Category: This Week in Basque History (page 2 of 15)

April 2, 1984: Death of Bilbao poet Angela Figuera

The so-called rootless poetry was a genre of lyric poetry that, insofar as it was able to during the Franco dictatorship in Spain, attempted the counteract the more classical version of lyric poetry that received the official support of the regime. One of the principal exponents of this poetry was a Basque, Angela Figuera Aymerich.

Born in Bilbao in 1902, she was a brilliant student who managed, against the social conventions of the time and despite spending much of her childhood raising her siblings on account of her mother’s poor health, to earn a university degree and, by the early 1930s, she qualified to become a public high school teacher. After marrying in 1933 she relocated to Madrid, but following the Spanish Civil War, on which her sympathies were on the losing side, she was stripped of her job and degree. Despite the repression suffered by her family, she managed to develop an incipient career as a writer.Simultaneously, in the 1950s she began working in mobile libraries that served the peripheral neighborhoods of Madrid.  She published sporadically and much of her work was aimed, where possible given conditions of censorship, against the Franco regime, from a feminist, existentialist, and social conscience perspective. During this time, she developed especially close relationships with fellow Basques writing social poetry in Spanish, Gabriel Celaya and Blas de Otero, together with who  she formed was termed the so-called Basque postwar triumvirate. Following Franco’s death in 1975, she was critical of the flaws she saw in the transition to democracy in Spain.

After a short illness, she died on April 2, 1984. In English, see Jo Evans, Moving Reflections: Gender, Faith and Aesthetics in the Work of Angela Figuera Aymerich (London: Tamesis, 1996).

March 24, 1980: Death of Pierre Etchebaster, greatest real tennis player in history

If you haven’t heard of real tennis or court tennis, then check it out . Not only is it the forerunner of modern or “lawn” tennis, but it has a long and important history. Evolving out of hand ball games not unlike the Basques’ very own pelota, it was the sport of the royal houses of Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and the famous 1789 Tennis Court Oath in the French Revolution was taken in a real tennis court. And real tennis reputedly has the longest line of consecutive word champions in any sport, dating back to 1760.

Pierre Etchebaster in 1928, wearing his customary txapela. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Pierre Etchebaster in 1928, wearing his customary txapela. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Arguably the greatest real tennis player of all time, at least in the modern age, was a Basque, Pierre Etchebaster. Born in Donibane Lohizune (Saint-Jean-de-Luz) on the coast of Lapurdi, in 1893, he naturally grew up playing several of the different types of pelota. Aged eighteen, he was already champion of France in the chistera/xistera variety, the equivalent of what we know today as jai alai or zesta punta. After serving in the French army in World War I he returned to the Basque Country where he continued to excel at pelota.

In 1922 he took up real tennis and became head professional at the Paris court club after auditioning for the post the first time he picked up a racquet! In 1928, already in this thirties, he won his first world championship, wearing his customary blue txapela or beret as a sign of his strong Basque identity. This began a remarkable run of world championship victories, winning his last title in 1954 aged sixty years old! In the meantime, he also spent the 1930s in the United States, where he was a resident professional at the prestigious Racquet and Tennis Club in New York City, where he resided until his retirement in the 1950s.

An excellent athlete, he enjoyed a full and active retirement. He was awarded France’s highest award, the Legion of Honor, in 1955, and went on to publish a coaching manual about the game in 1971. In 1978 he was inducted into the tennis hall of fame. Etchebaster died in the town of his birth, Donibane Lohizune, aged eighty-seven.

Check out this fascinating article on Etcebaster by the New Yorker in 1953.

See also the fascinating book by Olatz González Abrisketa, Basque Pelota: A Ritual, An Aesthetic.

March 21, 1941: Birth of composer Sara Soto

Most of you reading this will be aware of the importance of music in Basque culture and we could quite easily dedicate an entire blog to Basque music alone. Today’s Flashback Friday story concerns an interesting figure in the world of Basque music that is sometimes overlooked in studies of the topic. Sara Soto Gabiola was born in Gorliz, Bizkaia, on March 21, 1941, although her family moved to Irun, Gipuzkoa, when she was very young.

Sara Soto Gabiola (1941-1999).

Sara Soto Gabiola (1941-1999).

She suffered from a muscular illness as a child, which limited her ability to move around easily, and she found an escape from the physical limitation imposed on her by developing a keen appreciation for the arts: she drew and painted and was an avid reader. But in was in music that she found her true métier. Although she did undertakle some formal studies of harmony, she was largeñy self-taught.

Her first compositions, influenced strongly by the Basque artistic collective Ez Dok Amairu and in particular Lourdes Iriondo and Xabier Lete (with whom she established a lasting friendship), she started composing songs for accompaniment by the guitar. Lete wrote the lyrics for several of her compositions, including the popular “Kanta Kanta,” recorded by Maria Ostiz in the late 1960s, and Iriondo recorded her song “Maitasun honek zugan dirudi” in the mid-1970s.

In the late 1970s the renowned sculptor, artist, and all-round Basque renaissance figure Nestor Basterretxea commissioned her to compose an accompanying soundtrack for what would become arguably his most famous work, the Serie Cosmogonica Vasca (Basque Cosmogonic Series), today housed in the Bilbao Fine Arts Museum.  The result was the choral work “Karraxis,” based on verses by Basterretxea, which premiered in 1979 in Donostia-San Sebastián with the Ametsa Choir from Irun and some members of the Orfeón Donostiarra choir as well. In the mid-1980s she worked with Basterretxea again to create the “Cripta,” a piece for the organ inspired by the artist’s murals for the crypt in the Sanctuary of Arantzazu.  Although these were her best known works, she composed many more choral and organ pieces and left a profound mark on Basque music. She died in Irun in June 1999.

March 9, 1980: First Basque autonomous parliamentary elections following death of Franco

Logo of the Basque parliament, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Logo of the Basque parliament, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Although a Basque parliament was envisaged as part of the 1936 Statute of Autonomy, the outbreak of the civil war meat that it never materialized as such. With Franco’s victory in the war and the dictatorship that followed, it was not until after his death in 1975 that a new statute was passed in 1979, leading to the holding of the first Basque autonomous parliamentary elections in the modern era, on March 9, 1980. This led to the first legislature of the parliament, between 1980 and 1984.

The Basque parliament. Photo by Iker Merodio, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The Basque parliament. Photo by Iker Merodio, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Today the Basque parliament–Eusko Legebiltzarra in Basque–serves as the main legislative body of the Autonomous Community of the Basque Country, made up of three provinces in Hegoalde or the Southern Basque Country: Araba, Bizkaia, and Gipuzkoa.  It is made up of seventy-five representatives (twenty-five from each province, despite the significant differences in population size among them)

March 4, 2008: The “non” discovery of the historic trawler, the Nabarra

In March 1937, one of the most famous engagements during the Spanish Civil War in the Basque Country took place: the Battle of Cape Matxitxako.  On March 4, 2008, a team of marine scientists from AZTI thought it had discovered the wreck of one of the Basque trawlers that took part in that encounter, the Nabarra, off the coast of Bermeo, Bizkaia.

The port of Bermeo today. Photo by Euskalduna, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The port of Bermeo today. Photo by Euskalduna, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

According to its investigation, the characteristics of the wreck the team initially came across matched those of the Nabarra, but it could not be totally sure without further dives, carried out by members of the Kresala association.  More tests were undertaken and the Basque government even announced that all the indications did indeed seem to point to the wreck being the Nabarra.  However, after fully checking the site, at a June 2008 press conference it was confirmed that the wreck was not that of the Nabarra, but instead that of a Nazi German merchant vessel, the Hochheimer, which had been sunk by a British submarine in May 1944.

The mystery of the Nabarra‘s whereabouts thus remains.

February 28, 1513: Twelve cannons added to the Gipuzkoa coat of arms

The origins of coats of arms go back to the surcoat, a garment worn by knights over their armor and emblazoned with their personal “arms” or design. In time, these arms became identified with larger entities like a whole noble family, a royal house, town, province, and so on. In effect, these coats of arms became easily identifiable emblems by which to represent such an entity, a kind of logo. On February 28, 1513, Queen Joanna of Castile, Joanna the Mad (!), conceded Gipuzkoa the right to incorporate twelve cannons on its coat of arms.

The coat of arms of Gipuzkoa, 1513-1979, featuring the monarch and twelve cannons. Image by Miguillen, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The coat of arms of Gipuzkoa, 1513-1979, featuring the monarch and twelve cannons. Image by Miguillen, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

In 1512, Gipuzkoan troops, in the service of her father, Ferdinand, and the crown of Castile and Aragon had taken part  in its conquest of Navarre. The Gipuzkoans fought the Navarrese at the Battles of Belate and Elizondo. During the war, the Gipuzkoans took twelve French cannons that had been used by the Navarrese in the siege of Iruñea-Pamplona.

The coat of arms of Gipuzkoa, 1979-present. Image by HansenBCN, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The coat of arms of Gipuzkoa, 1979-present. Image by HansenBCN, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Between 1513 and 1979, then, those twelve cannons, representing Gipuzkoan service to the Kingdom of Castile and Aragon and the military defeat of the Kingdom of Navarre featured on the province’s official coat of arms. In 1979, though, by a vote of the provincial council of Gipuzkoa, it was decided to remove the cannons. The reason given was that they represented a glorification of war and that the symbol was humiliating for Navarre. At the same time, it was also decided to withdraw the figure of a monarch being crowned (thought to represent either Alfonso VIII or Henry IV of Castile).

The legend Fidelisima Bardulia, numquam superada means “Most loyal Bardulia, never overcome” (Bardulia being an ancient Roman term for a region in the north of the Iberian Peninsula that derived from the Roman term for a tribe of people, the Varduli, who inhabited present-day Gipuzkoa).  The trees are Taxus baccata, a conifer known in English as the common yew, while the figures holding clubs represent the aforementioned Varduli.

February 16, 1980: Inauguration of Vitoria-Gasteiz Airport

Aena's official logo for Vitoria Airport, designed by Javier Mariscal. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Aena’s official logo for Vitoria Airport, designed by Javier Mariscal. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Many of you will be familiar with Bilbao Airport, based in Loiu, and you may also have arrived in the Basque Country via Biarritz Pays Basque Airport or the smaller Donostia-San Sebastián airport, based in Hondarribia, but did you know that Vitoria-Gasteiz is also served by an airport, in the nearby town of Foronda? Vitoria-Gasteiz Airport was inaugurated on February 16, 1980.

Antonov An-225 airplane at Vitoria Gasteiz Foronda airport. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Antonov An-225 airplane at Vitoria Gasteiz Foronda airport. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Vitoria-Gasteiz Airport is located some 5 miles from the city center. In order to build the airport, the village of Otaza located at the end of the runway had to be demolished. The first plane to land at Vitoria-Gasteiz Airport was a Dassault Mystère fighter bomber of the Spanish Armed Forces that flew from Madrid. The first plane to take off was a charter flight to Palma de Mallorca and in April that same year the first regular Madrid-Vitoria-Gasteiz flight was established.

The check-in area at Vitoria-Gasteiz Airport. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The check-in area at Vitoria-Gasteiz Airport. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Since 1993, the airport has  specialized in cargo services and is currently the fourth main cargo hub in Spain behind Madrid Barajas, Barcelona, and Zaragoza. It has enjoyed sporadic passenger services, with Irish airline Ryanair operating two regular flights to London and Dublin between 2005 and 2007, and returning to Vitoria-Gasteiz Airport in 2016, initially with year-round services to Bergamo and Tenerife, and now also offering flights to Seville and Cologne/Bonn.

Check out the official website here.

 

 

February 9, 1918: Birth of raquetista Irene Ibaibarriaga

Arguably the most emblematic sport of the Basques is pelota in its many varieties, one of which, Jai-Alai, was especially popular in the United States at the close of the twentieth century. Another variety, played with tennis racquets by women, was also popular in the twentieth century, from the 1910s to the 1980s. One of the leading raquetistas of her generation, Irene Ibaibarriaga Ormaetxea, was born in Ermua, Bizkaia, on February 9, 1918.

She learned the sport in nearby Eibar, one of the strongholds of Basque pelota and at the age of fifteen she moved to Madrid, where her older sister Pili played professionally, to begin a career in the sport. She was offered a contract to play professionally in the Americas but turned down the opportunity and, despite her career suffering as a result of the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), she still managed to make a living from the sport, playing in tournaments in Valencia, Barcelona, and later Donostia, often playing doubles with her sister. Later in her career she suffered a serious injury when a ball damaged her ear. She subsequently retired from the sport.

In 2013, a special tribute was paid to her on the occasion of the 7th Women’s Pelota Day held in Irura, Gipuzkoa. Ibaibarriaga died in 2014 at the age of ninety-six.

Check out Olatz Gonzalez Abrisketa’s Basque Pelota: A Ritual, An Aesthetic.

February 3, 1922: Birth of legendary tambourine player Felisa Arribalzaga

Before the advent of the modern recording industry live music reigned in the popular imagination of people in the Basque Country. One of the great “stars” of this age was Felisa Arribalzaga, born in Muxika, Bizkaia, on February 3, 1922. To say that she was just a panderojole (Basque tambourine player) is to do her a tremendous disservice because she was also an accomplished dancer, singer, and irrintzilari (a performer of the irrintzi, the Basque yell).

Although born in Muxika, on marrying her husband, Eduardo Egiarte, she moved to his home town of Amorebieta-Etxano (also known as Zornotza). The couple had met as teenagers on Mount Bizkargi, between Muxika and Amorebieta, while they were tending their respective flocks of sheep. Egiarte was an accordion player and the couple began performing in Bizkaia under the name the Zornotzako trikitilariak (Zornotza two-row diatonic accordionists). During the Franco years, they continued to perform their Basque music, often clandestinely as it was banned by the regime.

Arribalzaga died in her adopted home town on June 30, 2015.

She remains a great example of how music and dance in traditional Basque culture, according to CBS author Sabin Bikandi, form in many ways a single entity, given that it is impossible to truly understand one without the other.  See Sabin Bikandi, Alejandro Aldekoa: Master of Pipe and Tabor Music in the Basque Country.

For anyone interested in practicing their Western Basque dialect, check out the following 1997 radio interview (with Spanish subtitles) with Egiarte and Arribalzaga:

February 1, 1903: Birth of philosopher Maryse Choisy

The journalist, writer, and philosopher Maryse Choisy was born in Doinibane Lohizune (Saint-Jean-de-Luz) on February 1, 1903. She was most renowned for founding a polemical response to surrealism: the suridealism movement.

Maryse Choisy (1903-1979).

Maryse Choisy (1903-1979).

Raised in the Basque Country by wealthy aunts, Choisy studied philosophy at Girton College, Cambridge in the aftermath of World War I. After a brief period of treatment by Sigmund Freud in the 1920s, she became a journalist  and began a prodigious publishing career that also included novels, poems, and essays. Most famously, she took up a position against surrealism, which, she thought, was based on a false interpretation of Freud’s concept of the unconscious. In turn, she published her “Suridealist Manifesto” in 1927. In 1946, she founded Psyché. Revue internationale de psychanalyse et des sciences de l’homme ( Psyche: International Review of Psychoanalysis and Human Sciences) and she subsequently established, together with  Father Leycester King of Oxford,  the Association Internationale de Psychothérapie et de Psychologie Catholique (International Association of Catholic Psychotherapy and Psychology). She was an especially important intellectual figure in interwar Paris and gained even wider renown after founding Psyché. She died in 1979.

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