Athletic Bilbao coming to Boise?

boise state stadiumFile this in the simply awesome category! The Basque Studies Foundation, in Boise, is trying to bring Athletic Bilbao to play a friendly against a Major League Soccer team! This is going to be in the stadium on the Boise State campus (you know the one, the one with the blue field). They are still working out details, but Athletic Bilbao will likely play either the Seattle, Portland or Salt Lake team.

Argia Beristain, who was part of the Seattle club back when I lived there, is the game’s organizer.

You can find out a little more in this Idaho Statesman article.

I’ve only seen one professional soccer game. The Colorado Rapids had a Basque appreciation night when they brought over a play from Athletic Bilbao, Aitor Karanka. It was pretty cool. Though the crowd was small, especially for such a large stadium, it was still full of energy.

I’m excited to see my second professional game, even if it is a friendly. Great job, BSF and Argia!

 

A Fairytale Visit to Butron Castle

butron castle-mapRoughly about 20 years ago, during my second visit to the Basque Country, a friend of mine, Xabier Ormaetxea, who has been a frequent contributor to these pages particularly with the Basque surname research he used to do for visitors, took me to Butron Castle (Butroi in Basque). Not far from Bilbao, in the heart of Bizkaia, el Castillo Butron was pretty magnificent, especially to an American who is not used to seeing castles around every corner. The castle was all decorated inside, with people in period costume, trying to recreate the feel of ancient times. I remember Xabier lamenting the fact that everything had to be Disneyfied, that a castle couldn’t simply be, it had to be made into some sort of spectacle.butron-2014-1

Last month, my wife, daughter and I were in the Basque Country visiting my dad’s family and I thought Butron would be a nice place to take them. My wife hadn’t seen it and I thought that my daughter, being a young girl who is into princesses (how do they know every Disney princess without ever watching the movies?) and castles (one of our favorite activities together it to draw castles and fill them with dragons, knights and, of course, princesses), would really enjoy seeing her first castle.

Bbutron-2014-2utron is a real castle, with towers, arrowslits, and a large front gate. It took us a while to find it since, though there are signs pointing in the general direction, they aren’t very clear. We ended up going down a dirt road along side a river, having turned just a little too early, passing by various gated houses until we ended up at a dead end. We eventually found the castle, and maybe understood why it was so hard to find.

The spectacle that bothered Xabier was certainly no longer an issue. In fact, the castle is closed. No one is there. When we pulled up (by-passing the parking lot because, well, no one was there), there was one other car of tourists taking their picture in front of the castle. While we were there, a bicyclists and a woman on a horse rode by, but that was the extent of the people we saw.

But, no matter. It was still a magnificent sight! My daughter was very excited, peaking into any hole she could find, wondering if a princess might have looked down from this tower or that tower. We speculated which hole might be a window into the dungeon and if there had been a lot of bad guys kept there. My wife and I enjoyed watching our daughter fantasize about what must be inside the castle as we also did our best to peak in wherever we could, circling the castle, looking for any better view of the interior.

I butron-2014-3t turns out (you gotta love Wikipedia) that while the castle is old, the current structure was built in the late 1800s. It was remodeled to mimic the castles of Bavaria. It is now the largest existing medieval castle in the world (according to Wikipedia). When I visited, it had beenrenovated and opened to the public, but it failed to generate enough revenue to keep up operations and has since been closed to visitors. In 2005, a group purchased the building, but have yet to do anything with it. It was a pity we couldn’t tour the inside, but my daughter still loved her first visit to a real castle.

And she isn’t the only one who fantasizes about Butron. Again according to Wikipedia, it seems Kate Middleton (yes that one) dreamed of being married in this castle. I guess she found an even fancier one to get married in.

Basque-ing in play by Begoña Echeverria

In this guest article, Professor Begoña Echeverria, a professor of education at the University of California, Riverside, describes how she uses songs to teach basic concepts of the Basque language to adults, focusing not on grammatical aspects, but rather conversation.

Eskerrik asko, Begoña!

Basque-ing in play: Using song to teach Basque in the American diaspora

Begoña Echeverria

Associate Professor and Associate Dean
Graduate School of Education
University of California
Riverside, CA 92521-0128

 

Introduction 

Efforts to revitalize Basque (Euskera) focus on showing its “equality” to dominant languages, emphasizing grammar and “correctness” in the classroom. But while the number of Basque speakers has risen in the last few decades, Euskera is still endangered.  Basque speakers will switch to another language (usually Spanish or French, but English in the diaspora) when only one non-Basque speaker is among them and speakers do not speak the Euskera they know:  by 2001, one-quarter of the population in the Basque Autonomous Community spoke Basque, but only 14% used in publicly (Urla, 2013: 133).  Standardization has increased native speakers’ insecurities so that “’the creative capacity of the Basque speaker is being lost, the capacity to play with and enjoy the language. And when that is lost, the language itself is on the way to being lost’” (Urla, 2013: 108, quoting Zuazo 2000: 132).

I took these lessons to heart when I taught a Basque class to adults between 2006-2010 for a Basque club in southern California.  The class was part of a larger effort through the North American Basque Organization, composed of Basque clubs in the United States and Canada, to promote the language (www.nabasque.us).  I was asked to take over the class by one of its students when the first volunteer teacher was unable to continue. I agreed to take on the class so long as it focused on conversational skills—and not grammatical “correctness”—in part, because I am not a trained foreign language teacher, but also because the research I have done in the Basque Country itself suggested that focusing on teaching “correct” Basque was problematic to the extent that it made many Basque learners (and sometimes native speakers) too self-conscious to actually speak Basque outside the classroom (Echeverria 2003).

In this sense, my work corroborates that of scholars in other minority language communities.  That is, while attempts to revitalize languages often focus on standardizing and modernizing their languages so that they become more instrumentally useful and more able to challenge dominant language hegemony, such strategies do not guarantee that the prestige and use of that language will increase. Eckert (1983) demonstrates that minority language standardization can just as easily alienate native speakers as empower them; Wong (1999) shows that native speakers might reject the standard imposed on them altogether. Gal (1979) and Milroy (1987) suggest that, because of the association often found between vernaculars and solidarity, some speakers will continue to speak vernaculars even if they are not instrumentally advantageous.

But another reason for my insistence on the class focusing on informal conversation rather formal grammatical rules or conventions was that I knew that in order for the experience to be worthwhile for me—it was on a volunteer basis, after all—it had to be fun. And that meant using songs and games as much as possible to teach the language.  In this paper, I focus on the songs I used and wrote to convey some of the basic vocabulary needed for conversation in Basque, and to illustrate some the features of the language that most challenged my English-speaking students.

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Mark Bieter visits Arzak and makes me want to too

A few days ago, I wrote about the latest edition of the top 50 restaurants in the world, and how the Basque Country had 5 of those restaurants.

At number 8 sits Arzak. Mark Bieter, who I’ve frequently linked to because of his wonderful way with words, has had the pleasure of dining at Arzak. In an article he wrote in 2012, he describes his experience: It’s just a restaurant, I thought, nothing to be afraid of.  And yet standing across the street from it, I was a little afraid. 

I’m not a foodie, as Mark also claims, but his description of his time at Arzak makes me think that even I might appreciate the wonders of a place like that.

Basque Country has 5 of the top 50 Restaurants in the World

I’m a man of simple tastes, seemingly from a long line of Uberuagas with similar levels of refinement. My dad would rather make sure he get his dollar’s worth at an all-you-can-eat buffet. And when I took my aunts, who grew up in rural Bizkaia, to the Guggenheim in Bilbao, and I asked them what their favorite thing was in the museum, they said “The frames (on the paintings) were nice.”top-50-2014

That said, even I can recognize the singular place that food holds in the Basque Country. I easily gain 15 pounds whenever I visit, partially because my family won’t stop shoving full plates of food in front of me every 15 minutes, but also because the food is simply so wonderful.

But there is food, and then there is food, and the Basque County excels at food in a way that few other regions in the world can boast. David Cox alerted me to the fact that Restaurant Magazine just released their 2014 list of the top 50 restaurants in the world, and the Basque Country has 5 restaurants on the list, 3 in Gipuzkoa and 2 in Bizkaia (Real fans, at least you win this one).

I’ve never eaten at any of these places, and don’t know when I will, but it is simply amazing to me that a region of the world that has less than 0.03% of the world’s population can have 10% of the world’s top restaurants.

In case some of you are looking for a gastronomical oasis for your next adventure, the Basque restaurants on the list are:

If anyone has had the pleasure of dining at one of these restaurants, please share your experience!

Buber’s Basque Page, Sports Edition, Part 3: Athletic Bilbao in the Champions League

Being a somewhat older American, my appreciation for soccer (or futbol, though to be fair, soccer may have been the original term for the sport, even in England) is limited. When I lived in Donostia, I of course saw the Real Sociedad banners in all corners of the city and knew that there was an intense and “bitter” rivalry between the Blues and the Reds down the road. My dad’s family, being Bizkainos, of course are Athletic Bilbao fans. Big ones.

(To be honest, I don’t know if the rivalry was all that bitter. I got the impression that Real fans would root for Athletic Bilbao if they were playing a non-Basque team and vice versa. Your own team first, but the Basque teams next. But maybe this is the kalimotxo talking…)

In any case, I never really got into soccer. While of Basque ancestry, I’m still an American with a much greater interest in American football, basketball (at least, before the Sonics left Seattle) and even baseball.

Yep, I like baseball better than soccer. However, whenever one of the Basque teams is doing very well, I do take notice. And, Athletic Bilbao just advanced to the Champions League. This is a big deal. It’s the first time they’ve done it since 1999.

Now, those of you who don’t know about Athletic Bilbao (and are probably reading this because you had too much kalimotxo and blindly stumbled onto this blog), they are a unique phenomenon in the sports world. As opposed to almost all other teams in every professional league in the world, be it NFL, NBA, NHL, and MLB in the United States, or equivalent leagues in other countries, Athletic Bilbao only takes players from or with a connection to the Basque Country. They don’t hire the best players from anywhere in the world, only Basques or players trained in the Basque Country. That a major professional sports team can have such a policy and be successful is simply amazing.

And Athletic Bilbao has indeed been successful. They are second only to Barcelona in the number of Copa del Rey cups they have won and are fourth in the number of times they have finished in first place in the La Liga. However, the glory days of Athletic Bilbao were quite some time ago. The last Copa won was in 1984, the same year they last finished first in La Liga.

I have to admit, I don’t understand the European football championship system. It seems there is La Liga in Spain (and equivalent leagues in other countries) and then there is the Copa del Rey, which is the tournament that takes the best teams from La Liga to declare a championship. But then there are the Europa and Champions Leagues.  Last year, Athletic Bilbao made it to the Europa League, which seemed a big deal to me, but friends of mine who are big into British and Swedish football told me that wasn’t all that big of a deal. The real teams were in the Champions League.

Which brings us to 2014. After defeating Rayo Vallecano 3-0 today, Athletic Bilbao now has a berth in the Champions League. The biggest tournament in Europe. It’s time to hear the Lions roar!

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