Category: Gender Issues in the Basque Country (page 1 of 3)

March 27, 1937: Singer Lourdes Iriondo born

Lourdes Iriondo (1937-2005).

Lourdes Iriondo Mujika was born in Donostia on March 27, 1937. She rose to prominence in the 1960s as part of the New Basque Folk movement and was widely considered the principal female voice of Basque popular music in the 1960s and 1970s.

The second of eleven sisters and brothers, at age seven she moved with her family from Donostia to nearby Urnieta, Gipuzkoa. She went to Catholic school, first in Urnieta and later in Donostia, where she was taught by French nuns and schooled in French. From an early age she had a calling to help the poor and consequently enrolled in a secular missionary school in Vitoria-Gasteiz. She could not complete her studies, however, because barely a year later she was diagnosed with a heart defect that would require her to be especially vigilant about her health. She was ordered to undertale a lengthy period of rest at home, and she made the most of this time by studying another of her passions: music.

She had grown up in a family environment in which music played an important role, with family gatherings invariably involving singing traditional Basque songs. She was a member of the Urnieta txistulari (Basque pipe and tabor player) group and had studied singing and opera at a Donostia music school. In 1964 she took up the guitar, by which time she had already started to compose songs, many of them infused with religious themes. That same year, 1964, she performed for the first time in public in a fundraising concert for the ikastola or Basque-language school of nearby Andoain. Her performance was a hit with the audience and she was invited to perform again at several concerts through 1964 and 1965. Word spread of her talent and an important local radio station, Herri Irratia, recorded her performing and began broadcasting the recordings. She was a new voice in many ways, not just because she was a woman but because she sang in Basque with the single accompaniment of a classical guitar. This was completely unheard of in the Basque Country at the time and people responded enthusiastically.

It was in 1965, too, that the artistic collective Ez Dok Amairu was established. This was intended as an all-embracing group of artists in different fields, with a special emphasis on music. It was a vanguard collective that sought to reinvigorate the Basque language and culture particularly through the medium of song, and followed in many ways the folk revival in the United States and elsewhere linked to themes of protest at the state of society at the time (in the Basque context, this obviously meant protest, where possible, against the Franco dictatorship). Iriondo was one of the founding members of Ez Dok Amairu yet unlike most of the others–which included Mikel Laboa, Benito Lertxundi, and her future husband Xabier Lete–she was already widely known in the Basque cultural world at that time. Within this context, during the late 1960s and early 1970s, her songwriting became more overtly political in nature with titles like   “Askatasuna zertarako” (Why freedom?), “Nire erria” (My homeland), and, most popular of all, “Ez gaude konforme” (We don’t agree).

Basque musicians in the show “Zazpiribai” (1972). Standing (L to R): Iñaki Urtizberea , Xabier Lete, Patxika Erramuzpe, Peio Ospital, Pantxoa Carrere, and Manex Pagola. Seated (L to R): Ugutz Robles-Aranguiz, Lourdes Iriondo, and Benito Lertxundi. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

She married Xabier Lete in 1968 and the couple released several mini LPs together in the 1960s and 1970s. Meanwhile, Iriondo took up writing children’s literature, publishing several Basque-language books for children through the 1970s and early 1980s.  She also recorded traditional Basque songs and children’s songs but performed for the last time in 1978. She was physically and mentally exhausted by the demands of performing live, with her health suffering, and increasingly preoccupied by politically charged internal divisions within the Basque cultural world.  Thereafter, she dedicated herself to working for the ikastola movement and parish duties in Urnieta, including organizing children’s theater groups.

She died, aged 68, in December 2005. There is a park and a sculpture in her honor in her home town of Urnieta.

 

The Incredible Story of Margot Duhalde: World War II Veteran and Combat Pilot

Continuing with our celebration of Women’s History Month, today we bring you a quite amazing story in many respects; certainly an untold story for us here at the Center. It concerns Margot Duhalde, a Chilean-born woman of Basque descent who saw active service in both the British Royal Air Force and the French Air Force.

Margot Duhalde (c. 1944). Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Margot Duhalde Sotomayor was born in Chile in 1920. Her paternal family originally came from Luhuso (Louhossoa), Lapurdi, in Iparralde or the Northern Basque Country. In her own words (all citations from the wonderful article by Palmira Oyanguren cited below): “When my grandfather died, I would have been nine years old. He was an imposing Basque who used to sport some tremendous mustaches and who loved to recount his stories in song.” Growing up in a farming family in Río Bueno in southern Chile, her destiny appeared to be that of a rural life. However, she became fascinated at an early age with the planes that would fly over the family ranch to take the mail to the far corners of Chile.  When the family relocated to Santiago de Chile so that their children could receive the best education possible, she implored her parents to be able to take flying lessons; and, at age sixteen, she began to learn to fly at the Club Aéreo de Chile. As she recalled, “It was tough finding someone who was willing to teach a young half-farm girl to fly.” But she succeeded in her dream and by the late 1930s was a qualified pilot.

When World War II broke out in 1939, she went to the French Consulate in Santiago to volunteer, on the basis of her paternal family connections with France, for the Free French Forces led by Charles De Gaulle, who was based in London. She was not yet twenty-one and therefore not of legal age, so to get around this she had to invent a story for her parents (who would undoubtedly have refused any permission for her to take part in the war). She told them she would be going to Canada as an instructor, which they accepted. She subsequently sailed from the port of Valparaíso for Liverpool, in the company of thirteen other volunteers, including two young Basques with whom she made great friends, Juan Cotano and “some Ibarra”: “Because I was quite useless and knew nothing about any kind of domestic chores, they ironed my clothes, did my laundry … they affectionately nicknamed me ‘blockhead’.”

On arriving in the UK, she was immediately arrested on suspicion of being a spy and spent five days in a London jail. When she was finally released she ran into yet more obstacles when it came time to presenting herself at the headquarters of the Free French Forces: “The truth is that the French … didn’t know what to do with me. They’d mixed up my name with that of Marcel, in other words, they thought I was a man.” She waited three long months without hearing any word and then a post was assigned her helping out with domestic chores at a recovery center for injured pilots. While there, she unexpectedly received a letter from a French second lieutenant who had lived in southern Chile and had seen interviews with her in the press there. He told her to forget about the French ever allowing her to fly and try her luck elsewhere. This led to her decision to apply to the British Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA), an organization that helped ferry aircraft to different destinations. Despite having practically no English, she was accepted for the ATA, initially working as a mechanic while she learned English. Soon after, however, she began a tough training schedule learning to fly both single and twin-engine aircraft, and both British and American machines. This eventually led to her flying over a hundred different types of planes (including both fighter planes and bombers) throughout the war for the ATA from bases in England to combat zones in France, Belgium, and the Netherlands. She eventually rose in rank to become a first officer in the Women’s Section of the ATA.

Margot Duhalde in retirement.

At the end of the war, she was finally accepted into the French Air Force, in which she now flew warplanes officially, becoming France’s first woman combat pilot.  She also completed a public relations tour of Latin America for the French Air Force, demonstrating French aircraft in Uruguay, Argentina, Brazil, and Chile. Having eventually served her time and achieved her goal of becoming a combat pilot, she then returned to Chile in 1947, where she remained for the rest of her life and worked as a commercial pilot, instructor, and even air traffic controller, retiring at age eighty-one.

She married three times, and had one son. In the 2003 interview cited here she states: “Nowadays I live in an apartment accompanied by my dog Maite, who is as old as me, and by my young cat. Whenever I can, I get in gear and go to the land of my ancestors, Luhuso; or to Baiona, where I still have family with whom I maintain excellent relations.”

In 1946 Duhalde was made a Knight of France’s Legion of Honor and in 2007 she was made a Commander of the National Order of the Legion of Honor; in 2009 she was awarded the Veteran’s Badge from the British Ambassador in Santiago for her work with the ATA during World War II; and she has also been honored officially by the Chilean Air Force, which bestowed the rank of colonel on her.

Further Reading

Palmira Oyanguren M., “Margot Duhalde: Confesiones de una aviadora,”  Eusko News & Media (2003).

 

Benita Asas Manterola: The Basque Suffragette

Benita Asas Manterola (1873-1968). Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Throughout March we’ve been celebrating Women’s History Month with a series of posts about sometimes overlooked but nonetheless remarkable women in history with specific Basque connections. Today we continue with the story of Benita Asas Manterola, who we think can rightly stake a claim to being known as the Basque suffragette.

Born in Donostia in 1873, she studied education in Valladolid, graduating cum laude in 1897. Thereafter, she took up her first teaching post in Bilbao until 1902, when she moved to another position in Madrid. In 1910 she authored a teaching manual, Dios y el Universo. Libro de lectura instructiva para niños y niñas (God and the Universe: Book of instructive reading for boys and girls), which in essay form urged children to reflect on major themes like religion as well as to question conventionality. Subsequently, she began to take part in a series of impassioned debates on women’s suffrage in Madrid. She was a co-founder in 1913 of the daily newspaper El Pensamiento Femenino (Feminist Thought), the aim of  which was to improve the social, legal, and economic position of women by encouraging hem to question their subservience and fight for their rights, and  which she edited to 1916. After it folded, she continued to write articles for another publication, La Voz de la Mujer (The Woman’s Voice). She was president of the main feminist association in Spain, the ANME (Asociación Nacional de Mujeres Españolas, National Association of Spanish Women), between 1924 and 1932; and in 1929 she was a delegate, representing the Spanish Women’s League, at a League of Nations Assembly at its headquarters in Geneva, at which she proposed holding a Women’s World Congress as an instrument to help avoid any repetition of the bellicose international situation that had led to the carnage of the Great War.

A group of women from the Plazandreok political party pay homage to Benita Asas by symbolically renaming a street in her honor in Donostia.

With the coming of the Second Republic in Spain in 1931, as part the process to draw up a constitution, Asas was appointed to present a report to the Spanish parliament on women’s suffrage, with the right to vote eventually being extended to women in 1933. In the 1930s she joined Izquierda Radical Socialista (Radical Socialist Left Party, IRS), but all the while continued to teach. When the Spanish Civil War broke out in 1936, she remained in Madrid and a supporter of the Second Republic against the armed uprising of the military rebels and their supporters. Following the defeat of the Republic, however, in 1939, she reapplied to take up a position in the public education system. However, the newly established Franco regime–through the vehicle of the so-called National Movement (the one-party state)–sought actively to keep out any unwelcome elements from the system; the same system that greatly restricted women’s legal and voting rights, making them subject to the authority of the “heads of the household” (fathers or the husbands). Consequently, in 1940 the Ruling High Commission for Purging Measures declared her unfit to resume her teaching duties on the basis that, “she continues to take an interest in the women’s suffrage movement” and that “a long time ago she believed in Catholic doctrines but prior to the Movement she was a leftist.” She was, moreover, ordered to be removed from Madrid at a distance of more than 30 km (just under 20 miles) of the city.

Asas was 66 years old at the time and thereafter all records of her life appear to have disappeared. She died in Bilbao in 1968 at the age of 95. In the Egia neighborhood of Donostia there is a square named after her; and in the San Inazio neighborhood of Bilbao there is street named in her honor. A new neighborhood constructed in Gudalajara, Spain, in the 1990s named all its streets after women, one of them being Benita Asas.

Information taken from Wikipedia and the Auñamendi Eusko Entziklopedia.

Cecilia García de Guilarte: The First War Correspondent on the Northern Front

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Cecilia García de Guilarte (1915-1989). From ‘Un barco cargado de…’ [A Boat Laden With…], a blog devoted to her life.

It’s a real pleasure to come across the life stories of people who don’t typically make it into the history books, as happened recently when I discovered the figure of Cecilia García de Guilarte. Born in Tolosa, Gipuzkoa, in 1915, she was the first journalist to cover the Northern Front after the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936.

García de Guilarte was the oldest of four children born into a working-class family originally from Burgos. Her father worked at the paper mill in Tolosa, one of the most important companies in the town. Indeed, she also started her working life in the mill. There, influenced by her father’s labor union activities for the CNT, the confederation of anarcho-syndicalist labor unions, she took to writing for union publications. Her facility for writing led her, at age 20, to publishing articles for a Madrid weekly, Estampa, signing her name, as she would do thereafter, “Cecilia G. de Guilarte.”

With the outbreak of the war, she continued her work as a journalist, writing for the union’s official publication CNT Norte and becoming the de facto first correspondent to cover the Northern Front (Gipuzkoa, Bizkaia, Santander, and Asturias), between 1936 and 1937. During this time she secured exclusive stories, such as her interview of the German pilot Karl Gustav Schmidt, who had crashed after the aerial bombardment of Bilbao by Nazi planes in the service of Franco in January 1937. At the same time she met and married Amós Ruiz Girón, the former chief of municipal police in Eibar, Gipuzkoa, who was at the time in the Cuerpo Disciplinario de Euzkadi, a policing force created by the Basque government during the war.

Following the fall of the Northern Front to Franco’s rebel forces, García de Guilarte escaped to Catalonia, from which fled fled to France in 1939 after it, too, fell. While in exile in France she wrote briefly for the newspaper Sud-Ouest before crossing the Atlantic to escape World War II and settling in Mexico with her husband. There she embarked on a productive career in journalism, writing for several journals and newspapers, including many connected to the community of Basque exiles. She was also editor of El Hogar and Mujer. She combined all this with a similarly active political life as a member of the Izquierda Republicana de Euskadi, and she also taught classes in art and theater history at the University of Sonora. As well as all this, she also published voraciously: novels, essays, biographies, and plays.

She was able to return to Tolosa in 1964, although she would have to wait over another decade, and the death of Franco in 1975, before he husband could rejoin her in the Basque Country. Back home, she became the theater critic for the Voz de España, a newspaper published in Donostia-San Sebastián, until it closed in 1979. She died in 1989, having taken an active part in the social and cultural life of Donostia both before and after Franco’s death.

Sources

See the bilingual Spanish/English blog Un barco cargado de…’ [A Boat Laden With…], which covers all aspects of her life and includes numerous photos and interviews: https://unbarcocargadode.wordpress.com/

See, too, an excellent blog post about her life at the following site: http://monografiashistoricasdeportugalete.blogspot.com.es/2014/02/celia-g-gilarte-periodista-de-guerra.html

Further Reading

War, Exile, Justice, and Everyday Life, 1936-1946, edited by Sandra Ott. This multi-authored work traces the impact of both the Spanish Civil war and World War II on people’s everyday lives, with a special focus on (but not limited to) the Basque Country. This work is available free to download here.  

Expelled from the Motherland, by Xabier Irujo. This is a book that, while taking as its central subject matter the life and work of the exiled Basque president or lehendakari, Jose Antonio Agirre, also explores the stories of many other Basque exiles in Latin America and beyond.

March 12, 2008: Death of artist Menchu Gal

On March 12, 2008 the Basque artist Menchu Gal Orendain, the first woman to win Spain’s National Prize for Painting (1959) and renowned for her colorful landscapes as well as portraits, died in Donostia-San Sebastián.

Menchu Gal

Born into a middle-class family in Irun, Gipuzkoa, in 1918, she developed an early interest in painting and by the age of seven was studying the art under local painter Gaspar Montes Iturrioz. Recognizing her talent, he encouraged her family to send her to Paris to continue her studies. This she duly did in 1932, enrolling in a school run by French cubist Amédée Ozenfant. She spent two years in Paris, taking advantage of the time there to visit the great museums and exhibitions in this major global art capital. She was particularly drawn to Impressionist and Fauvist works, and especially the oeuvre of Henri Matisse. Thereafter, she continued her studies in Madrid, at the San Fernando Academy of Fine Arts, where her teachers included the celebrated Basque artist Aurelio Arteta.

Menchu Gal at work in 1975

When the Spanish Civil War broke out in 1936, together with her family she took refuge in France. She returned to Madrid in 1943 and soon became part of the Young Madrid School of artists, a group of young contemporary artists who exhibited regularly through the 1950s. It was at this time that she focused on landscape painting, particularly representations of the Castilian Meseta, the famed plateau of Don Quixote, and her native Basque Country. As she exhibited more, so she  gained a reputation for her vibrant use of color and the joy she expressed in her painting. And in 1959 she was awarded Spain’s National Prize for Painting for a landscape of Arraioz in the Baztan Valley of Navarre – the first woman to win this award. She continued to exhibit through the 1960s and 1970s, returning to the Basque Country and sponsoring a new generation of young Basque artists. In this regard, she was particularly interested in spotlighting painters and paintings connected with her natal Bidasoa region of Gipuzkoa; organizing retrospective of her first teacher, Montes Iturrioz, and participating in a travelling exhibition, “Painters of the Bidasoa,” in 1986. And she was still painting and exhibiting to the turn of the millennium.

Asked in a 2006 interview to describe the colors of her own particular corner of the Basque Country, the Bidasoa region, she replied:

Green and gray dominate; the trees are green, and the ground gray. The houses are kind of ocher. They don’t have a lot of color. But I love the Aia Massif [a rocky massif straddling the border between Gipuzkoa and Navarre]. I’ve seen it in all its colors. San Marcial [a shrine on a hill overlooking Irun and the Bidasoa region] and the Aia Massif have featured a lot in my painting.

Besides the Spanish National Prize for Paining, she also won many other awards. She was the first woman to receive the Provincial Council of Gipuzkoa’s Gold Medal (2005) and in 2007 Eusko Ikaskuntza (the Society of Basque Studies) awarded her the prestigious Manuel Lekuona Prize.

She died in 2008 and in 2010 the City Council of Irun, in collaboration with the Kutxa Foundation, established the Menchu Gal Room at the Sancho de Urdanibia Hospital in Irun, where some of her work–purchased by the city council itself–is exhibited. That same year, a foundation was established in her name.

Further Reading

Menchu Gal Orendain at the Auñamendi Eusko Entziklopedia.

Menchu Gal, una artista extraordinaria,” by José Javier Fernández Altuna in Euskonews & Media (2007).

 

 

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.

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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.

 

Women chefs and their influence on Basque gastronomy: Part 1

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Zuriñe Garcia, head chef at the Andra Mari restaurant in Galdakao, Bizkaia.

I’m sure everyone out there is aware of the reputation of Basque cuisine at the world level. The food and drink of the Basque Country now serve as major attractions for visitors to this singular and spirited little corner of Europe, where world-renowned chefs like Juan Mari Arzak, Martin Berasategi, Pedro Subijana, Hilario Arbelaitz, Andoni Aduriz, Eneko Atxa, and Victor Arguinzoniz, among many others, ply their trade. While all these chefs publicly acknowledge, whenever they can, the influence of their mothers on their own love of cooking, what about Basque women chefs? How come women’s names appear to be missing from such lists?

The first and most obvious answer is that women’s names could of course be added to any checklist of contemporary Basque chefs. The first name that immediately springs to mind is Elena Arzak, joint owner with her father, Juan Mari, of the Arzak restaurant. Indeed, after its beginnings as a bar in 1897, Arzak was converted into a restaurant and later run, on the death of her husband Juan Ramon Arzak, by her grandmother, Francisca “Paquita” Arratibel. Juan Mari was nine-years-old at the time, and in the words of Elena, in an interview with The Guardian (see below): “He was an only child surrounded by women, in a matriarchy … I think that is why he idolises women now.” Indeed, today, Arzak is 80 percent female, with six women chefs in the kitchen.

Besides Elena Arzak, both Zuriñe Garcia at the Andra Mari restaurant in Galdakao, Bizkaia, and Pilar Idoate, who heads up the Europa hotel-restaurant in Pamplona-Iruñea, have Michelin stars.

Alongside such prominent women chefs, Basque-language TV viewers may well be familiar with Aizpea Oihaneder, who, as well as presenting her own cooking show on ETB1, Oihaneder bere satsan, jointly runs the Xarma Jatetxea in Donostia-San Sebastián with Xabi Diez. Likewise, Eva Arguiñano, from Beasain, Gipuzkoa, is a well-known TV chef, while also working at the restaurant of her brother, the famous Karlos Arguiñano. We could also list other contemporary women chefs like Txaro Zapiain at the Roxario restaurant and cider house in Astigarraga, Gipuzkoa, Estibaliz Mekoalde at the Castillo de Arteaga restaurant in Gautegiz-Arteaga, Bizkaia, and Aitziber Lekerika at the Errekaondo restaurant in Zamudio, Bizkaia (to name just a few).

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Nieves Barragán Mohacho, from Santurtzi. Picture from the Barrafina website.

Mention should also be made of the growing reputation of Nieves Barragán Mohacho from Santurtzi, Bizkaia, the Executive Head Chef of the Michelin-starred Barrafina in London, where, as in the case of Arzak, other women chefs are front and center in the kitchen. Barrafina was named UK restaurant of the year in 2015 (and runner-up in 2016) as well as being named the OFM Awards Best Restaurant 2016. In the words of Four Magazine:

Nieves Barragán Mohacho grew up in the Basque region of Spain, in the capital city of Bilbao. From a young age she was aware of food and cooking. Her mother spent most of her time looking after Nieves’s grandmother in the house and so to keep Nieves entertained she involved her in the kitchen’s daily activity. She began with simple things, peeling potatoes and stirring the contents of pans but progressed quickly and by the age of seven Nieves was roasting her own chicken. Nieves quickly understood there was an abundance of excellent local ingredients that surrounded her and a strong tradition of local cooking.

Nor should we forget the huge contribution of one of the main ambassadors of Basque cuisine abroad, Teresa Barrenechea from Bilbao, whose Marichu restaurant was such a feature of the New York restaurant scene for many years.

So things are changing, it would seem. But it’s also interesting to note an arguably forgotten dimension to this story: the historical impact of women chefs on Basque gastronomy. In fact, Paquita Arratibel, who established Arzak as a restaurant, was only one of many women pioneers in the Basque restaurant world, and there were others before her … a story we continue in Part 2 of this post tomorrow.

Further Reading

Allan Jenkins, “Elena Arzak: The best female chef on the planet,The Guardian, August 19, 2012.

Rachael Pells, “Barrafina: No reservations about Britain’s best restaurant, which puts female chefs centre stage,” The Independent, July 5, 2015.

Sudi Pigott, “Why a Basque woman’s place is in the kitchen,” The Independent, April 27, 2012.

 

The Basque Country in the 19th Century painted by the Feillet sisters

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Hélène Feillet (1812-1889), as painted by her sister Blanche. Image by TRAILERS MUSEUM, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Hélène (1812-1889) and Blanche (1815-1886) Feillet were artists and lithographers of some renown in the mid-19th century. Although born in Paris, they had strong connections to Iparralde, where they lived (in Biarritz) from 1834 on. And they are best known for their many portrayals of the Basque people and landscape in the form of lithographs, watercolors, oil paintings, drawings, and sketches. Their principal focus of interest was the Basque coastline, from Baiona in Lapurdi to Bermeo in Bizkaia, by way of the many fishing towns and villages along the way.

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“Pêcheuses de St-Jean-de-Luz” (Fisherwomen of Donibane Lohizune), by Hélène Feillet. Part of the Fonds Ancely of the City library of Toulouse. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

They were the daughters of a famous lithographer, Pierre Jacques Feillet (1794-1855), who was also head of the School of Drawing and Painting in Baiona from 1844 until his death – on which Blanche took over the same position. Continuing with their father’s specialty, they gained particular fame as lithographers in their representations of the Basque Country, embracing the romanticist tendencies of the age in their lithographs and prints.

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“Costumes basques” (Basque dress) by Hélène Feillet. Part of the Fonds Ancely of the City library of Toulouse. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

In 1844 Blanche married Charles-Henri Hennebutte, who ran a printing company in Baiona. His company would later publish well-known guides to the Basque Country, such as Guide du voyageur de Bayonne à St Sébastien and Description des environs de Bayonne et de Saint-Sébastien (France et Espagne: Album des deux frontières), beautifully illustrated by the Feillet sisters. Hélène also exhibited her work in both Paris and London.

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“Entrée du duc de Bayonne en 1839” (Entrance of the Duke of Baiona in 1839) by Hélène Feillet. A work commissioned by the French Ministry of the Interior. Image by Léna, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Their art stands as a remarkable testament of the time and place in which they lived and worked, and serves as an invaluable resource for capturing the Basque Country on the cusp of major social change in the mid- and late-19th century.

March 8, 1983: Olympic gold-medal canoeist Maialen Chourraut born

Maialen Chourraut. Image at Basque Team website.

On March 8, 1983, slalom canoeist Maialen Chourraut Iurramendi was born in Donostia. Over the last two decades she has competed at the top level in world canoeing, winning the bronze medal at the K-1 event at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London and the gold medal in the K-1 event at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. She is currently one of the top Basque sports figures.

Chourraut in action in the K1 slalom event at the 2012 Olympics. Picture by David Merrett, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Chourraut took up canoeing on La Concha beach in Donostia at age twelve. Thereafter, she joined the Atletico San Sebastian sports club, where she learned her craft, and she competed for the first time for the Spanish national team in 2000 at the Junior World Championships. Under the guidance of her coach (and future husband) Xabi Etxaniz, also a former Olympic canoeist, she rose in the world rankings in the individual kayak (K1) category, the fast sprint event, winning medals at the World and European Championships as well as her achievement of Olympic glory.  In 2013 she gave birth to a daughter, Ane, who was present at her gold medal-winning performance in Rio in 2016 – as you can see in the video below.

And check out the amazing reception she received on returning to Donostia!

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Baiona renames street in honor of Estitxu Robles-Aranguiz

Estitxu Robles-Aranguiz in 1970. Picture courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

In conjunction with International Women’s Day, the City of Baiona yesterday unveiled a plaque commemorating the life and work of singer Estitxu Robles-Aranguiz Bernaola, known simply as Estitxu or “Beskoitzeko urretxindorra” (the nightingale of Beskoitze), and in doing so named a street in her honor in the city.

She was born in Beskoitze (Briscous), Lapurdi, in 1944 to a family of political refugees from Bizkaia fleeing the Franco dictatorship. Her father, Manu Robles-Aranguiz, was one of the founders of the Basque nationalist labor union ELA, and had himself already been forced into exile during the previous Spanish dictatorship of Miguel Primo de Rivera in the 1920s. Born into a naturally musical family made up of ten siblings, she studied classical guitar and at an early age Estitxu formed the Ainarak (The Swallows) group together with her sisters Edurne, Garbiñe, Gizane, and Maitane; while four of their brothers–Alatz, Irkus, Ugutz, and Iker–created the Soroak quartet. In 1967, at the age of twenty-three she began appearing solo in festivals, performing for the first time in public in Bilbao. A year later she released her first single, and this in turn led to more public performances in Bizkaia, Gipuzkoa, and Iparralde, with her rendering of American spiritual, gospel, country, and folk-inspired music in Basque. This early success as a pioneer of the New Basque Folk movement even led to an overseas tour in 1969 when, at the invitation of exiled Basque communities in Latin America, she performed in Mexico and Venezuela. Indeed, her first album was produced in Caracas, and went by the title Una voz increíble (Promus, 1970).

All of this coincided with the waning years of the Franco regime, and her performances in Basque were on more than one occasion subject to strict censorship controls. Still, in the 1970s her recording career really took off as she released a number of singles, albums, and children’s music collections. In the late 1970s and early 1980s she moved away from Basque reworkings of American Folk music toward more traditional Basque music, performing in the United States in 1983. After recording the album Zortzikoak (Xoxoa, 1986), however, she fell ill and was unable to perform for several years. She reappeared in public in 1993, performing a concert in Irun, Gipuzkoa, and signing off by saying “Laster artio, Euskal Herria!” (See you soon, Basque Country!), but three weeks later she was taken ill with cancer once more an died in a Bilbao hospital. A tribute album titled simply Estitxu (Agorila, 1994) was subsequently released in her memory.

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