Tag: Bilbao (page 1 of 4)

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.

Bilbao transformation discussed in BBC report

Early morning view of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao. Photo by PA, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The Arts section of the online BBC news site recently published an interesting article by William Cook on the changes experienced by Bilbao in the last twenty years. Cited in the article, Sir Norman Foster, the world famous architect behind the iconic metro system in the city, recalls: “Of all my memories as an architect, going to sites and seeing buildings, nothing compares with my experience in Bilbao.” He continues: “There was something almost religious about my experience in Bilbao, and I will never forget it.”

Check out the full article here.

When it comes to Bilbao, it goes without saying that we can’t recommend our very own Joseba Zulaika’s award-winning book, That Old Bilbao Moon: The Passion and Resurrection of a City, highly enough.  But the CBS has also published other works that explore the impact of the Bilbao transformation and related issues in many different ways. See, for example, Building Time: The Relatus in Frank Gehry’s Architecture by Iñaki Begiristain,  Transforming Cities: Opportunities and Challenges of Urban Regeneration in the Basque Country, edited by Arantxa Rodríguez and Joseba Juaristi, and Building the Basque City: The Political Economy of Nation-Building by Nagore Calvo Mendizabal.

The 2016 Bilbao Mendi Film Festival

This year’s Bilbao Mendi Film Festival kicked off on December 9 and runs through December 18. This is an annual festival that celebrates cinematic representations of mountains, mountaineering, hiking, climbing, skiing, adventure, exploration, extreme sports, and the great outdoors in general. Check out the trailer on the main website to get a flavor of what it’s all about.

bilbao-mendi-film-festival-2016

Basque-themed work appearing at the festival this year includes Akabuko Martxea, a documentary directed by Aitor Gisasola and Fredi Paia about efforts to recreate the tradition of sheep transhumance in herding sheep from the Urbia Mountains to the Uribe Kosta coastal district.

In the fall of 2015 two Gipuzkoan shepherds, Mikel Etxezarreta and Eli Arrillaga, spent five days herding 250 sheep from Zegama in Gipuzkoa to Getxo in Bizkaia. Their aim was to recreate the tradition of transhumance, a way of life that came to an end in the early 1980s. Indeed, Etxezarreta himself last carried out such a trek in 1982.

The Basque-made documentary, Kurssuaq. La exploración del Río Grande, will also be shown. We covered this amazing kayak expedition in a previous post here. Similarly, Humla, produced and directed by Mikel Sarasola, charts the adventures of four kayakers as they attempt to negotiate the mighty Humla Karnali, the longest river in Nepal.

The documentary Common Ground, meanwhile, charts the expedition of a group of climbers, including the brothers Iker and Eneko Pou from Vitoria-Gasteiz, to the remote Chukotka region of Siberia. In a similar vein, Eñaut Izagirre’s Incognita Patagonia, produced for National Geographic, covers a climbing expedition to the Cloue Icefield on Hoste Island, at the southern tip of Latin America.

Elsewhere, Jon Herranz directs Mar Alvarez No Logo, a documentary about woman firefighter and part-time climber, Mar Alvarez.

In somewhat of a different direction, Iker Elorrieta’s film I Forgot Myself Somewhere examines the challenges faced by women in northern Pakistan to get an education.

And Xabier Zabala’s Imaginador is a biography of photographer Santi Yaniz, famed for his work in the Basque Country and the Pyrenees.

See a full list of the films on show here.

September 3, 1902: Euskalduna company launches first ship

On September 3, 1902, the Euskalduna company launched its first ship, the “Portu,” a barge for use by the important Altos Hornos de Vizcaya foundry. Euskalduna, a marine engineering company whose full name was Euskalduna de Construcción y Reparación de Buques de Bilbao, would go on to become one of the most renowned features of the Basque industrial landscape with its headquarters in the heart of Bilbao. It opened for business in 1900 and finally closed in 1988 after a four-year period of severe confrontations  between workers and police over the decision to close the shipyard.

Años50bilbao

Aerial view of Bilbao in the 1950s during a new era of expansion for Euskalduna, shown here top left in the picture beside the bridge. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

During that time, the company enjoyed mixed fortunes: a boom in the World War I era and beyond that tailed off by the 1930s; growth again in the 1950s and 1960s, with Euskalduna contributing 50% of the capital to a new statewide conglomerate, Astilleros Españoles, which by the late 1960s would be one of the largest shipbuilding companies in Europe; and, ultimately, decline again in the 1970s following the 1973 oil crisis and increasing competition from East Asia. When the decision was taken to close the shipyard in 1984, the workers there engaged in direct confrontation in an effort to maintain their jobs. These confrontations, as well as many negotiations including labor unions, management, and the public administration, went on for four years and this intense period came to define much of Bilbao’s social history in the 1980s.

640px-Guggenheim_aerial_v

Central Bilbao today, with the Euskalduna Conference Centre, the reddish building, to the far right of the picture and the Bilbao maritime Museum behind that. Picture by Ben Bore (Rhys), courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Following the closure of the shipyard, the emblematic site that had been so important in the industrial history and legacy of Bilbao was converted into a leisure area: today it houses both the Euskalduna Conference Centre and the Bilbao Maritime Museum. The site itself, then, continues to form a central part of the Bilbao economy, although now in a postindustrial and leisure-oriented framework.

675px-Bilbao,_grúa_Carola_1

The “Carola” crane, installed in 1957 in the Euskalduna shipyard, it was and still is an important part of the cityscape. Today, though,  it forms part of the Bilbao Maritime Museum. Photo by Txo, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

In That Old Bilbao Moon: The Passion and Resurrection of a City, Joseba Zulika shares a very personal view of Bilbao and its historical transformations. And for more on Bilbao and the urban changes associated with the city through time, check out Transforming Cities: Opportunities and Challenges of Urban Regeneration in the Basque Country, edited by Arantxa Rodríguez and Joseba Juaristi.

 

 

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