Priest of Pirates by Guillermo Zubiaga

Azalak2The third and final installment of Guillermo Zubiaga’s epic about Basque whaling, Joanes or the Basque Whaler: Priest of Pirates, follows the final exploits of Guillermo’s hero, Joanes. This graphic novel, based on historical documents of Basque derring-do on the high seas, culminates the grand adventures of Joanes and his crew as they encounter deadly pirates, an even deadlier monster whale, and mythical creatures from Basque myth.

I won’t spoil the story, but suffice it to say it takes Joanes and his crew to the depths of the ocean, to the coasts of New Foundland, and through glacial fields. Along the way, Joanes and the crew encounter a monster killer whale, a lamiak, various Native American tribes, and British and Danish pirates. It is a roller coaster ride that is fast paced and covers a lot of ground and time. Compared to the previous volumes, it felt both grander in scope and thus a bit less action oriented (though there is plenty of action).

As with the previous volumes, there are so many references to history and myth that I really found myself wishing to know more. Guillermo opens the volume with a little bit of background, particularly regarding the skull chalice that graces the cover. I understand that Guillermo is working on collecting the three volumes into one graphic novel (which provides him with an opportunity to correct some mistakes that crept in). I sincerely hope that it is annotated to provide that historical and mythological context the story and art are based upon.

The story is a rowdy jaunt through Basque history that is delightful, both for the art and for the cultural references. I highly recommend it and look forward to the collected volume!

Zorionak Guillermo!

Some food and wine to get you through

I ran across a few articles dealing with food and wine in the Basque Country that I thought were particularly interesting.

pintxo-passportFirst, in this article at Financial Times, Paul Richardson describes his adventures in San Sebastián’s Old Town, the Parte Vieja. The interesting spin here is a so-called pintxos passport. A company, San Sebastián Food, run by Englishman Jon Warren, provides, for the cost of €75, a “passport” pointing to a selection of pintxo bars in the Parte Vieja and wooden tokens that can be used to pay for the pintxos. The passport not only points you to the bars, but gives a write up both of the bar and the pintxos they recommend you order. You get your pintxo, hand over your token, and move on your merry way. It seems that drink is included in this. This might not be the most adventurous way of experiencing the Parte Vieja and the pintxo scene in Donostia, but it might give the solitary tourist enough motivation to explore what might otherwise prove a daunting facet of the Basque culture.

ancient-vineyard-617x416Next, archeologists in the Basque Country have excavated what appears to be a 10th century vineyard in the now-deserted village of Zaballa (incidentally, the surname of my grandmother, though it is a pretty common Basque surname). These two articles describe the discovery. The research was published in the journal Quaternary International. The study author, Juan Antonio Quirós-Castillo, describes the importance of this, and a related finding, in terms of the socio-economic history of the region. In particular, he says that understanding how the peasants of the region responded to regional economic changes provides a better understanding of the history of the region. It further sheds light into the economic conditions of the time, which have tended to be viewed as rather simple. These findings suggest that significant economic development, by way of vineyards and cereal fields, were occurring during this time. Because of their historical importance, the researchers are pushing for this and the sister-site to be named World Heritage Sites.

The Buber Prizes

The Buber Prizes are an annual event in which the best Basque websites and internet applications are recognized. For me, these logoawards are particularly meaningful, as the awards are named after these pages, partially as a recognition of the role of Buber’s Basque Page in the history of Basques on the internet and partially because “buber” doesn’t mean anything offensive in Euskara or Castellano…

One of the things that most impresses me about the Basque Country is the way they embrace everything modern, such as the internet, to help promote such ancient things like their language and culture. It is this confluence of the ancient and modern that makes the Basque Country such a dynamic and intriguing place.

Awards are given in a number of categories. For example, for mobile application, the winner this year is Spotbros, an application for “cloud messaging”, which promises to revolutionize how you share things with your friends. Euskalkultura.com, a news site focused on Basque heritage world-wide and lead by an old friend of mine, Joseba Etxarri, won for the best website in Euskara. There are also prizes for best corporate site, best personal site, and best free software.

A few of the runners-up are also of particular interest. MundakaBC is dedicated to the Basque city of Mundaka, world-famous for its surf. For those of you who are keen about wine, Dastagarri is an app for you. It allows you to keep track of your wine and of notes about wine you’ve tasted, all stored on the cloud for access from anywhere.

The Buber Prizes not only recognize a few outstanding sites, but also the overall effort of the Basque internauts. I’m particularly proud that my “name” is associated with these prizes, as the efforts of the people behind these sites and apps is truly outstanding.

ETA in the news

1389544727_324071_1389544906_noticia_grandeThere has been a lot of activity around ETA and related groups in the Basque Country the last few weeks. First, the European Court of Human Rights ordered Spain to release several prisoners (up to 60) who had been jailed for terrorist attacks. This of course caused significant backlash from the families of the victims of those attacks.

Not long after, a Spanish judge banned a planned demonstration in support of jailed members of ETA. An alternative demonstration went forward anyways, supported by both the main nationalist party the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) and Sortu, the leading leftist party, a rare sign of unity between the parties. The demonstration drew over 100,000 people to the streets of Bilbao. One of the main issues is the relocation of Basque prisoners back to the Basque Country, so that their families are better able to visit them. The demonstration was, naturally, condemned by the Spanish government.

At roughly the same time, the Spanish government launched raids in the Basque Country, arresting and jailing 8 people with suspected ties to ETA.

This is all against a backdrop in which a collective representing Basque prisoners announced that they were dropping certain demands in their negotiations with Madrid, in particular related to a general amnesty.

Sons of the Dawn: A Basque Odyssey by Hank Nuwer

sonsofthedawnwebMy dad has mentioned stories about how sheep herders were treated in cow country. My dad was posted in the hills surrounding Malheur County in Oregon and Owyhee County in Idaho, particularly around Silver City, and while he hasn’t gone into any great detail, there certainly were tensions between cattle folk and sheep folk. And it seems the Basques were somehow in the middle of it.

Hank Nuwer takes these types of historical incidents and builds his novel, Sons of the Dawn, around them. Inspired by newspaper accounts of Basque herders being attacked by cowboys or buckaroos, Nuwer’s novel focuses on that time in the late 1800s when hostilities between the two were particularly tense. Nuwer has an unique perspective on the situation as he is a national expert on hazing and bullying, and his story is reflected through that lens.

Sons of the Dawn is inspired both by newspaper accounts and by Nuwer’s own experiences working with Basque herders, as well as his visit to the Gernika Peace Museum. I haven’t read it yet, but it is high on my reading list. Anyone who has read it, let me know what you thought!

For a few interviews with Hank Nuwer about his novel and the road that lead him to writing it (including an interlude with famous Basque-American author Robert Laxalt), see this article at Nuvo.net and this one at IndyStar.com. The book can be purchased at Amazon.com.