Tag: basque culture (page 1 of 22)

June 14, 1959: Famous Basque woodchopper Latasa achieves major feat

Ramon Latasa Elizondo (1930-1991)

On June 14, 1959, in Lekeitio, Bizkaia, the renowned Basque aizkolari (woodchopper) Ramon Latasa achieved one of his most memorable feats: that day, on the basis of major betting on the outcome, he cut through the trunk of a Eucalyptus tree with a girth of just under 17 feet (!) within 4 hours; specifically, in 3 hours and 17 minutes, and with 5,259 ax blows.

 

Ramon Latasa Elizondo was born on the Aguria baserri in Sunbilla, Nafarroa, in 1930 into a poor family. At age 17 he began working in the logging industry, gaining special fame among his coworkers for his woodchopping prowess. His most famous feat took place on April 26, 1959, when he won a legendary challenge in competition with Luxia (Juan Jose Narbaiza Ibarbia), from Azkoitia, Gipuzkoa.  In this “challenge of the century” (as it was termed at the time), the humble woodchopper from Sunbilla finished a whopping 5 minutes before his rival, leaving onlookers stunned at the feat.  Latasa continued taking part in thee challenges through the 1960s and even into the 1970s, retiring at age 47. Remembered by many as the greatest aizkolari of all time, he died in 1991.

Premiere of Aberne, a short movie about women in pelota, on Sunday

Sunday will see the premiere of the movie Aberne, a short film that was the result of a Master’s thesis by Irati Santiago, from Villabona (Gipuzkoa), at Columbia College Chicago. It was produced by Santiago and written and directed by Emma Johnson. From the movie website:  “Aberne tells the story of a young, Basque woman struggling to be accepted amongst external societal pressures in a region where friends, family and co-workers all come together under one sport, pelota. Aberne seeks the opportunity to break free from the culture’s limitation and prove herself worthy of not only playing pelota, but of the general public’s respect.”


<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/165637744″>Aberne Interview H264</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/user19210914″>Irati Santiago</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a>.</p>

The film was shot in the Tolosa district of Gipuzkoa, in Basque, and with English subtitles.  It tells the story of a young woman who aspires to be a professional pelotari or Basque handball player in the face of much resistance, including on the part of her mother, who attempts to convince her to stick to the family bread-making business.


<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/165733435″>Aberne Teaser English H264</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/user19210914″>Irati Santiago</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a>.</p>

See a report on the movie premiere by the Noticias de Gipuzkoa (in Spanish) here.

Check out Basque Pelota: A Ritual, An Aesthetic, by Olatz González Abrisketa, which seeks to contextualize this sport within Basque culture more generally.

May 31, 1910: Premiere of opera Mirentxu

On May 31, 1910 the Basque-themed opera Mirentxu, with music by Jesús Guridi and libretto by Alredo Echave, premiered in the Teatro Campos Elíseos in Bilbao. It actually premiered as a zarzuela, but was transfomred into an opera in two acts and an epilogue in 1912.

It’s an intense Romantic tale of a love triangle involving three principal characters, Mirentxu,  Raimundo, and Presen,  with Mirentxu ultimately representing the tragic heroine of the piece.

See Natalie Morel Botrora, “Mirentxu, idylle lyrique basque en deux actes” (in French).

Four takes on Basque identity from a food perspective

Check out a lovely article on Basque food and tradition in Iparralde or the Northern Basque Country from the gourmet food, wine, and travel magazine Saveur, in its continual quest to “savor a world of authentic cuisine.” Now we could get all highfalutin and scholarly about the nature of authenticity in culture as a whole, but seeing as though this is meant to be a fun blog and a downright celebration of all things Basque… we won’t! Yay!! In the article, author Jane Sigal visits a charcutier, a pepper grower, a baker, and a cheese maker in Iparralde to see how the food they make represents the place in which they live. In  a beautiful philosophical turn, cheese maker Raphaël Eliceche comments that, “My cheese is for sale … Not the Pays Basque.”

Check out the full article here.

*Image: Official seal of Bayonne Ham. Photo  by Émile Pujolle, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Thousands gather for Herri Urrats 2017

This past Sunday thousands of people gathered together in the sun to celebrate the annual Herri Urrats (A People’s Step) festival in the Senpere lake area in Lapurdi. This is a fundraising event for Basque-language education initiatives in the Northern Basque Country. And this year, specifically, all the money raised will go toward the expansion of the Bernat Etxepare Lizeoa (high school), in Baiona, to incorporate a vocational or trade school, thereby offering full technical and vocational training in Basque for the first time in Iparralde. That’s not all, though, as part of an ambitious wider plan, the new site will also incorporate a barnetegi (that is, boarding facilities for adult learners of Basque) and major new sports installations. Exciting times ahead for the Bernat Etxepare Lizeoa!

So that’s the serious side to all this, but Herri Urats is really a fun day out for all the family, a meeting place for old friends, and an opportunity to celebrate the Basque language. And when the sun shines, which is does occasionally, there are few better places to be! See some great pictures from the day here.

A video journey to the heart of the Basque Country

Check out these great introductory videos charting a recent journey to the heart of the Basque Country, Xiberoa, from our friends at About Basque Country:

According to the blog, this was in part a journey made by Basques from the South in order to connect with their cousins in the North, a trip through the Basque Country and the variety of cultures, dialects, and landscapes that make up these distinct parts of Euskal Herria.

 

The story of Bilbao and salt cod

While in other parts of the world, including the US, fresh cod is a typical part of the cuisine, in the Basque Country, and especially Bilbao, it is dried and salted or just salt cod that reigns supreme. Produced for hundreds of years, the drying and salting of cod was an effective way of preserving the cod caught in the Grand Banks off Newfoundland before being transported across the Atlantic for sale in Europe.

The much prized salt cod. Picture by IanH1944, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

But the story of how salt cod came to be so popular in Bilbao is particularly illuminating. In 1824 the Spanish government established state control of this important food source with all imports subject to strict controls. Smaller dealers, in turn, tried to get around the new controls by only making modest orders in an attempt to keep under the government radar, so to speak. In 1835, one such dealer, Simón Gurtubay Zubero–not, as some sources claim, his son José María (who was four-years-old at the time)–sent one of these orders to his supplier in Great Britain. However, a clerical error along the line meant that the order, which was made for “100 o 120” (as in “100 or 120” in English), was interpreted as being for 1,000,120 salted cods. With a flourish of Bizkaian self-assurance (Simón himself, though resident in Bilbao, had been born in Igorre), the intrepid Gurtubay accepted the order and began making arrangements to offload his rather large order wherever he could. Just at that very moment, though, with the First Carlist War (1833-39) already underway, Carlist troops laid siege to Bilbao in 1836, provoking a major shortage of provisions in the city. Suddenly Gurtubay became the savior of the city, with his warehouses full of this now almost priceless commodity.  The city withstood the siege, Gurtubay went on to establish one of the biggest fortunes in the country, using a lot of that wealth and influence to establish the Bank of Bilbao and the Bilbao Chamber of Commerce, as well as to build the hospitals of Basurto and Igorre, his birthplace.

See this short TV report on the Gurtubay family, cod, and Bilbao (in Spanish) here.

Cod Pil-Pil. Picture by jlastras, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

And Bilbao came to be the city of salt cod, which is served typically in two ways: in the white pil-pil sauce (really, the natural oils of the fish plus olive oil and garlic) or in the red Bizkaian sauce (made from onions and sweet dried red pepper). Check out the late Hasier Etxeberria’s On Basque Cuisine, free to download here from the Etxepare Basque Institute, for a discussion of and recipes for both sauces. See, too, of course, Mark Kurlansky’s wonderful Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World.

Salt Cod in Bizkaian Sauce. Picture by Tamorlan, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Downhill and Rock & Core translator Amaia Gabantxo interviewed in Basque daily

The first ever English-language translation of Basque poet Gabriel Aresti’s work by the CBS, Downhill and Rock & Core, is certainly causing quite a splash in the Basque Country. Jon Kortazar, who writes an introduction in the book, has been interviewed on Euskadi Irratia, the main public Basque-language radio station, about he book, and on April 26 the daily newspaper Berria offered an extensive (and lively) interview with Amaia Gabantxo, who was responsible for translating Aresti’s poetry into English.

For Gabantxo, Gabriel Aresti’s work marks a watershed moment for Basque culture in general, hence its importance. In her opinion, understanding Basque culture cannot begin and end with a trip to the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao; to really appreciate who Basques are, outsiders must be given access to their literature, art, film, dance, and music. And what better way than with Aresti? For Gabantxo, the rock metaphor is most appropriate because, “It’s  no joke, Aresti was a rock star. An anarchic guy, a complete rebel. He broke molds. We Basques don’t appreciate what we have, we’ve been so colonized by what we’ve been told…We laugh at Basque culture, and we don’t get the fact that this is what we’ve been trained to do by the discourse of colonizers. So for sure, Aresti was a rock star, and the English title reflects that.”

As regards the particulars of transforming Aresti’s original work into English-language poetry, she observes that, “the strength of a poem resides on the page, it’s not in the words on paper,  but in that distance between the reader’s eyes and the page. That’s where the essence is. That’s where I translate from, from that essence.”  And moving on to the question of translation (and translators) in general, Gabantxo is quite forthright: “It’s clear in my mind that a translator is a writer. Literary translation is a genre of writing, like theater or poetry. You can’t be a good literary translator if you’re not a good writer.  The history of world literature needs translations to stay alive: translations drive literary traditions and languages.”

See the full text of the interview (in Basque) here.

William Smallwood Donates Testimonies of Gernika bombing to Basque Museum

US writer William L. Smallwood, aka Egurtxiki, recently donated the transcripts of more than a hundred personal testimonies he collected from eyewitnesses to the destruction of Gernika 80 years ago. His donation was made to the documentation center at the Gernika Peace Museum. Smallwood collected the testimonies in the early 1970s as part of research for his book on the bombing, The Day Guernica was Bombed: A Story Told by Witnesses and Survivors.

The 87-year-old former World War II pilot and biologist Smallwood, who was born in Iowa, studied in Idaho, and who now resides in Arizona, made the trip to the Basque Country to be part of the 80th anniversary commemorations of the event and formally hand over the testimonies he collected more than forty years ago. His work has also recently been translated into Basque.

From his book’s own description: This book is the result of a person who started learning Basque in the sheep camps of Idaho in order to research the story of the Gernika bombing. In Mountain Home (Idaho) William Smallwood was baptized “Basilio Egurtxiki” by Dr. John Bideganeta, a second-generation Basque and a distinguished citizen of the town. “Egurtxiki” is the literal translation into Basque of Smallwood and the Basilio came from the man who was more of a father than any other man in his life, Basilio Yriondo, an “amerikanua,” a Basque sheepherder in the American West. In September of 1971 Egurtxiki came to Gernika to research his book on the bombing and, after earning the trust of the people, in the spring and summer of 1972 he managed to conduct seventy-four interviews with survivors of the bombing. The following fall and winter, primarily through the efforts of Maria Angeles Basabe, the number of interviews was increased to one hundred and twenty-four. They both risked much, for a person could be arrested and tortured for mentioning the bombing. All the interviews had to be conducted in absolute secrecy.

See a report (in Basque) and photo of Egurtxiki here in Berria.

 

Basque speakers now in majority in Bilbao

“I want to live in Basque.” Image by Xavier Vazquez, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The Basque daily Deia reported on Sunday, April 16, that Basque-speakers now account for 51.2 % of the overall population of the city. According to the Bilbao City Council’s Office of Basque and Education, the number of Basque speakers has quadrupled in the last thirty years. Councilmember for Basque and Education Koldo Narbaiza commented that, “Out of 342,370 inhabitants of the capital [of Bizkaia], 78,727 can read and write in Basque, 96,774 know Basque although not academically, and 166,869 are non-Basque speakers … In total, 175,501 Bilbao residents, that is 51.2%, know Basque.”

Basque speakers in Bilbao, from Deia.

What’s more, and interestingly, this rise in numbers is fairly evenly spread throughout the city. And another point of interest is that the average age of Basque speakers has changed significantly in recent years, with young people now outnumbering seniors when it comes to knowledge of the language.

See the full article (in Spanish) here.

Here at the Center we have a wide range of books about the Basque language. Download a free copy of Estibaliz Amorrortu’s Basque Sociolinguistics: Language, Society, and Culture here. And check out a couple of books that discuss two sides of the coin when it comes to forms of Basque: Koldo Zuazo’s The Dialects of Basque, which explores the rich variety of the language; and Pello Salaburu’s Writing Words: The Unique Case of the Standardization of Basque, which charts how a modern standard version of the language was created and embraced by Basque society.

See, too, another couple of interesting takes on how the Basque language fits into contemporary Basque society: The Challenge of a Bilingual Society in the Basque Country, edited by Pello Salaburu and Xabier Alberdi; and This Strange and Powerful Language by Iban Zaldua.

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