Category: Durango Book Fair (page 1 of 2)

Dr. Xabier Irujo presents at the 52. Durangoko Azoka

While wrapping up my fieldwork after spending a year here in the Basque Country, I took a day to travel from Bilbao to Durango to see the famous Durango Book Fair. Aside from getting to travel with a friend to this happening scene, with numerous publishers, book stores, and new media, I was able to see a familiar face. Professor Xabier Irujo was presenting his book titled “The Verdad Alternativa“, which discusses the lies and propaganda regarding the catastrophic effects of the bombing of Gernika.  The session was well attended with standing room only, with several from the audience providing follow-up questions.

Congratulations Professor Irujo!  Look forward to seeing you and everyone else at the Center for Basque Studies in January!


On Anboto



The distinctive limestone peaks of the Urkiola Range, Anboto is the peak farthest on the right. From the hamlet of Urkiola.

It’s December again and I can’t believe it has been a whole year since I was last in the Basque Country! Since I wasn’t able to go this year, I’ve been fondly remembering my last time there, especially my last day there, a Sunday when my coworker and his partner offered to take me on a long-desired visit to Anboto. The mountain dominates the skyline of Durango and, just as a hiker looking up at it on breaks from the Azoka Stand, I’ve always wanted to make a shot at it, so I jumped at the chance. Although Anboto is actually lower in elevation than Reno at around 4,370 feet (Reno stands, according to Google, at 4,500 feet), it stands out from the landscape as an overpowering juggernaut. It is an immense mass of limestone, with cliff faces of 1,000 meters (roughly 3,000 feet) over Atxondo Valley. Anboto is one of the most known and most characteristic summits of the Basque Country.


Looking south from Urkiolamendi Pass at the beginning of the true peak ascent. It is easy to understand the grip the mountain has had on the Basque imagination.

With its distinctive shape, Anboto is not only easily recognizable but it has always played a role in Basque mythology, most famously as the home of Mari, the Basque goddess who is said to control the weather. She is said to live in a cave on the front face of the mountain. She is also known as Anbotoko Mari (“the Lady of Anboto”), She and the god Sugaar were (also known as Sugoi or Maju) connected her to the weather. When she traveled with Sugaar hail would fall. And in general her tos and fros across the sky brought storms or droughts.


Mari was said to control the weather from her cavern on Anboto.

We left the car at the hamlet of Urkiola, in the Parque Natural de Urkiola, alongside the Sanctuary of Urkiola, a Roman Catholic temple that famously celebrates the Day of Saint Anthony of Padua on June 13. This saint helps those looking for lost objects and for love, but we needed nothing as we started off on a crisp December morning with mountains dotting in and out of thick fog. The walk is a popular one and we passed many other strollers and even some Basque ponies or pottoka.


A wild Basque pony, clearly used to passersby and photo opportunities, similar to Reno’s local mustangs.

It was so pleasant walking and talking with my coworker and his companion, who have also become my good friends over my years working as your Basque Books Editor. Once we get past the fog layer the day is clear and bright, an anomaly for the Basque Country in this time of year and we soak it in. At Urkiolamendi Pass my companions, having been here many times before, decided that they would forsake a summit attempt and they sent me on alone. Now the trail became braided into various use trails and, with the beautiful day and with the Basques’ love for the outdoors, hiking, and mountain climbing, there were many people on the pass. Climbing up through steep limestone, at first the trail remained in the treeline, but it was truly stunning when it emerged and you could see how very steep this mountain really is.


That is a long way down!


The peak in sight now, sharing the trail with lots of visitors

I emerged onto the top of the ridge to a sublime panorama of what seemed to be the entire Basque Country. Durango in the valley below me, farther away toward the coast where Gernika was, and then, over there, even where Bilbao would be although it remained out of sight.


Emerging onto the highest ridge, looking toward Durango and Bilbao.


The last climb to the summit, dotted with people.

I started climbing the last, narrow, very steep climb to the summit. I think that maybe Mari go to me, or Sugaar, because I started to get really nervous. My more or less street shoes didn’t seem to be finding the traction they should on the still dew wet grass and the number of people (in Nevada it is much more common to hike alone) made me feel claustrophobic. Particularly one couple, with the man convincing an increasingly reluctant woman that she should continue while younger, fitter people clambered all about us. I was probably only meters from the summit when I realized that it didn’t matter so much, that I had done what I had set out to do and that it was time for me to get off of the mountain without officially having stood on its summit. My companions, a txakoli, and lunch would be awaiting me down at the bottom, while there was only the wind and myth and fate left on the summit. So I retraced my steps. Rejoined my companions for an excellent lunch in Urkiola, and left Anboto behind for another year. I’ll be back!!!

Happy holidays and New Year to all of our blog readers. Thanks so much for following along with us and for staying abreast of what is happening at the Center and in Basque culture. Here’s looking forward to 2017!


Your Basque Books Editor

Prestigious award for great friend of the Center


As part of the ongoing celebrations held in conjunction with the unique experience that is the annual Durangoko Azoka, the Basque Book and Record Fair held in Durango, Bizkaia, the  prestigious Argizaiola Award is presented to people who, in the bleakest of moments, have managed to bring light and warmth to Basque culture; to keep the culture going, in other words, when the chips are down. In 2013, for example, our very own Bill Douglass received the award.


Five of the recipients of the 2016 Argizaiola Award, L to R: jaime Albillos Arnaiz, Kepa Mendia Landa, Carmen Belaza, Jose Ramon Zengotitabengoa, and Justo Alberdi Artetxe. Image taken from the Durangoko Azoka website.

This year, the award has been given to six people to represent the hundreds of individuals who have over the years carried out inurri-lana (literally “ant work”) in favor of Basque culture. In sum, this is public recognition for the often overlooked tireless efforts, long hours, and great personal investment of so many people to keep Basque culture alive and thriving. The six individuals were chosen to represent specific geographical areas – five in the Basque Country itself: Kepa Mendia Landa (Araba),  Justo Alberdi Artetxe (Bizkaia), Jaime Albillos Arnaiz (Gipuzkoa), Patxika Erramuzpe (Iparralde), and Carmen Belaza (Nafarroa); and one to represent the Basque Diaspora: our great friend Jose Ramon Zengotitabengoa, whose son Sam now represents the family on the Center’s Advisory Board.


Examples of an argizaiola, or “board of wax,” a kind of coiled ornamental candle. In many traditional cultures,  any light-giving source, anything to keep darkness at bay, holds a special place in the human imagination. Photo by Juan San Martin, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Jose Ramon, a Bizkaian born in Zaldibar in 1938 and raised in the  Durango district, has certainly had an eventful life involving much traveling. At age fifteen he left home to pursue his studies. He went to university in Liège, Belgium, for five years before moving to England, where he lived and worked for nine years, followed by a two-year stay in Germany. Eventually, he moved to the United States, where he enjoyed a successful thirty-five-year business career in Chicago as well as raising a family before retirement. Through his and others’ efforts, the Society for Basque Studies in America was established, which served as a catalyst for numerous academic initiatives to promote and study Basque culture in the US. He also played a prominent role in establishing Nestor Basterretxea’s Basque Sheepherders’ Monument in Reno and served on the Center’s advisory board for many years.

Zorionak, Jose Ramon, and all the other “ants” who have done so much for Basque culture over the years!


New books for Durangoko Azoka 2016


Just a quick reminder to all our readers in the Basque Country who may be thinking of attending this year’s Azoka in Durango, the great book and record fair that turns into one huge celebration of Basque culture in general (with just a wee bit of good old-fashioned partying involved as well), this year’s publications by the Center will be at our stand. This is the 51st year of the Azoka, taking place this time round between December 2 and 6. For full details check out the official website:

New 2016 Releases


Part of the Center’s Migration Studies Series, Basques in Cuba, edited by William A. Douglass, is an ambitious attempt on the part of a variety of scholars from different disciplines and countries to chart the impact of Basque immigration in Cuba, and the effect of this back in the Basque Country.


The Basques by Jacques Allières, part of the prestigious Classic Series, is a work originally intended as an introduction to Basque history and culture, with a special focus on the Basque language, for a Francophone public. It is published here for the first time in English and serves as a unique perspective on the Basque Country by the renowned French linguist.


Multilevel Governance and Regional Empowerment by Karolina Borońska-Hryniewiecka is a timely addition to the growing scholarship on the multiple layers of government within the European Union. In an age marked by the Scottish independence referendum of 2014, the movement in favor of a similar vote in Catalonia, and the Brexit referendum of 2016, this work reminds us of the importance of understanding such multiple power structures.


Iban Zaldua’s This Strange and Powerful Language is a must for anyone interested in a general and accessible introduction to Basque-language literature. Zaldua’s easy-to-follow and often humorous prose guides readers through the decisions that writers make to publish in the Basque language, while offering a general introduction to the major literary work in the language.

If you can’t make it to Durango, don’t forget that you can shop for all our books online here:

Green Basque

Just one example of the thousands of gardens that dot the Basque country from city to countryside.

Well, back in my office from another great Durango Azoka in the books and ready to get started with a whole fresh crop of books for 2016!!!

Speaking of growing, one of the most suprising things for me, a Nevada boy, coming to the Basque Country in December every year is that unfailingly, everywhere, from the tiniest corner of a bit of land in Bilbao to Elorrio, there are vegetables growing. It is a well known fact that the Basques love their cuisine, but I think the passion is no less for growing food. It is just such a strange thing, however, to see it happening in December. Especially when I’m hearing that it’s snowing back home. (And of course, we all hope a ton!)

For some connections to the Basques and the specific handling of the natural world, check out our Sustainable Development, Ecological Complexity, and Environmental Values, edited by Ignacio Ayestaran and Miren Onaindia.

The 2015 Azoka and surroundings in pictures (and a few words)

So the 2015 Azoka has been and gone, and once again it’s time to take stock of what it all means to us at the Center. Here are a few pictures and thoughts.

Azoka 2015 art

The art of letters

This year’s Azoka was marked by dry sunny weather, which is great when it comes to lugging books to the venue although some Azoka veterans say that the good weather actually keeps people away, with many other activities to make the most of in the great Basque outdoors, but that’s not the impression we had as a steady stream of people visited the Center’s stand each day.

Azoka 2015 main area

People checking out the Azoka. And this is downtime!

Azoka 2015 outside view

The young woman in traditional Basque dress was handing out free stuff for kids outside, and yes, that really is a cloudless blue sky, in December, in the Basque Country!

It is worth pointing out, though, just how beautiful and dramatic the setting is for the Azoka – certainly tempting enough to combine a little outside activity with a visit to the epicenter of the Basque cultural world during this short, intense period.

IMG_2822 (1)

A panoramic view of the limestone mountains that embrace Durangaldea, the Durango region of Bizkaia

And if you are lucky enough to be able to venture out and about during Azoka time, these are the kinds of views you’re treated to.

Durangaldea 2

A light cloud cover hugs Mount Anboto

For more images of the varied and multiple events that took place at the Azoka, check out its own website’s day-by-day pictorial account here.

Getting all Azoka’d

The Azoka is in full swing and as always it is such a riot of activity that it’s a bit hard to keep up. It has been going great: interest in the Center’s books is really high, especially in the Basques in the United States, Basque Explorers in the Pacific Ocean, and Garmendia and the Black Rider. It is also a time to catch up with so many old friends and make new ones. A special treat this year is the presence of Bill Douglass, who is here to celebrate the launch of the Spanish and Basque versions of his Death after Life: Tales of Nevada, published by the Black Rock Institute but distributed in part by the Center. Other highlights for me have been seeing Imanol Murua, my old hiking buddy from his days at UNR and an accomplished journalist, writer, and teacher. Here are a few pics from my first days at the Azoka:

Azoka 2015 CBS Stand

Books, check, posters, check. All ready to go!


Always love to have people perusing our books, especially when there is a real Basque cowboy in the background!


Fifty years of Azoka! So proud to be a part of it!


Poster for our good friend Imanol Murua’s book on the end of ETA.


Outside the Azoka at night. It’s so cool how much of a social event a cultural gathering is here in the Basque Country.


CBS graduate Imanol Murua makes news at Durango Book Fair


Imanol Murua

CBS graduate Imanol Murua has featured prominently at the 2015 Durango Book Fair for his latest book Ekarri armak. ETAren jardun armatuaren bukaeraren kronika (Hand over your arms: A chronicle of the cessation of ETA’s armed activity). The book explores the events that led from the failed Loiola peace initiatives up to the declaration of a permanent ceasefire by ETA in 2011.

Ekarri armak

Imanol was on hand to promote the work in Durango and also took time out to meet with the CBS book editor. He is also in the process of preparing a forthcoming book for the prestigious Routledge publishing house, based on his dissertation, which addresses the end of ETA.

There is an extensive interview and video (in Basque) with Imanol about the new book here.

And see his presentation of the work (in Basque) here.



Vaquero Bar, the Artxanda Funicular, and the Iron Ring of Bilbao

Photo Dec 02, 5 00 52 PM

“La Huella digital,” (the Finger Print) sculpture by Juan José Novellas on Artxanda commemorating the defenders of Bilbao’s Iron Ring.

I arrived in Bilbao December2 on a wonderfully beautiful fall/winter day. The kind of day I’ve only been treated to a few times in the Basque Country (chilly and wet have been more my December experiences with some notable exceptions) and so despite being exhausted from the trip I knew that I couldn’t just retire to my hotel room and try to get some sleep. It was the kind of day that demanded to be explored and I couldn’t ignore it as tired as my body was.

I am a sucker for a funicular (cable car) and, given the beauty of the day, I knew that the view of Bilbao afforded from Mount Artxanda would be spectacular, so I decided I would walk from my hotel on the edge of the Casco Viejo (old town) over to the funicular that climbs Mount Artxanda on the eastern side of Bilbao. I had been up it once before, during my first visit to the Azoka in 2009, but I didn’t remember well where it was so I just sort of wandered along the east shore of the Nervión River figuring I’d find it eventually. But Bilbao being a city that keeps its secrets well (or my having not such a great nose for navigation), I went the wrong way and realized I wasn’t going to find it. That was when I stumbled across the Vaquero Bar (Cowboy Bar). Now, being a bit of a cowboy myself in my day, this seemed to me the perfect place to go in, ask for directions, and whet the whistle with an afternoon caña before making the trek up the mountain (via cable car).

Photo Dec 02, 3 49 20 PM

The Cowboy Bar, where barkeep César treated to me a personal guided tour through Bilbao’s history and present.

There were a couple of old men sitting in front of the bar who eyed me suspiciously as I snapped a quick photo of the bar’s facade for posterity (and blog inclusion), but the bar was empty other than a slighly older than middle-aged barkeep. I asked for a beer and then asked for directions to the funicular. Well, this was the right question to ask apparently, because the barman, César, not only gave me directions but then treated me to a 20-minute monologue on funicular history, the Iron Ring of Bilbao, the current political situation of the Basque Country, and the world in general.

Mount Artxanda was a key point in the Iron Ring of Bilbao. Being one of the most important industrial cities of “Spain” it was a key objective of Franco’s forces and the capital of Euskadi. The Basque government, quickly cut off from the rest of the republic at the onset of the civil war, constructed an elaborate set of defenses to protect the city, the Iron Ring (Bilbao being one of the world’s iron cities par excellence for much of its history), an impregnable set of defenses created with the idea of a long siege in mind (although also with World War I type defense in mind as well, not the new type of warfare ushered in the the ascendancy of mechanized assault). However, for César, and for history at large, the breach of the Iron Ring wasn’t due to superior armament, but due to treachery: one of the engineers who designed the Iron Ring, Alejandro Goicoechea, deserted to Franco’s forces days before the assault with the defensive plans, thus allowing the Francoists to breach it at its most vulnerable point.

Photo Dec 02, 4 56 04 PM

The shining city of Bilbao from the summit of Mount Artxanda.

With César’s directions in mind, and with his worldview coloring my vision, I walked along the banks of the Nervión. The shining tourist city that Bilbao has become (at least along the Nervión),  was replaced by the industrial city it had been, where piles of minerals extracted from the hills and awaiting shipment replaced boutiques and internationally famous museums, where, according to César, there had been dignity in work rather than the ignominy of servitude to foreign tourists.

The funicular had been designed, on the other hand, for the cities’ pleasure. It had climbed originally to a casino and pleasure garden as the cities’ wealthy houses and the workers’ shanties that supported them, started to climb out of the river valley. There had been a luxurious casino at the summit before the civil war that was destroyed during the bombardment and battle for the city but photos of which I looked at while I waited, along with some mountain biking boys who use the cable car for a ride to the top before what I’m sure was an exhilarating descent into the valley below. Most of the users weren’t tourists, but people going about their days: the mountain biking boys, an old woman working on a crossword, a woman with three Basque-speaking in children in tow. All using it for transport. César had told me that the station had served as a bomb shelter for the neighborhood during Franco’s aerial bombardments, but I saw no evidence of that, as easy to imagine as it was.

On the summit I walked along the edge. The city below glowed as the day neared sunset and the monument to the Basque soldiers shone, but was mainly ignored by the park’s users: a couple making out, a man teaching a girl how to fly his drone (which she nearly crashed and you could see his heart leap about), a few older people seated on benches with their eyes closed soaking in the warmth. A city is a collection of people, of history, sure, but mainly of the lives of people and their experiences and views, as I’d learned when I visited the Cowboy Bar below and as I walked along the Iron Ring above the glowing city.


CBS mentioned in Azoka interview

In an interesting interview with our good friends at, Nerea Mujika, president of the Gerediaga Association that organizes the Durangoko Azoka (the Durango Book and Music Fair), explains how the Azoka is keen to develop relations with Basque diaspora communities. She also mentions the prominent place that the CBS has enjoyed as a forerunner in developing these transatlantic links with its stand at the fair, as well as the fact that both Jon Bilbao and Bill Douglass were presented with the fair’s own  prestigious Argizaiola Award.

Read the full interview here.

If you haven’t already done so, take a look at our Basque books editor’s very personal take on what the Azoka means to him here.

And don’t forget to check out Part II of our 2015 Books Round up, coming later today…

CBS stand Durango

The CBS stand at the Azoka with a selection of its publications



Older posts