Tag: Bilbao (page 1 of 4)

Refugees Welcome, 1937

Today we are delighted to include a guest post by Iñaki Azkarraga, a friend of the Center and keen observer of all things Bilbao. Thanks to contributors like Azkarraga and feedback from our readers, we hope to share the many stories and rich history of the Basques around the world. Eskerrik asko Iñaki!

In these times of sad wartime anniversaries, we come across some public gardens in Bilbao dedicated, precisely, to the memory of those people who reflect the best in humanity at the bloodiest of times. I am referring to Dame Elizabeth Leah Manning (1886-1977), an educationalist and sometime member of the British Parliament.

Eighty years ago, at the height of the Spanish Civil War, Bilbao was being bombed and on the point of being occupied by fascist troops. The Basque government appealed for international help in evacuating the refugees accumulating in growing numbers the city. Numerous negotiations were successful and senior citizens, women, and children began to be evacuated by sea to France, Belgium, the Soviet Union, Mexico, Denmark, and the United Kingdom.

Some of these states had encouraged a policy of non-intervention in the Spanish Civil War, abandoning to fate a legitimate democratically-elected government. The British government position was paradigmatic in this regard. However, it was British public opinion, horrified at the news breaking about the bombing of civilians, which forced the government to take in Basque refugees.

This is the context in which the intrepid figure of Leah Manning emerged, a woman who stood up to both the British government and her own Labour Party–the cause of the “pro-Communist and anti-Catholic” Spanish Republic was viewed with some suspicion in many quarters in the UK–and became actively involved in the National Joint Committee for Spanish Relief,  and presided over by another prominent woman, the conservative Katherine Marjory Stewart-Murray, Lady Atholl. A key factor in Leah Manning’s involvement was the fact that she had visited Gernika two days after it had been bombed in April 1937. This influenced her decision, definitively, to get involved in the evacuation of Basque children to her homeland, jointly with the Basque government’s Department for Social Assistance.

The task was by no means easy. The British government, with the exception of providing an armed escort in international waters for the humanitarian convoys leaving Bizkaia after March 1937, consistently refused to provide any public funding to help settle and support these refugees, entrusting all this to private initiatives. In order to do this, the Basque Children’s Committee was created with the aim of coordinating resources and raising funds through charity collections, donations by well-known people, and so on. Manning and others like her carried out a mammoth task. In the end, a camp was organized in Stoneham, Southampton, to receive 4,000 people. Thus, on May 20, 1937, once the corresponding official British government permission had been granted in extremis, the Habana ocean liner could set sail from the port of Santurtzi destined for the UK, with 3,861 children aboard, accompanied by medical, auxiliary, and teaching staff. This was one of the largest human convoys organized in one go at that time.

Once on land and after several days in Stoneham, the Basque children were sent off to different parts of the UK, in dozens of charitable groups and institutions that would look after them and monitor their health.

Barely a month later, on June 19, Bilbao fell into the hands of Franco’s army and from 1938 on, little by little, most of these Basque children gradually returned home. However, many also stayed on in the UK for the rest of their lives, or only returned as adults, like Raimundo Perez Lezama, who began his professional soccer career at Southampton and was later considered one of the best ever goalkeepers for Bilbao’s emblematic team, Athletic Club.

In sum, this is a story of solidarity and social mobilization during times of war.  Like today, there were refugees fleeing a conflict, but in the face of little action on the part of governments, they found a fitting response on the part of civil society and in the necessary leadership that, through people like Leah Manning, was capable of raising the humanitarian cause over any other consideration. I hope these words serve as a suitable tribute to this courageous person.

http://www.basquechildren.org/

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leah_Manning

http://blogs.deia.com/historiasdelosvascos/2012/05/11/la-odisea-de-los-ninos-vascos-en-inglaterra/#more-102

https://errepublikaplaza.wordpress.com/2016/06/05/los-ninos-de-la-guerra-las-evacuaciones-infantiles-de-1937/

http://www.elcorreo.com/alava/sociedad/201705/07/ocho-dias-para-acoger-20170505173326.html

 

 

Was the Spanish Omelet invented in the Basque Country?

Arguably the most iconic dish in Spain is the tortilla, the Spanish or potato omelet, a staple of households across the country and almost always an option–whether in pintxo or tapa form–in any bar, cafe, or restaurant you may step into. But did this humble, tasty dish actually originate in the Basque Country? While some have suggested the idea that an “egg omelet” of sorts was known during Spain’s imperial expansion in the 16th century, still others point to more concrete evidence dating from the 19th century.

The first documented mention of the tortilla dates from 1817 in a message to the Parliament of Navarre–part of a system whereby people could leave messages for the parliament to discuss–detailing the sparse living conditions of the inhabitants of the more remote mountainous areas north of the capital of Iruñea-Pamplona; specifically, the message stated that typically 2-3 eggs (and even less) were used with whatever was to hand to thicken the mixture, including potatoes or breadcrumbs, to feed between 5 and 6 people.

Still another legend states that, in 1835, during the Carlist siege of Bilbao led by Tomás Zumalacarregui, the Basque general demanded a meal at a farmhouse one day and all that was available–with most of the local food sources reduced to a bare minimum–was a few eggs, a potato, and an onion. The extekoandre or woman of the house combined the scant provisions and the resulting dish so pleased the Carlist leader that he adopted it as a quick nutritious meal for his troops.

Check out the fascinating story of Zumalacarregui in The Most Striking Events of a Twelvemonth’s Campaign with Zumalacarregui in Navarre and the Basque Provinces, by C.F. Henningsen.

*Tortilla image by LLuisa Nunez courtesy of Wikimedia Commons; Zumalacarregui image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Bilbao rainwater for sale … and why not?

News comes our way of a rather unique business idea: marketing Bilbao rainwater! Why not? This is, after all, Bilbao! A city not renowned for its modesty but definitely known for its bilbainadas. As Joseba Zulaika observes in That Old Bilbao Moon (p. 180):

The bilbainada is a too-muchness that, except in Bilbao, is unaffordable. It is the city’s alter-ego behavior, the extravagant antidote to the frustrations of an understated, modest lifestyle. Going for the Guggenheim Museum was for many a typical bilbainada. What for an outsider seems a braggard’s exhibitionism is for Bilbainos ritual consumption.

As the saying goes, “The only virtue that is lacking for Bilbainos to be perfect is modesty.” It goes with such grandiosity that there can be nothing greater in life than being from Bilbao.

Just by way of clarification, if the initiative takes off, the intention is to make the product in centers for people with mental disabilities and donate part of the profits to worthy local causes. If you’d like to get your own particular bottle of Bilbao rainwater, click here.

The Bilbao connection of Rafael Padilla, the first major black entertainer in France

Thanks to Iñaki Azkarraga, a friend of the Center and authority on all things Bilbao, we recently came across the remarkable story of Rafael Padilla, who, under the stage name Chocolat, was the first major black entertainer in France.

Padilla was born into slavery in Cuba in 1868 and raised in the slums of Havana. He was “purchased” for 18 ounces of gold by businessman Patricio Castaño Capetillo, declared a “servant” to circumvent the newly introduced slavery abolition laws, and brought to Sopuerta, Bizkaia to do menial chores for the family. However, he managed to escape this environment in his early adolescence and found work (and freedom) in several of the many Basque quarries around Bilbao, before moving into the heart of the city itself to work in the docks in the early 1880s.  It was in Bilbao that he met Tony Grice, a traveling English clown, who, noting his strength and dexterity, hired him as an assistant and domestic servant, and out of this connection he gradually entered the entertainment world, acting as a stuntman in Grice’s act. Indeed, it was Grice who gave him the stage name Chocolat, and the duo found fame in the vibrant circus industry in France. Later, Padilla teamed up with another British clown, George Foottit, to form one of the most famous slapstick acts in France at the turn of the century; gaining great renown, he was filmed by the pioneering Lumière brothers and painted by Toulouse-Latrec (see video report below). The duo split up in 1910 and Padilla subsequently died in 1917.

For more information, see the Wikipedia article on his life here. And check out this report by Basque public television (in Spanish).

In 2016 a French movie was released about his life, titled Chocolat.

The main sponsor of the above plaque, which can be found on the Bilbao waterfront, on the Martzana Dock, near the San Anton Bridge, was Jesús Ahedo, who runs the Kalao gallery specializing in African art.

*Image of Chocolat courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

Major food awards to be held in Bilbao in 2018

It has just been announced that the World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards, considered by many to be the Oscars of global gastronomy, will be held in Bilbao in June 2018.  Quoting the host organization:

Spain’s Basque Country has long been known as one of the most gastronomically blessed regions of the world, with the highest concentration of Michelin-starred restaurants per capita and a strong and enduring representation of restaurants in the 50 Best list. With everything from fine dining to abundant pintxos, it’s the ideal next location for the biggest culinary party on the planet.

The announcement was made at Basque chef Eneko Atxa’s London restaurant Eneko At One Aldwych.

These prestigious awards, which were held annually in London for 13 years before expanding globally to New York in 2016 and Melbourne this year, will thus make their third international port of call in the capital of Bizkaia, thanks to the generous support of the Bizkaiko Foru Aldundia-Diputación Foral de Bizkaia (the Provincial Government of Bizkaia), and we’re sure Basques will be ready for the party!

Read more about the choice of Bilbao as the host venue here.

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

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.

Easter vacation festivities come to the Basque Country

The Baiona Ham Festival

The Easter vacation is becoming an increasingly important time for the growing leisure sector in the Basque Country. This week, traditional religious celebrations coinciding with Easter itself will be held,  in which towns like Durango (with its famous pasinue) and Balmaseda in Bizkaia as well as others all over the Basque Country take center stage.  But there are also a number of other activities taking place to cater for the increasing number of tourists who visit at this time of year. One of the biggest events takes place in Bilbao. The Basque Fest is a specially designed festival combining Basque traditions and gastronomy that seeks to introduce visitors to the wonderful world of Basque culture in all its facets, from traditional Basque sports to music and dance as well as, of course, food and drink. Staying on a similar theme, Baiona also hosts a wonderful festival of its own this week: the Baiona Ham Festival, a must see event for all aficionados of this famous Basque delicacy. Such festivities are, though, just the tip of the iceberg. Towns and cities all over the Basque Country will be celebrating this important holiday season in many and varied ways.

Bilbao wharf renamed in honor of women boat-haulers

A major site in the historically important neighborhood of Olabeaga in Bilbao was recently renamed in honor of the women who used to physically haul all kinds of vessels into central BIlbao.

A representation of the sirgueras.

With the industrial development of Bilbao through the nineteenth century, so there was a major increase in shipping traffic into the heart of the city via the Nervion Estuary. However, at the point where the estuary ran through the Olabeaga neighborhood, the river was so silted up that larger boats could not complete the final stretch that would take them into the center of the city. As a response to the problem, groups of men were hired to undertake the backbreaking work of physically hauling smaller vessels by means of a sirga (towrope) along that final stretch toward downtown Bilbao. Yet with the outbreak of the Carlist Wars and the exodus of men from the city, this work was taken up by women. The sirgueras (zirgariak in Basque) who came to do this work were cheaper to hire than men and could be hired in the moment; there was no need to employ them on a permanent basis. Check out the short movie Zirgariak (2006), by filmmakers Fernando Bernal “Ferber” and Urko Olazabal, which portrays just what this job entailed.

Working in such conditions of hard physical labor and  in the dirty conditions of an ever more polluted river, this was work that was looked down upon socially; whether men or women, the people who undertook it were considered ganapanes, humble laborers who earned just enough to cover their daily needs: at the very least, a loaf of bread. This partly explains why these women, in particular, have been excluded from the major narrative of the industrial development of Bilbao.

The newly named wharf, the Muelle Sirgueras / Zirgariak Kaia, stands as a testament to this forgotten collective.

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.

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