle and contested point for armies fighting back and forth across the northern Iberian Peninsula. In 1813, for example, the Allied (mainly British and Portuguese) forces besieged the castle and the city as they forced Napoleon’s armies out of the Iberian Peninsula. In the course of this siege, the walls were breached and the city was burned and up to 1,000 city residents killed (of course, mostly innocent civilians suffering the horrors to war, this number is as most numbers are probably contested, via Wikipedia, The Siege of San Sebastian). The French, meanwhile, shut up on the hill’s formidable castle, were able to surrender with honors and the officers allowed to keep their swords.

Photo Dec 11, 10 58 37 AM

Among the old cannons and looking over the ramparts at the top at the city shining below it was easy to imagine the horrors of war, women and children running to and fro bearing water and running errands, peasants carrying the heavy loads, liveried artillerymen sighting and shooting over the burning city below, officers commanding with pomp and circumstance.

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Then, of course, a man with his dog arrived, the dog sniffing around the the cannons didn’t care anything about this history, and then below, an older group walking across a sunny glade pointing out the sights below and the place became what it really is now again, a city park.

If you’re interested in the history of the Basque Country since the Napoleonic Wars mentioned above, check out Cameron J. Watson’s Modern Basque History.

Donostia-San Sebastián: European Capital of Culture 2016

European Capital of Culture is a title awarded to a city or cities in the European Union in order to showcase that city during a specific calendar year. After receiving the award, the place in question then organizes a series of cultural events throughout the year to both promote the city itself and European culture more generally. In 2016 Donostia-San Sebastián will be the European Capital of Culture.


Donostia, the city by the sea. Photo by Mikel Arrazola, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

As a result, the city has organized numerous events to coincide with this prestigious title, and here at the Center we will be following these developments with close interest. If you’re planning a trip to the Basque Country (or even elsewhere in Europe) in 2016, don’t forget that Donostia-San Sebastián will be one of the main hot spots to visit in Europe this coming year…

For more information about Donostia-San Sebastián as European Capital of Culture in 2016 (abbreviated to DSS2016) click here.

See also a report by The Guardian on DSS2016 here.

For general tourism information click here.

Check out, too, the video here from our good friends at USAC (the University Studies Abroad Consortium) about US college students who have spent time in Donostia-San Sebastián on the USAC program there.

My Little Part of 50 Years of the Azoka


My first day of my first Azoka in 2009. I was so excited to be a part of it all.

I am really excited to be preparing to journey to the Durango Azoka again, for the 6th time. And to take part in the 50th anniversary of this great cultural event. Trying to explain the Azoka to people here in the US, and especially my academic friends, can be difficult—we are used to book events being stuffy and sparsely attended affairs. Not so the Durango Azoka, it brings thousands of people from all over the Basque Country into the small town of Durango to celebrate Basque culture and the Basque language, Euskara. For a history of it’s standardization (an essential precursor to an event like the Azoka) see our brand new book, Writing Words: The Unique Case of the Standardization of Basque.

In preparation for my trip I’ve put together some of my favorite photos from my previous years at the Azoka.

And this year I will be posting special blog posts from the front lines of the Azoka, so stay tuned all next week for live updates!


In 2014 author Begoña Echeverria (left) made the trip with me to help promote her book, The Hammer of Witches. One of her highlights was meeting a favorite author of hers, Itxaro Borda (right)


A bird’s eye view of the controlled chaos that happens every year at Plateruena, the cafe-theatre which serves as meeting place for coffee or drinks, a place to grab some food, and venue for everything from read alongs to concerts to dance classes.


Of all the fun that I have at the Azoka, the absolutely best thing is seeing people, especially kids, take an interest in our books. Here a family peruses our The Girl Who Swam to Euskadi, by Mark Kurlansky


On an off-day, in 2009, I was treated to a visit of the famous Puente Colgante (the hanging bridge) over the River Nervión in Bilbao by an incomparable tour guide, our own contributor Katu.


Taking a break in 2010 I took the stroll from my home away from home in Bizkaia during the Azoka, Elorrio, to stroll to Arrazola, under the shadow of the storied mountain of Anboto


In 2011 a coworker took me to visit the famous sanctuary of Arantzazu, with its famous Oteiza facade of the apostles.


The calm before the storm when the door’s open. They are long days, but it is so worth it to help share and spread Basque culture!


The Liburudenda Donosti, the Donosti Bookstore, another regular stop on my circuit of the Basque Country.


View from my window at the Hotel Elorrio in San Agustín, a hamlet of Elorrio on a morning before making the about 20-minute bus ride down to the Azoka. It’s not all quite this bucolic however, if I pointed my camera a little to the left, we would see the warehouse for the large Basque grocery store chain Eroski, which is an important piece of industry for Elorrio and is nowhere near as photogenic 😉


Bilbao’s Gran Vía, alit for Christmas, in 2014


Given that I don’t usually have a cell phone, it is always an adventure meeting with authors and others. Here, I waited to pick up some books from author Kirmen Uribe, whose children book Garmendia and the Black Rider we just published this year before he and his father-in-law attended an Athletic Bilbao soccer game in San Mamés stadium. Sadly I didn’t get to attend, but it was fun seeing the excitement of fans anticipating a big game.

Rockin’ the foodie charts-Basque represent!

Out of the top  10 restaurants in the world, only two are from the same “country,” one of them being from the Basque Country more specifically. And, even more impressive than that, out of the top 20 restaurants in the world, a whopping FOUR (that is 1/5th everyone!) of the restaurants are from the Basque Country!


Juan Mari Arzak and his daughter Elena, who jointly run the Arzak Restaurant in Donostia-San Sebastián. Photo by Javier Lastras, via Wikimedia Commons

Within the Top 20 are:

#6 Mugaritz

#13 Asador Etxebarri

#17 Arzak

#19 Azurmendi

What does this mean for the Basque people?  Well, many things I assume, but I’m guessing it has and will continue to bring in more awareness of Basque culture and its talents and adaptability in the modern world.  This combination of nostalgia and invention go hand-in-hand to continue giving recognition to and set these people apart in the globalized society.  And this may in part be exactly what the culture needs to stay alive.

Click below for the full list of restaurants:

Donostia-San Sebastián Film Festival Kicks Off

September 18 sees the start of the 63rd Donostia Zinemaldia, the Donostia-San Sebastián Film Festival. This year’s edition sees the world premiere of eight movies, including Regression, directed by Alejandro Amenabar and starring Emily Watson and Ethan Hawke.


The Kursaal Congress Centre and Auditorium in Donostia-San Sebastián, decorated to promote the 2014 Zinemaldia. Photo by Joxemai, via Wikimedia Commons

This year also promises to be an especially eclectic mix, with different festival sections include “Horizontes Latinos,” “Culinary Cinema,” “Savage Cinema,” and “New Japanese Independent Cinema.” In an interview with Basque daily Berria, festival director Jose Luis Rebordinos emphasizes this diversity, citing three examples of films showcasing this year: the surreal French film Evolution, the cool British black comedy High Rise (based on a novel by J.G. Ballard), and the Japanese children’s animation film Bakemono no ko / The Boy and The Beast. Moreover, Basque films on show this year include Amama (When a Tree Falls), Sagardoa bidegile (Cider Stories), Jai Alai Blues,  and Aitaren Etxea. And there will also be a screening of the Basque-themed French movie, Sanctuaire (Sanctuary).

“From art house to mainstream films, from indie to potential Academy-winning features, San Sebastian has it all,” according to Telefonica production chief Axel Kuschevatzky, quoted in Pamela Rolfe’s article in The Hollywood Reporter here.

If you’re interested in exploring more about Basque movies, check out Basque Cinema: An Introduction, by Jaume Martí-Olivella, for a good general overview of the development of Basque film-making. And for a more detailed study of the intersection between film and Basque culture, see The Basque Nation On-Screen: Cinema, Nationalism, and Political Violence, by Santiago de Pablo.

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