Category: Reno (page 2 of 2)

From the Backlist: Hollywood and I and Mad City

In a literary world that tends to define Basque literature very much by place–most Basque authors come from the Basque Country, live and work there, and typically center their stories on events in that particular corner of the world–Javi Cillero stands out as a completely distinct voice. His own personal experience of detachment, displacement even, from the Basque Country, and especially that of living for many years in the United States, infuses his work to such an extent that it might almost be more accurate to describe him as an American author; or at least as a keen and informed observer of popular American culture, an outsider whose external gaze tells us a great deal about life on the inside.

Hollywood_and_I

In Hollywood and I and Mad City, two works first first published in Basque and collected here in one volume, we are treated to a sharp, quirky, and eclectic blend of short stories that ooze with Americana and emblematic sites of memory in the American West: from Alcatraz and Chinatown to Virginia City, Pyramid Lake, and the Nevada desert. This is a world of dive bars and Mack trucks, casino lights, bank robbers, private detectives, and mobsters; but also of Basque and Native Americans, sheepherders and cowboys, and even college professors and students.

Check out the following excerpt from the book:

The Silver Legacy hotel-casino tower stood tall and proud in the middle of downtown Reno. There was a giant dome on the back of the building, something like a space station. Inside there was a fake starry sky, and under the sky there was a large mine wheel. Hundreds of lasers started twinkling in that sky, accompanied by music by Tchaikovsky.

Near the huge mine wheel there was a wide open area. There were souvenir shops, restaurants open twenty-four hours a day, and slot machines on either side of something like an avenue. And, unexpectedly, the Silver Legacy bar next to a row of slot machines.

As usual, it was full of people. Waiters were going here and there carrying pints of reds, porters, and lagers. The musicians were taking a break, and the people in the bar’s voices easily drowned out the television’s weak sound.

A Czech girl and the Spanish teacher were sitting in one corner. They were silent, each of them looking at their own glasses of beer. The Czech girl poured a little more for the Spanish teacher. He thanked her with a hand gesture.

Here we are, like two Hitchcock characters. Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant in that old movie Notorious. “Officer Devlin? I’ve got a job for you.” OK, I know, I know: too many movie references for a single night. What can I do about it? Hollywood made me, to paraphrase Graham Greene. Hollywood’s influence is so big in our education that when two friends get together now they could easily be acting out a scene from a movie. We don’t mean to. It’s our only reference. In fact, it’s wiped out family, school, and church references. Young people only pay attention to the images and roles they adopt from screens. And people who aren’t so young, too. It’s impossible to count all the men who wander around like poor wretches from Woody Allen movies without knowing what they’re doing.

The Spanish teacher had gold-framed glasses. They slipped down his nose as he spoke. He had to put them back in their place with his index finger time and again. The Czech girl took that gesture to be an invitation to say something.

“Thanks for helping me present my project. I didn’t think the university press was going to be so interested in heterodox Basque women.”

“We work with all types of subjects. In fact, we’re about to bring out a book by a Japanese writer about Ozu’s movies. It would be good for you to publish the book in Reno. When it comes down to it, the States is the only place where work like that is done. The editor’s told me the book looks very good; it’s very appropriate. And here I am, ready to lend a hand. You know, Officer Devlin’s hand . . . Hey, why don’t you stay a few more days? You’ll be able to make good use of your stay if you come to the Basque Library.”

A big man who’d come to listen to a country group came up to them to take a chair. He picked it up by its wooden back with confidence, master in his own land. The Spanish teacher looked at him with contempt when he turned away.

“And I’ll show you around. Lake Tahoe, for instance. It’s where they shot The Godfather. You know, Al Pacino: ‘My father taught me a lot of things in this room. He taught me to keep my friends close and my enemies even closer.’ I’ve got my Toyota here in the casino lot.”

“Do you have classes tomorrow?”

“I only teach Spanish classes once a week. Hefty nineteenth-century novels, Galdós and Clarín. I spend most of my time in the casinos. I’m putting together a book about Old West mythology. I don’t think America’s final frontier is the Pacific; it’s the Nevada casinos. It’s here that men and slot machines come face to face. Like in the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral . . .”

Anyone interested in contemporary urban Western storytelling, with particular reference to Reno, Northern Nevada, and California, will enjoy this book. This is classic Americana with a Basque twist!

Shop for the book here.

The Tree of Gernika puts down roots in the Nevada State Arboretum at UNR

The Arborist, the monthly newsletter of the Nevada State Arboretum, has some really exciting news this month. A sapling from the famous Tree of Gernika has been planted on the grounds of the Nevada State Arboretum at the University of Nevada, Reno. The Tree of Gernika, an ancient oak tree, marks the spot where the General Assemblies of Bizkaia, the principal decision-making authority in the province and a key symbol of Basque political autonomy, have met down the centuries. Indeed, as we noted in a previous post, for the second president of the United States, John Adams, the political system he himself witnessed on a visit to the Basque Country represented a true “democratic republic” and served as an inspiration for his own notion of federal democracy: the model that ultimately came to underpin the current US system of democratic government.

While it will remain unmarked until it takes root, at some time it will be unveiled. Given the importance of Reno, and the Center, a “shining light” in the time of darkness during the Franco dictatorship, this symbolic planting in Reno is a fitting demonstration of the closeness between the Basque Country and Reno. The Center’s own Joseba Zulaika was instrumental in bringing the sapling and also explained the importance in The Arborist article. I would really like to encourage everyone to read that, so I won’t paraphrase it too much, but it is a real honor to share this news with the world and again, please see the article in The Arborist for more photos and information about this really exciting event!

Check out the nineteenth-century hymn, “Gernikako Arbola” (The Tree of Gernika), written by the bard Jose Maria Iparragirre, which plays on the symbolism of the tree as a source of political liberty: “The Tree of Gernika / is blessed / and well loved / among the Basques / Give and share out / your fruit throughout the world / we venerate you / holy tree.”

For more on the historic importance of the Tree of Gernika as a key site representing Basque political difference through the ages, see The Old Law of Bizkaia (1452): Introductory Study and Critical Edition, by Gregorio Monreal Zia. This is the most comprehensive work in English on the legal and political foundations of Basque particularity in Spain. But besides being a scholarly text about government and administration, it is also a lively and informative source about the historical importance of community and popular democratic participation in Basque political life. This book will appeal to anyone with an interest in democracy, citizen participation in politics, and the historical roots of the US political system.

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

Photo Jan 27, 3 36 40 PM

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!

Researchers Oihane Sanchez and Leire Baztarrica at UNR

The Center is welcoming the visit of art researchers Oihane Sanchez and Leire Baztarrica. They will be in residence until December 21.

Oihane Sanchez

Oihane is a second-year graduate student at the School of Fine Arts at the University of the Basque Country, Leioa. Her project consists in relating the Guggenheim Museum with the metropolitan area of Bilbao in general, and with the local artists in particular. She plans to compare these relationships with those taking place in the American Far West–in cities such as Reno.

Leire Bastarrica 2

Leire Baztarrica

Leire is a photographer and designer. She is a fifth-year student specializing in Creativity and Design within the School of Fine Arts of the University of the Basque Country, Leioa. The project she plans to develop is a study of Reno’s neon lights, analyzing their formal aspects, colors, and symbolic content, as well as cataloging them. As part of her research, she also plans to interview and photograph local people. See some of Leire’s work here.

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