Tag: basque culture (page 1 of 19)

February 16, 2015: First edition of rare Basque manuscript discovered

Cover of Dotrina christiana (first edition, 1617), by Esteve Materra. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

On February 16, 2015 it was announced that a unique first edition of Esteve Materra’s Doctrina Christiana (Christian Doctrine, Bordeaux, 1617) had been discovered in the Royal Library, Copenhagen, Denmark. The discovery was made by the Aziti Bihia linguists’ and philologists’ association, a group of doctoral students at the University of the Basque Country whose interests lay predominantly in historical linguistics linked to Basque philology. The young people involved in the find were Borja Ariztimuño, Dorota Krajewska, Urtzi Reguero, Ekaitz Santazilia, Oxel Uribe-Etxeberria, and Eneko Zuloaga.

Flyer to promote the official announcement of the find, February 16, 2015. From the Aziti Bihia website.

Doctrina Christiana was one of the first ever books published in Euskara, the Basque language, and is written in classical Lapurdian. Its author, Esteve Materra (or possibly Materre), was a Franciscan monk and abbot of the La Réole monastery in southwestern France when the book was first published, although by the time it went to a second edition (1623) he had moved to the Franciscan monastery in Toulouse. Although not a native Basque-speaker, Materra spent some time in Sara, Lapurdi, where he had been sent at the height of the Counter Reformation to bolster the rearguard action of the Roman Catholic Church, including in its Inquisition policy. In barely twelve months in the Basque Country he learned Basque, although the very clarity and perfection of the text makes the members of Aziti Bihia suspect that he may have received help in writing it. Masterra himself notes in the prologue to the book that he was aided by Axular. Pedro Axular (1556-1664) was the parish priest of Sara and author of the first great literary text in Basque, Guero (1643). Whatever the case, the book is an important work when it comes to understanding the historical development of written Basque.

The first edition of the work is relatively simple in appearance, as if written for children or young people, in question and answer style; by the second edition, however, an additional section had been added, specifically for seafarers, and the work as a whole was more serious in tone and longer. This is important because originally the Aziti Bihia group had been working on transcribing the second edition of 1623, a copy of which is housed in the Bodleian Library, Oxford, before stumbling across a reference to the earlier edition in Denmark.

For more information on the text itself (including transcriptions) click here at the Aziti Bihia website.

 

February 7, 1842: A controversial marriage, or two

A pandero-jotzaile (tambourine player) and txistulariak (pipe players) lead a traditional Basque wedding procession. Marriage was a key social and economic event because it signified that those joined in union would become the etxekoandre and etxekojaun, the mistress and master of a baserri or farmstead; in sum, the sole proprietors of the central socioeconomic unit of Basque culture and life. Whoever was marrying into the property, man or woman, would bring with them certain possessions: material goods, animals, and even land. Hence the all important wedding procession, typically headed by an ox-drawn cart, which showed off these worldly goods.

On February 7, 1842 Jean Bonepelts married Marie Etxeberri, of the Behorlegi baserri (farmstead) in the Ondarrola district of Arnegi, Lower Navarre. Not untypically in such border areas of the Basque Country, although administratively Ondarrola was part of Arnegi (Arnéguy) and therefore subject to French civil law, in church matters it was part of the neighboring town of Luzaide (Valcarlos) in Navarre. However, the couple were married in the parish church of Arnegi by Father Jean Baptiste Errecart. Again not untypically, the couple were blood relations, on two levels, within the third and fourth degrees of consanguinity. Accordingly, they had been obliged to seek church permission prior to getting married, which they did from the Bishop of Baiona in Lapurdi. However, when word reached the curia (church council) in Pamplona-Iruñea, which as noted had religious jurisdiction over the district of Ondarrola, a formal complaint was lodged with the bishopric of Baiona and, receiving no response to its protest, it declared that, “the wrongly married couple should separate and make up for the error committed.”

That same year, on May 17, there was another marriage between two residents of Ondarrola, Jean Etxeberri and Catalina Caminondo, which also took place in the parish church of Arnegi. This time, the church authorities took stricter measures, with the Bishop of Pamplona-Iruñea excommunicating both couples and prohibiting entry into any church for their respective parents while “their children should remain in that state of concubinage.” In the end, both marriages had to be held again, this time in Luzaide and with the blessing of the Bishop of Pamplona-Iruñea. Etxeberri  and Caminondo went through the nuptial ceremony again in June 1843 while Bonepelts and Etxeberri did so once more much later, in April 1845. Only following these “second” marriages was the excommunication order withdrawn.

Information sourced from Iñaki Egaña, Mil noticias insólitas del país de los vascos (Tafalla: Txalaparta, 2001), p.185.

With respect to traditional Basque marriage customs, Philippe Veyrin’s wonderful The Basques of Lapurdi, Zuberoa, and Lower Navarre is worth quoting at some length (pp. 328-29):

Once the date of the wedding has been fixed (usually a Tuesday), everyone proceeds, a few days beforehand (generally two), to perform what is called hatüka. This is a matter of transporting to the house where the future couple will live the furniture and the trousseau brought by the newly arrived spouse, male or female. The father leads the first wagon harnessed with oxen in full livery: bells, thick fleeces to conceal the yoke, cloth mantles with wide blue or red stripes embroidered with giant initials. The artfully arranged trousseau is covered with a counterpane with a cushion on top. On a chair tied behind the wagon are placed clogs decorated with copper nails in the shape of an ace of hearts or of spades; there are also a broom, a pick-axe, and a rake. Previously, in the case of the bride, the distaff, the spindles, and the reels were prominently displayed, and these symbolic objects were often finely carved and decorated. On other wagons, more or less numerous depending on the wealth of the bridegroom, pride of place was given to the mattresses and the furnishings, all displayed to their greatest advantage. The seamstress and the joiner, the authors of all these treasures, formed part of the procession; it was they who, on arrival, arranged the bedroom of the newlyweds. Often in the same parade, but sometimes separately, the godfather led a magnificent plump sheep with ribbons and gilded horns to be eaten at the wedding feast—escorted by a whole crowd of ewes with tinkling bells, the tzintzarrada. Not long ago, the procession also included several girls carrying on their heads big baskets furnished with napkins and filled with chicken, loaves of bread, bottles of wine and liqueur, big “spit-baked cakes” decorated with flowers , and so on—all food provided by the guests themselves. A good meal is of course given to all these visitors, and it can be said that the wedding really begins on that day. Two days later, everyone gathers at the square once more: the best men will go to fetch the bride, who gives each of them a fine cambric handkerchief. And, to the sound of a merry zinkha or irrintzina, everyone jostles and bustles to the town hall, and then, with more ceremony, to the church.

A few superstitions, now vanished, used to be in evidence at the nuptial blessing. This was supposed to have the power to sanctify the clothes worn on that particular day; so the bride would apparently cover herself in several dresses, one on top of the other—later, these would be very useful for her, affording her long-term shelter from spells. On his side, if the bridegroom feared the evil spell known as esteka, “physical deficiency,” he had to keep a fold of his future wife’s dress on his knees during the mass.

In several villages, there is a touching custom: after the wedding mass, the newlyweds, slipping away for a few moments from their entourage, go alone to the cemetery and pray at the tomb of the house that they will perpetuate. Husband or wife—whichever of the couple was until then a stranger to the estate—is thus, so to speak, solemnly associated on that day with the cult of the dead of the new family.

 

Veteran bertsolari Jon Azpillaga passes away

Jon Azpillaga Urrutia, one of the towering figures–both literally and metaphorically–of contemporary bertsolaritza (Basque poetic oral improvisation) passed away last Thursday, February 2, at the age of 81.

He was born in Pasaia, Gipuzkoa, in 1935, where his father Juan–originally from Ondarroa, Bizkaia–worked in the port. His mother, Veronica Urrutia, was originally from the Torre baserri (farmstead) in Berriatu, Bizkaia. After his father was killed in the Spanish Civil War, when he was barely a year and a half, the family moved back to the baserri in Berriatu. Azpillaga grew up on that baserri, which in total provided a home for 16 people, carrying out the obligatory farm chores.  At age 14 he began earning a living for himself away from home, in a boatyard in Ondarroa, cycling to and from work everyday.  After completing the obligatory Spanish military service, he eventually started his own repair business, alongside his brother and some other partners, in his mid-20s. Now living in Ondarroa, he also joined the local choir as a tenor. He married Maria Arrizabalaga Itsasmendi in 1960 and the couple moved to neighboring Mutriku, Gipuzkoa, where she owned a hair salon. And the couple eventually had 6 children.

By this time, too Azpillaga was already an accomplished bertsolari (versifier), making the final of the national championship in 1960 and 1962 and winning the Bizkaia championship in 1961. He had been somewhat of a child prodigy in this respect, reciting popular verses by heart at age 10. And he had performed his first spontaneous bertsoak (verses) in public, at the village fiestas of Amoroto in 1950 alongside another young bertsolari, Joan Mugartegi Iriondo (b. Berriatu, 1933). After winning the 1961 championship, he went on to perform throughout the 1960s and 1970s, especially in tandem with Jon Lopategi (b. Muxika, Bizkaia, in 1934). These performances, in what has been classified by expert Joxerra Garzia in Voicing the Moment as the “bertsolaritza of resistance” (toward the Franco dictatorship), were framed–where possible–with political references. Indeed, both had on several occasions been detained by the police for the political references they had made when performing bertsolaritza. He continued to take part in championships through the 1980s, reaching the fibal of the national champiosnhips in 1980 and 1982. And in 2000, on the fiftieth anniversary of his first public performance, he appeared once more alongside Mugartegi, just as he had done all those years ago, performing to a crowd of people from the balcony of the Amoroto town hall. Check out the video below of Azpillaga’s last public performance, on July 20, 2013, in Zarautz in honor of the great bertsolari Basarri:

Azpillaga dedicated a lot of his free time in Mutriku to fundraising for the ikastola or Basque-language school and establishing a bertso eskola (a bertso school) there to train young people in the art. The Church was an important part of his life and he even recited the Sermon on the Mount in verse. He also attended the annual July 4 church service and celebration held in honor of Saint Balentin Berriotxoa, one of the two patron saints of Bizkaia (alongside Saint Ignatius Loiola) in Elorrio.  On a personal level, he was always noted as a calm, composed, and fearless bertsolari with a great towering physical presence and a classic exponent of the bertso postura (stance). This all meant that he was invariably asked to begin any bertso session, hence the epithet “Hasi Azpillaga!” (Take it away Azpillaga!), which was also the tile of a free-to-download 2001 biography about him by Mikel Aizpurua.

Goian bego.

Further reading:

Jon Azpillaga Urrutia, at the online Auñamendi Eusko Entziklopedia.

Voicing the Moment: Improvised Oral Poetry and Basque Tradition, edited by Samuel G. Armistead and Joseba Zulaika, free to download here.

January 25, 1853: Birth of pioneering Basque photographer and ethnographer Eulalia Abaitua

Eulalia Abaitua (1853-1943), a pioneering photographer whose work remains a key historical and ethnographic record of the Basque Country. Image by Kurt Reutlinger, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Born Maria Elvira Juliana Abaitua Allende-Salazar on January 25, 1853 into a wealthy Bilbao family, she was renamed in honor of her deceased mother (who died soon after she was born) and thereafter known as Eulalia Abaitua. She would go on to become a renowned photographer and one of the first people to record nineteenth-century Basque culture at a key transitional time in Basque history, taking her camera outside into the real world to capture images of fiestas, traditions, and working practices–and at the same time breaking with the convention of the time centered around studio-based montages–and paying special attention to the everyday lives of Basque women. In short, she remains one of the most important, if unsung, Basque ethnographers of the nineteenth century.

Mother and child, by Eulalia Abaitua (c. 1890). Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Her father, Luis Allende-Salazar, had business interests in the growing trade operating between Bilbao and Liverpool in England and, with the deepening political crisis of the 1860s that would eventually result in the outbreak of the Second Carlist War, the family relocated to the vibrant English port city, “the New York of Europe” whose wealth for a time exceeded that of London. As noted in a previous post, the multicultural port city of Liverpool was already home to many Basques, and even though from the more economically comfortable echelons of society, the family continued in a time-honored Basque tradition of settling in a place in which they already had family connections. Once settled in Liverpool, Eulalia took photography lessons and discovered a passion for the newly emerging art form.

River Nervion scene, by Eulalia Abaitua. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

On May 16th 1871, Eulalia married her cousin Juan Narciso de Olano (of the Liverpool-based Basque shipping firm Olano, Larrinaga & Co), at the church of St Francis Xavier in Liverpool, and the couple would go on to have four children. Following the end of the Second Carlist War in 1876, they returned to Bilbao, where would live there for the rest of their lives the Palacio del Pino, near the Basilica of Begoña, a home custom-built to resemble the red-brick Victorian merchant houses the family had seen in Liverpool. On her return to the Basque Country, Eulalia fully realized her passion for both photography and her homeland, setting up a studio in the basement of he family home and traversing Bilbao and Bizkaia in search of her subject matter.

 

The arrival of the sardines (1900), by Eulalia Abaitua. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

She worked wherever possible in natural light and sought out spontaneous rather than staged images. Among her most evocative works are images of the legendary sardineras, the women who transported sardines from the port of Santurtzi to the center of Bilbao on foot, selling their wares in the city center; the washerwomen of Bilbao, whose daily grind consisted of doing laundry on the banks of the River Nervion in Bilbao; and the rural Basque milk maids who also came to the Bizkaian capital to ply their trade.

Women selling their wares in Bilbao (c. 1890), by Eulalia Abaitua. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

In A Collection of Prints (see below) Miren Jaio describes her work in the following terms (pages 11, 13, 17):

Eulalia Abaitua reflected the day-to-day life of the Bizkaian proletariat on glass plates. The insurmountable social inequality between the portrait photographer and those portrayed would also pervade the photographs of this high bourgeois woman who depicted normal people, especially women . . .  In a series of portraits of old people in the Arratia Valley, she recorded the physical types and dress and hairstyles that were on the verge of disappearing along with those who served as her models. This series demonstrated her curiosity in ethnography . . . In other prints, Abaitua collected work scenes. Images of women working the soil with laiak (two-pronged forks), water-carriers, housemaids, nannies and female stevedores reveal the process of change which Basque society was going through . . . Although she belongs to the social group of those who “represent,” she, like all of her gender, would have been denied the right to do so. This explains her choice of topic, one which she had easy access to, the working woman, a female other. Whatever the case, one should ask to what extent her photographs, in the mutual recognition of the portrayer and the portrayed they seem to reveal, do not transcend the hierarchy imposed by the social order and that of the camera.

Group of women (c. 1900), by Eulalia Abaitua. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Naturally, she also took many pictures of her own family as well, and she also traveled extensively throughout her life, recording her travels to Crete, Italy, Venice, Morocco, Lourdes (France), Malaga, Madrid, and the Holy Land. She lived a long and productive life, and died in her beloved Bilbao in 1943.

Further Reading

Eulalia de Abaitua at the Hispanic Liverpool Project.

A Collection of Prints by Miren Jaio. Free to download here.

500 Posts! What a pleasure to reach this milestone of sharing!

Yesterday witnessed the 500th post on the Center’s blog! And we think it entirely appropriate that we mark the occasion with a post looking toward the future of Basque Studies, with a roundup of what our young scholars here at the William A. Douglass Center for Basque Studies have been doing and hope to do in the future. Particularly exciting for us is the eclectic nature of our graduate students, who hail from all over the world. With such talented and committed young people, Basque Studies has a bright future!

Just like reaching the summit at Anboto, our CBS blog has reached a milestone, but we will continue to climb beyond

In honor of our milestone, today we are looking back, first at the posts that have most engaged you, our readers, over the past couple of years:

 

1. Our most read post, by a fairly long way, is the tragic case of Basque sheepherder Txomin Malasechevarria. This is a cautionary tale about just how hard it was for some people to cope with the extreme solitude of life in the mountains, the psychological effects of this loneliness, and the devastating effects this could have on not just their own lives but also those around them. There are no “winners” in this immigrant story. Check out the post here.

 

2. Next, we have a happier tale that celebrates the key role played by women in maintaining the foundations of Basque communities, through their work in Basque boardinghouses, part of the Basque immigrant experience in the United States.  Check out the post here.

 

3. Then we come to what was, for us at the time, a bit of a surprise, pleasant though it was! It’s a post reporting where the Basque Country ranks in the latest Human Development Index (HDI) league tables. The HDI is a United Nations statistical rating based on life expectancy, education, and per capita income indicators that are used to measure human development. In short, it’s a means of measuring the health of a nation. Check out the post here.

 

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4.Coming in at number four is a post that continues to rise steadily in the rankings. It’s our post on the classic Basque song “Txoria txori” (The bird is a bird), a pivotal work in the Basque songbook that touches on quintessential themes in Basque culture, sung by folk, rock, and pop singers alike as well as sports fans and even reworked into an orchestral piece. Check out the post here.

5. Last in our top 5 is a post on the remarkable life and work of Juanita Mendiola Gabiola, the woman sheepherder who was winning races, age 92, at the Third Age Olympics and died a centenarian. Check out the post here.

And then, of course, we would be remiss if we didn’t mention some of our personal favorites over the years!

  • One of our favorite pieces of writing was this “post within a post,” if you will, dated June 8, 2015, a review of one our most cherished books, My Mama Marie by Joan Errea, which in its focus on the introduction to the work goes beyond mere review to actually engage with and write about the landscape that serves as the backdrop to the book. Check out the post here.
  • Who doesn’t like chocolate? We certainly do! And we like it so much, we wrote a post about it! Check out our rambling thoughts on Basque chocolate, culture, and history in this post, dating from November 2, 2015.

  • One of our most transcendent posts, dated February 12, 2016, concerns what came to be known as the infamous 1911 “Last Massacre” in Western Folklore. This was a major incident in the history of the American West in which Basques featured prominently and serves as proof, if needed, of how the Basque immigrant experience is an essential part of the fabric of this history. Check out the post here.

  • In another post that takes landscape as its primary focus, dated February 24, 2016, we explore how another Basque Country was “imagined” thousands of miles away from home in the remote Nevada mountains. For a great piece of original writing on the Basque experience in the American West check out the post here.

  • We’re especially proud at the Center to try whenever possible to emphasize the role of women in Basque culture and history. This post from March 8, 2016, on the occasion of International Women’s Day, served as a roundup of some of the many posts we had published in this regard.  Keep checking in with the blog because this year we will be doing special posts throughout the month of March to celebrate women’s history month.

  • A relatively recent post, dated December 12, 2016, and one that is dear to our hearts emerged out of a reader’s inquiry about native Basque sheep and pig breeds. It got us thinking so much that we wrote a post about it. Check it out here.

Thanks so much for reading and here’s to another 500 and more. It is all because of you, dear readers, so eskerrik asko once again for engaging with us and for sharing our love of Basqueness!

The Maskarada: A Unique Basque Cultural Event

Zamalzain, the hobbyhorse/centaur, one of the striking characters in the masakarada performance. Photo by Oier Araolaza, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Yesterday, January 22, the annual maskarada begin its annual odyssey. Part drama, part dance, part poetic performance (both memorized and improvised),  and with more than a coincidental resemblance to the forthcoming carnival antics across the Basque Country, this is a cultural form unique to Xiberoa (or Zuberoa) in the far northeast of the Basque Country, in which a group of amateurs from the same area traditionally perform a form of transgressive, subversive, and parodic open-air popular theater with the declared aim of poking fun at those in authority. The traveling troupe always includes the same characters, a set group made up of ostensibly “good” and “bad” figures, although the lines do get blurred. At root, this is a tradition designed to cement community ties and one that celebrates both the Basque language and traditional music and dance. It has been practiced since at least the sixteenth century.

This year’s event is being performed by  a group of young people aged 15 to 24 from the villages of Ezpeize-Ündüreine, Ürrüstoi-Larrabile, Ainharbe, Sarrikotapea, Onizepea, and Mitikile in the Pettarra region of northern Xiberoa, and kicked off in Ezpeize itself. The maskarada is returning to this region 100 years after it was last performed here. In the video above you can see the introductory dance following the so-called fall of the first barricade.

One of the most spectacular moments in the maskarada is the godaleta(a) dantza (dance of the glass of wine), in which dancers attempt to momentarily hop on and off a glass of wine. Check out this video of dancers attempting the feat at a separate event in Donibane Lohizune, Lapurdi:

Check out, too, “The Folk Arts of the Maskarada Performance” by Kepa Fernández de Larrinoa in Voicing the Moment: Improvised Oral Poetry and Basque Tradition, edited by Samuel G. Armistead and Joseba Zulaika. In his article, Fernández de Larrinoa explains who the characters are in this performance as well as the set pattern of scenes they perform, and what all of this means within the wider context of the culture of Xiberoa.

This book is available free to download here.

 

January 20, 1935: First National Bertsolaritza Championship held

January 20, 1935 is a key date in Basque cultural history as it marks the first time a national championship was held for bertsolaritza (improvised sung oral poetry) one of the most dynamic and singular forms of Basque cultural expression.

Inazio Eizmendi or “Basarri” (1913-1999) in October 1937. One of the great figures of bertsolaritza who dominated the art form for thirty years. Image by Jesus Elosegui, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Termed at the time the First Bertsolari Day, the event was held in the Poxpolin Theater in Donostia and included the participation of some nineteen competitors. In the collective mindset of the organizers it was hoped that this relatively new format, an organized contest with a panel of judges evaluating the quality of the bertsoak (verses) on their technical features alone (or their degree of difficulty if you will) on a points-based system, would help to propel bertsolaritza into the twentieth century and away from what some at least considered its rather dubious connections with the raucous world of taverns and cider houses. That said, some of the traditional older bertsolariak (oral improvisers) who came from the latter tradition did take part in the championship, most famously of all Txirrita (Jose Manuel Lujanbio), the greatest of all cider house bertsolariak. As Gorka Aulestia observes in Voicing the Moment, “Txirrita, the elderly patriarch of traditional bertsolaritza –at the age of seventy five, weighing 260 pounds and dressed in the customary long black shirt– did not fit the image envisaged by” the more progressive organizers.

In the end, and much to their relief, the event was won by a young twenty-two-year-old from Gipuzkoa, born in Errezil but who had lived in Zarautz from age seven: Inazio Eizmendi, who went by the name “Basarri.” And the runner-up was Matxin Irabola from Senpere, Lapurdi. Basarri was the ideal winner for the modernizers who had encouraged the idea of moving bertsolaritza toward a championship format. He was young, forward-thinking, and would ultimately lead bertsolaritza out of the taverns and into more the neutral public settings of towns and squares. In short, this first national championship served a s a springboard to change the whole face of bertsolaritza, marking not just a generational change among its leading exponents but also a transformation in the very way the art form was conceived and performed.

Further reading

Voicing the Moment: Improvised Oral Poetry and Basque Tradition, edited by Samuel G. Armistead and Joseba Zulaika. Free to download here. The definitive introductory guide to bertsolaritza in English that not only outlines the history and sociocultural impact of the art form in the Basque Country but also explains how it functions, the changes that have taken place in recent years with the coming of the technological age, and sets all this within a global framework by also discussing other worldwide examples of improvised oral art forms.

Improvisational Poetry from the Basque Country by Gorka Aulestia. An essential history of bertsolaritza to the modern age.

Bertsolaritza: The Reality, Tradition and Future of Basque Oral Improvisation by Joxerra Garzia. Free to download here. History and contemporary analysis of the art form by a leading theoretician of bertsolaritza.

 

Basques get ready for San Sebastian Day

Tomorrow, January 20, is a key date on the calendar for some Basques at least: San Sebastian Day, celebrated above all in Donostia-San Sebastián and Azpeitia, Gipuzkoa. The central event in this exuberant, 24-hour party is the danborrada, a loud and proud drum festival in which everyone who can takes part. The festival kicks off at exactly midnight on January 20 and goes on for the next 24 hours, nonstop.

In Donostia, at midnight the mayor hoists the flag of the city in Constitution Square, a central hub of the city’s old quarter that is jam-packed for the celebrations. Meanwhile, participants dressed up as cooks or in old fashioned military uniforms beat out a nonstop rhythmic (and almost deafening) sound as the city well and truly lets its hair down. With carnival season just around the corner, there is more than just a hint of he carnivalesque in all this. The origins of this unique celebration are said to date back to the military occupation of the city by Napoleon’s troops toward the end of the Peninsular War (1807-1814), when some women, whose daily chores included fetching and carrying water from public fountains, began to mock the French soldiers’ drumming by banging on their water pails. Thereafter, in the 1830s local residents began mocking the daily changing of the guard by soldiers stationed in the city. Probably in connection with the carnival season, a traditional time to mock authority, some locals began a raucous custom–like those women a generation before–of using buckets and hardware to mimic the solemnity of these daily military parades.

With time, various clubs and associations–mot famously, gastronomic societies such as the famous Gaztelube (hence the dressing up as cooks)–began to get involved in the celebrations, and this is the tradition that lasts to this day, with members of these associations taking the event very seriously indeed, practicing their drumming until the big day arrives. And even kids get involved, with school groups performing their own danborrada during the daytime on January 20. A traditional repertoire of musical compositions accompany all this drumming, most famously “The March of San Sebastian” (1861), with music by Raimundo Sarriegui (1838-1913) and lyrics by Serafin Baroja (1840-1912)

Modern Basque version 

Bagera!
gu (e)re bai
gu beti pozez, beti alai!

Sebastian bat bada zeruan
Donosti(a) bat bakarra munduan
hura da santua ta hau da herria
horra zer den gure Donostia!

Irutxuloko, Gaztelupeko
Joxemaritar zahar eta gazte
Joxemaritar zahar eta gazte
kalerik kale danborra joaz
umore ona zabaltzen hor dihoaz
Joxemari!

Gaurtandik gerora penak zokora
Festara! Dantzara!
Donostiarrei oihu egitera gatoz
pozaldiz!
Inauteriak datoz!

English translation

Here we are!
us too
we’re always happy, always cheerful!

There’s a Sebastian in the sky
one unique San Sebastián in the world
that’s the saint and this is the town
That’s what our San Sebastián is!

From Irutxulo, from Gaztelupe
The Joxemaritarras old and young
The Joxemaritarras old and young
from street to street playing the drum
there they go spreading good cheer
Joxemari!

From now on away with any hardships
Let’s party! Dance!
Shouting out to all the people of Donostia
Joyful!
The carnival is coming!

And don’t forget, the great town of Azpeitia also celebrates San Sebastian Day in its own unique way…

January 9, 1844: Opera singer Julián Gayarre born

Julián Gayarre (1844-1890), the great Basque tenor. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

On January 9, 1844 Sebastián Julián Gayarre Garjón, known more popularly as just Julián Gayarre, was born into a humble family in Erronkari (Roncal), the principal nucleus of the remote valley of the same name in the far northeast of Navarre. From these humble beginnings he would go on to a have a successful career as an opera singer, gaining international renown as the greatest Italianate tenor of his generation and one of the most famous tenors of all time in the history of opera.

Leaving school at 13 he was immediately put to work as a shepherd, one of the principal means of earning a living in his natal Pyrenean surroundings. A couple of year’s later his father found him work in a notions store in Pamplona-Iruñea. It was in the capital city of Navarre that he first came across professional musicians, and he was even fired from his job for leaving the store one day to follow a band parading in the street outside. He then moved back to his native Erronkari Valley to work in a blacksmith shop in Irunberri (Urunberri in the Eastern Navarrese dialect of Basque,  Lumbier in Spanish). Sticking with the blacksmith trade he found work once more in Pamplona-Iruñea, where he relocated in 1863. Hearing him singing one day, a coworker encouraged him to apply to join the newly founded Orfeón Pamplonés, the city choir, a decision that changed his life.

His rise to fame was in many ways meteoric. Making an immediate impact on the city’s musical elite with the beautiful natural timbre of his voice, a scholarship was arranged to send him to Madrid Royal Conservatory and train properly for a career in professional music. He finished his studies in Madrid in 1868 and was awarded a grant by the Provincial Council of Navarre to continue studying his craft in Milan. Shortly after beginning his studies in Milan, he made his operatic debut in 1869 and thrilled critics with both his voice and commanding stage presence. As a result of his performances throughout Italy in the 1870s he was soon in demand in the great opera capitals of Europe, Paris and London, traveling widely across the continent as a whole as well as to Brazil and Argentina, although his home stage remained the legendary La Scala opera house in Milan.

Gayarre on his debut performance at La Scala, Milan, in 1876. Image from Mundo Gráfico 38 (July 17, 1912), page 5. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Gayarre continued to enthrall audiences across Europe with his wide repertoire, ranging from bel canto works to Wagner’s earlier music-dramas. In the words of Karlos Sánchez Ekiza, in his Basque Classical Music (free to download here): “He was noted for his intense recitals, with a voice capable of incredible range in colour and intensity, all in a clarity of textual performance and perfect diction.” Between the mid-1870s and mid-1880s he consolidated his reputation as the greatest tenor of the age., but thereafter he began to suffer a serious respiratory illness that caused his voice to deteriorate. At what would turn out to be his final performance, at the Royal Theater in Madrid on December 8, 1889, he broke down mid-performance, retiring from the stage claiming he could sing no more. Just a few weeks later, on January 2, 1890, he died in Madrid. His body was thereafter taken back to his beloved Erronkari, to be buried near the very house in which he was born.

Today the principal theater in Pamplona-Iruñea, the Gayarre Theater, bears his name, as does a prestigious biennial international competition in the city, the Julián Gayarre Singing Competition. Moreover, the house where he was born is now the Julián Gayarre Museum-House, and well worth a visit to this beautiful part of Navarre.

Just an additional point of interest to the short but intense life of Julián Gayarre, it is worth underscoring the fact that his first language was Basque, and specifically the Eastern Navarrese dialect of Basque (a dialect that was sadly lost in the twentieth century but for which efforts are being made to revive). Gayarre is reputed to have often closed his solo performances, whether in Barcelona, Madrid, Paris, or any of the numerous Italian cities he toured in, with a performance of the great Basque anthem “Gernikako arbola” (The Tree of Gernika), on which see previous post here and here. Interestingly, too, from his global travels he would write home to his family in Basque, in the Eastern Navarrese dialect, and his letters are preserved to this day as an eloquent testimony to this beautiful, but lost, dialect. The following (somewhat rakish in places) letter, written in 1884, is one such example:

Barcelona 19 Diciembre 1884

        Ene tia Juana maitia

        Eugenia sin da [etorri da] arro[nt] ongui. Quemen gaude anisco ongui guciac eta ori [berori] nola dago?

        Nain din [nahi dun] sin [rin, jin, etorri] [xin]cona [honat, hona] ichasoaren ecustra? Anisco andia da, tia Juana.

        Nai badu nic dud anisco deiru orentaco vidagearen pagateco quemengo ostatiaren pagateco. Eztu eguiten quemen ozic batrere, chaten [xaten, jaten] dugu quemen anisco ongui eta güero artan [artzen, hartzen] dugu iror nescache postretaco eta gazte eta pollit.

        Ha cer vizia! tia Juana maitia, amar urte chiquiago bagunu…

        Gorainzi guzientaco eta piyco bat nescachi pollit erroncarico guziat.

Julian.

In English:

Barcelona, December 19, 1884

My dear aunt Juana,

Eugenia arrived safely. We’re all well here, and you?

Would you like to come and see the sea? It’s enormous, aunt Juana.

If you like, I have enough money to pay for your journey and pay for your hotel here. It’s not cold at all here, we eat very well and three pretty young girls for dessert.

Heavens, what a life!  Dear aunt Juana, if we were ten years younger…

Regards to everyone and a pinch for all the pretty Erronkari girls.

Julian

For more information check out the foundation in his name here.

2017 Basque cider season kicks off with annual ceremonial opening of the barrels

Yesterday’s ceremonial opening of the new cider barrels to welcome in the forthcoming “txotx” cider season–the traditional time between January and April when the cider is drunk straight from the barrel in Basque cider houses–is so much more than just a publicity stunt. It marks a key event on the Basque culinary and cultural calendar, with the dry apple cider produced there an important symbol of the Basques’ culture, as we revealed in a previous post.  That said, it would be disingenuous to think that the event is not a canny marketing opportunity for the cider houses, too, but let’s just say this is one of those moments where commercial and cultural interests intersect successfully.

The great “txotx” experience. Photo by Jon Urbe (Argia.com), courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Every year a Basque personality has the honor of taking the first drink from the new vintage, and this year that honor went to Eneko Atxa from Zornotza, Bizkaia, the 3-star Michelin chef at Azurmendi in Larrabetzu, also in Bizkaia. Prior to taking the first drink, at the Zapiain cider house in Astigarraga, Gipuzkoa, Atxa offered up the traditional toast to “Gure sagardo berria” (Our new cider). In keeping with tradition, too, Atxa also planted an apple tree in the grounds of the Sagardoetxea, the Basque Cider Museum. And the event was accompanied by traditional dances (the “Sagar-dantza” or apple dance) and the participation of the bertsolariak (improvising oral poets) Amets Arzallus and Jon Maia. See highlights of all this in the video, from Berria TB.

It is worth noting than numerous public figures also attended the event, highlighting its importance, and that this year’s celebration coincides with the recent announcement of a new regulatory classification system for the product: henceforth, all cider produced with apples cultivated exclusively in the Basque Country will be branded under the “Euskal Sagardoa” label (Basque Cider, natural cider from the Basque Country). Of the 12.5 million liters (approx. 3.3 million gallons) of cider produced in the 2016 vintage–a figure slightly down on the previous year–around 12% currently comply with these guidelines and will go by the name Euskal Sagardoa, although there is a 15-year plan in place to increase this figure significantly. In the meantime, there is also the Gorenak label, which covers producers who also use apples cultivated both within and outside the Basque Country.

Basque cider is also bottled, of course, as in these two examples of the Zapiain (Hegoalde, the Southern Basque Country) and Eztigar (Iparralde, the Northern Basque Country) cider houses. Photo by Bichenzo, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Whatever the case, the cider house “experience” is about so much more than just a glass (or more… maybe) of the crisp, refreshing dry apple nectar; it’s about good hearty no-frills food, conversation, conviviality, and, if you’re really lucky, some collective song. For anyone interested in Basque culture, the “txotx” experience is not to be missed!

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