Basque Fact of the Week: The History of Gernika

The Basque city of Gernika, in the heart of Bizkaia, holds a particularly special place in Basque consciousness. It is hugely important as a symbol of Basque rights and democracy, as kings would have to meet local leaders under the famous Tree of Gernika to swear to uphold the rights of the Basques. However, more recently, Gernika has become a darker symbol, a testament to the horrors of war when it was bombed by the German Air Force at the behest of Franco during the Spanish Civil War.

Family and friends with the remains of the old Tree of Gernika.
  • Gernika-Lumo was, at one point, two separate villages. Before they joined together in 1882, they were separately called Gernika and Luno. However, it wasn’t until 1983 that they formally changed their name to the combined Gernika-Lumo. The village of Ajangiz was added in 1943. In 1967, other villages, including Arrazua, Kortezubi, Forua, Murueta and Nabarniz, were temporarily annexed into the larger Gernika-Lumo metropolitan area.
  • However, before that, Gernika was simply part of the antechurch of Luno. Gernika officially became its own village in 1366 when Tello Alfonso, then Lord of Bizkaia, separated it from the jurisdiction of the antechurch of Luno. It was formed at the crossroads that connected Bermeo to Durango and Bilbao to Elantxobe and Lekeitio. This separation caused conflict between the two over who controlled various lands, which wasn’t resolved until 1882 when they were again merged into a single municipal entity.
  • The history of Gernika dates to prehistory, when prehistoric humans painted on the walls of the nearby Santimamiñe cave. Legend says that Jaun Zuria, the White Lord, was given rule of Bizkaia in Gernika, after the battle of Arrigorriaga, said to take place in 870.
  • For many years, what would be Gernika was part of the Kingdom of Pamplona, specifically from 931 to 1076 and again between 1112 and 1175, this latter association ending when Castilian troops invaded and broke up the kingdom.
  • The most enduring and important symbol of the town, the Tree of Gernika, has been a meeting place to decide laws since time immemorial. At least by 1390, the people of Bizkaia demanded that the king come and swear an oath to uphold their rights and freedoms. The fueros of 1452 established this tradition more formally with the new kings of Castille, with Henry IV taking the oath in 1457. The last monarch to take the oath under the tree was the Spanish regent Maria Christina and her infant daughter Queen Isabella II in 1839.
  • Gernika also had a central role in the War of the Bands, which saw rival families fighting one another that evolved into a rural-vs-urban conflict. The Gernika bridge was the scene of multiple fights between the Arteaga and Múgica families in the mid 1400s.
  • Of course, on April 26, 1937, Gernika was bombed during the Spanish Civil War by the German air force. The bombing occurred on market day, when civilians were shopping in the streets.

Primary sources: Castaño García, Manu. Gernika-Lumo. Auñamendi Encyclopedia, 2024. Available at:; Guernica, Wikipedia

The first anniversary of the Texas Resolution and the future National Basque World War II Veterans Memorial

by Pedro Oiarzabal

March 1 marks the first anniversary of the historical resolution that honors, for the first time in the history of the United States, our WWII veterans of Basque origin. The resolution was passed by the Texas House of Representatives, in Austin, thanks to the efforts of Representative Rafael Anchia (HD 103) and the Basque history association, Sancho de Beurko, with the enthusiastic support of the North American Basque Organizations (N.A.B.O.) and the Basque Educational Organization. The non-profit association Sancho de Beurko has led the research project, “Fighting Basques: Memory of WWII,” under the direction of Dr. Pedro J. Oiarzabal and Guillermo Tabernilla, since 2015. “Fighting Basques” is the first-ever systematic academic research on the contributions of WWII veterans of Basque origin in the U.S. Armed Forces and the Merchant Marines. As a result of their work, over 16,000 Basque WWII veterans have been identified so far – very little to nothing was known about most of these veterans prior to the research.

Basque-American Rep. Rafael Anchía introduces the resolution “to honor the World War II veterans of Basque origin who so bravely served our country” to the Texas House Floor on March 1, 2023, and delivers a brief speech in Euskera, the Basque language.

On the Texas House Floor, we witnessed one of the most memorable and heart-warming events in the recent history of the Basque American community. Also, for the first time, Basque was spoken on the House Floor.

Some of the members of N.A.B.O.’s Basques in World War II Memorial Special Committee attending the World Congress of Basque Collectivities, celebrated in Donostia-San Sebastián, December 18-21, 2023. From left to right: Jean Pierre Etchechury, Pedro J. Oiarzabal, Mayi Berterretche Petracek, Kate Camino, and Philippe Acheritogaray.

Two months later, in May 2023, during the Kern County Basque Club’s Memorial Day Weekend festival, N.A.B.O.’s delegates overwhelmingly approved the establishment of the Basques in World War II Memorial Special Committee, led by N.A.B.O.’s treasurer Mayi Berterretche Petracek, with the goal of assisting with the completion of the research of Basques who served in the armed forces during World War II and to explore the feasibility of the creation and installation of a memorial to these Basques. In November 2023, N.A.B.O.’s delegates ratified the Special Committee’s goals: 

1. To seek funding to complete the research, by 2025-2026.

2. To establish the first official memorial site, under the leadership of N.A.B.O., for veterans of Basque origin who served honorably in every branch of the U.S. Armed Forces during WWII in order to recognize their unselfish service to the country, by the end of 2026, coinciding with the 85th anniversary of the U.S. entering war.

On December 5, 2023, a wreath ceremony took place at the Okinawa Peace Memorial Park’s Cornerstone of Peace monument honoring the six young Basque-American soldiers who died in Okinawa in 1945.

In the meantime, on December 5, 2023, a small ceremony took place at the Okinawa Peace Memorial Park’s Cornerstone of Peace monument on the Japanese island of Okinawa in which tribute was paid to all American veterans of Basque origin who died during World War II in the Pacific, with special recognition for those who perished on the island. They were over twenty young Basque-Americans, six of them killed in Okinawa. The Cornerstone of Peace monument features the names of over 240,000 who died during the fighting, from both sides of war. During the planning of the event, sadly we found out that none of the six Basque Americans were on the memorial wall. The Okinawa Prefecture requested from the U.S. government official evidence that the six Basques had died in Okinawa so that they could be included in the memorial. Well, we have some great news to share with you. In mid-February, the U.S. Army and the Department of Defense released all their personnel files to us, so we will be able to add their names to the monument in the near future.

The North American Basque Organizations has launched a fundraising campaign to build the first nation-wide memorial to honor all WWII veterans of Basque origin. To achieve this goal, we need your help.

Within the context of the 42nd anniversary of the San Francisco Basque Cultural Center’s festival, held on February 17-18, in an effort to complete the research and eventually establish a physical memorial to our Basque WWII veterans, N.A.B.O. launched a fundraising campaign. The goal is to complete research by 2025-2026, so that efforts could then turn to creating “The National Basque World War II Veterans Memorial.” In addition, Oiarzabal gave a public talk, entitled “A WWII Memorial for the Basque American Greatest Generation,” which was very well attended. Among the audience there were several families of veterans. 

We strongly believe that the National Basque WWII Veterans Memorial will become a permanent testament to their lives, families’ histories, sacrifices, and contributions to the country. Please consider donating to achieve this noble goal. Remember, your contribution to support this important project is tax-deductible.

“Let no veteran be forgotten.”

The Adventures of Maite and Kepa: Part 183

After cocktails, the four of them wandered the old part of town, stopping here and there for pintxos and drinks. Kepa figured he might regret it the next day, but he tended to order kalimotxos to have that combination of caffeine and alcohol. In the moment, he felt like he could drink them forever, but he knew the morning would tell him otherwise. Still, he indulged himself.

The Adventures of Maite and Kepa is a weekly serial. While it is a work of fiction, it has elements from both my own experiences and stories I’ve heard from various people. The characters, while in some cases inspired by real people, aren’t directly modeled on anyone in particular. I expect there will be inconsistencies and factual errors. I don’t know where it is going, and I’ll probably forget where it’s been. Why am I doing this? To give me an excuse and a deadline for some creative writing and because I thought people might enjoy it. Gozatu!

Maite, on the other hand, was significantly more temperate. She didn’t have an exam coming up or any big homework assignment due, but she planned to spend the next few days in her new research group and she wanted to make a good impression. At the very least, she didn’t want to get on the wrong foot and on the bad side of her professor. Maite had heard that her professor, brilliant though she was, was also very demanding. Having done her graduate work in the United States, she expected long hours and even weekends, something that was almost antethema to the Basque way of life. In any case, Maite knew this was essentially a trial run and if she did not impress her professor, she’d likely have to find a new one.

Belen and Joseba seemed to have no cares. They ate and drank with abandon, as if tomorrow would never come. They were also all over each other – the public displays of affection were almost uncomfortable for Maite. While Joseba had said that his grandfather was from the Basque Country, Maite couldn’t help but wonder if his grandmother might have been Italian. 

At one point, Belen seemed to notice Maite’s discomfort. She chuckled as she said “We’re sorry. It’s just been a little while since we last saw each other.”

“Oh?” asked Maite.

Joseba also chuckled as he dove in to give Belen a kiss on her neck. “I had to go back to Mexico for a few months. My mother had surgery…”

“I hope she is ok!” interjected Kepa.

Joseba nodded. “She is fine, but for a while it wasn’t clear she would be. My father needed some help around the business while my mother was recovering. But,” he added with a sparkle in his eye as he looked at Belen, “I’m back!” He grabbed Belen and pulled her tight against his body as she squealed in delight.

It was late when Kepa and Maite finally got back to their apartment. 

“Ugh,” said Maite as she collapsed on the bed. “The morning is going to be here too soon. I feel like I could sleep for a week.”

Kepa lay down next to her on his side, twirling the curls in her hair. “I have an idea,” he began.

Maite looked at him. “Seriously? I just told you I’m dead tired. I don’t have the energy for…”

Kepa interrupted her with a “Shhh. That’s not what I was thinking.”

Maite sat up, intrigued. “What were you thinking then?”

“Well,” he said. “What if we escaped to one of the bubbles for a little while? It would be like a vacation, except we wouldn’t miss any time here.”

“Most of the bubbles seem to be a dystopian nightmare,” exclaimed Maite. “How would that be relaxing?”

“Well, they are that way because we keep searching out the zatiak. What if we just took a break and relaxed before the mission?”

“Huh.” Maite just sat there, staring off into space. “Did you just think of that?”

“No,” replied Kepa. “I’ve been thinking about it for a while. The bubbles offer us endless possibilities to explore new places without much risk.”

“Ok. I like it. But, how do we even find a bubble on demand? So far, we’ve just accidentally bumped into one.”

Kepa sat up excitedly. “So, I’ve been playing around with my powers while you’ve been at the uni. Up until now, we’ve only been able to find bubbles when we crossed paths with one. But, I think we can find any of them across the world with our powers. Well, at least the ones near us. I think that, as our powers grow, we might be able to reach more and more, but that is just a guess.”

“A nice hypothesis,” added Maite. “It’s worth a shot. Where should we go?”

Kepa’s smile widened. “What do you think about Paris?”

If you get this post via email, the return-to address goes no where, so please write if you want to get in touch with me.

Basque Fact of the Week: Restaurateur Henri Soulé and La Côte Basque

This one maybe goes in the “if” category. La Côte Basque has been in the news a lot lately. La Côte Basque is a chapter in an unfinished novel by Truman Capote named after a famed New York restaurant – it is about New York socialites and is being brought to the small screen as part of Feud: Capote vs the Swans. Of course, the name La Côte Basque is intriguing to someone who runs a blog about all things Basque. The restaurant was opened by Henri Soulé who was from very near the Basque Country. Several places refer to him as being Basque, though I’ve had a hard time definitively pinpointing if he was Basque or not. If anyone has more information, I’d more than welcome it. In any case, it is an interesting story and Soulé certainly lived and worked in the Basque Country.

Henri Soulé at Le Pavillon. Photo found on Restaurant-ing through history.
  • Soulé was born in 1903 in Saubrigues, France, just slightly north of Baiona and Biarritz though strictly outside of the Basque province of Lapurdi. In fact, Wikipedia says he was born in Baiona, but, when he died, Soulé requested to be buried in Saubrigues, which strongly hints at his strong connection to that town. And other references say he was born in Saubrigues. Perhaps incidentally, Soule is the French name for the Basque province of Zuberoa…
  • In any case, when he was fourteen years old, Soulé left home and began working as a busboy at the Continental Hotel in Biarritz. He had been recommended by his uncle who was a baker in Baiona. It wasn’t long before he was in Paris where, by the age of 21, he became the city’s youngest maître d’hôtel. In 1926, he worked in London, at the Tocadero Restaurant in Piccadilly Circus with one goal being to learn English.
  • In 1939, he was asked to run Le Restaurant Français which was part of the French pavilion at the World’s Fair in New York City. When World War II began, he decided to stay in the United States and, in 1941, he opened his first restaurant, Le Pavillon. It became “the undisputed top-ranked establishment in America” and “produced this country’s finest French cuisine.”
  • In 1958, he opened La Côte Basque on the site of the old Le Pavillon, which had moved to another location. The walls were painted with murals of Donibane Lohitzune (Saint-Jean-de-Luz). When it started taking clientele away from Le Pavillon, Soulé sold it but he bought it back only a few years later. It was only a year later that he died of a heart attack, either in the men’s room or on the phone yelling at a union official. When he died, there were some twelve restaurants that had grown out of Le Pavillon.
  • As food writer Patric Kuh describes him, “He was Basque, and he liked to eat flaked salt cod with warm boiled potatoes and chopped parsley.” He was once described by food critic Gael Greene as “pasty faced… with owl eyes,” but also as a “showman, snob, perfectionist, martinet, con-man, wooer and wooed master of haute cuisine.”
  • Soulé was also known to be tyrannical in both his dealings with his staff and his clientele. He supposedly hired criminals to intimidate his staff when they tried to strike for better wages and hours. He controlled where customers sat – he wanted to “bestow” the best, most visible seats to those he deemed worthy and favored. Those who he did not favor got seated in “Siberia.” And he cowed to no one, even having a public spat with the Kennedys during John F. Kennedy‘s presidential run about a photographer he refused to evict.
  • When he died, he left his two restaurants to his widow Olga, who was living in Baiona, and his sister Madeleine. This was surprising to those who knew him, as no one even knew he had a family back in France. They had all assumed that Henriette Spalter, who started as a coat-checker, was his wife, though in reality she was his mistress. Spalter bought La Côte Basque and continued its operation until 1979, when she sold it. It closed permanently as La Côte Basque in 2004. Le Pavillon didn’t last nearly so long, closing in 1971.

Primary sources: Ten Restaurants That Changed America by Paul Freedman, Henri Soulé, Wikipedia; Dining at the Pavillon by Joseph Wechsberg

The Ancient Basque Sport of Qub

I randomly bumped into this searching for something else. I’m not sure whether to laugh or take (mild) offense at this. Maybe we should revive this ancient game…?

This originally appeared in L’Apres-Midi d’un Fan by Roger Angell in the October 17, 1964 issue of The New Yorker. An archive of the issue can be found here.

The October 17, 1964 issue of The New Yorker in which Qub is described…

Spike Ammidown: Wow, Tex! Thanks for that great on-the-spot coverage. Now, before we go to Red Glebman at the World Series — relax, Red, for crying out loud! It’s just a game — we want to bring you a fascinating feature story that I taped in person last week at the village of Izquirra, high in the Basque country of northern Spain, as an exclusive for the “Sunday Sports Shebang.” So, without more ado, we’ll roll that for you. Over to me, in Izquirra! . . . Good afternoon, folks! It’s I, Spike Ammidown, here in the main street of Izquirra, a mighty long way from Pawtucket, from where I’ll be showing you this from next Sunday. Such is the wonder of our shrinking, sports-loving globe! Today I’m going to bring you, exclusive and for the first time on any network, the annual championship game of Qub, the national Basque sport that is played only here in Izquirra. As you can see, I am surrounded by the villagers, who are garbing themselves with their interesting equipment and planning team strategy just before the whistle that will start this exciting eight-hour contest. Standing beside me is Raimondo Uzeuden, the Mayor of Izquirra and the only inhabitant who speaks English, who will explain to us some of the fine points of Qub. Tell us, Mayor Uzeuden, how many players are there on a side in Qub?

Mayor Uzcuden: Eet depends.

Spike Ammidown: I see. And these tall wicker baskets the players are strapping to their heads — what are they called?

Mayor Uzcuden: Zhey have no name. Just old baskets.

Spike Ammidown: Yes. Now, as I understand it, the players catch the ball, or qub, in these head-baskets and then dribble or pass the qub to their teammates at top speed. And the players must keep their hands in their pockets at all times. Is that correct?

Mayor Uzcuden: Ees correct.

Spike Ammidown: And what is the ball, or qub, made of?

Mayor Uzcuden: Sometimes ees a stone. Sometimes ees ball of feathers. This year, ees a Coke bottle.

Spike Ammidown: Golly! And how are the two goals demarcated?

Mayor Uzcuden: Uphill goal ees Don Federico’s donkey. Downhill goal ees bodega window. Goalie pays eef window gets broken. Keeps heem on toes, no?

Spike Ammidown: Thank you, Mayor! Gracias, amigo! And there you have it, Qub fans — the ancient rules of this ancient game! We’ll be back a little later with some great action scenes of this dangerous and lightning-fast sport, but first here’s another message from our sponsor.

Spike Ammidown: Here we are, sports lovers, back in the good old U.S.A. and live at the Pawtucket Golf- A-Way, all ready with more of your “Sunday Sports Shebang.” A few moments ago, we brought you a taped view of some of the complexities of that dangerous Basque game of Qub. Now we know you’re ready for simpler, more familiar fare — a game that you all know and love. In short, it’s pro football time! Buddy Pitts and his crew are perched high above the fifty-yard line at Memorial Stadium in Ottumwa, Iowa, where the second quarter of the game between the Ottumwa Chiefs and the Hannibal Elephants is in progress. Right after this live report, we’ll get back to Red Glebman and the World Series in St. Louis. So take it, Buddy Pitts!

Basque Fact of the Week: The Muslim Banu Qasi Dynasty

I’ve often heard that the Basques have never been conquered. However, during the Muslim invasion of what would eventually become Spain, they reached the borders of the Basque region. This led to significant military, political, and even familial interactions between the Muslims and the Basques. In fact, one of the most prominent families of the time, the Iñigo family that effectively founded the Kingdom of Pamplona, were closely related to their neighbors, the Muslim Banu Qasi family.

Bust of Musa ibn Musa in Tudela. Photo from Wikipedia.
  • The Banu Qasi dynasty is said to have started with the Christian Count Casio, or Cassius, shortly after the arrival of Muslim troops to the Ebro valley in 712 or 713. We know little about Casio himself. He was possibly from the southern Nafarroan town of Tudela. After converting to Islam, he supposedly traveled to Damascus to pledge his loyalty to Al-Walid, the Caliph of the Umayyad.
  • His descendants became known as the Banu Qasi, an important dynasty of rulers in the Ebro valley region. Their territory bordered what would become the Kingdom of Pamplona/Nafarroa to the south.
  • The Banu Qasi family was intertwined with the Iñigo family who were prominent in the Kingdom of Pamplona. Because of their close connections, a member of the Banu Qasi family, Mutarrif ibn Musa ibn Fortun, was appointed governor of Pamplona in 798 (and murdered the following year). Similarly, Onneca, the mother of the first King of Pamplona Eneko (Iñigo) Arista, after the death of Iñigo’s father, married Musa ibn Fortun. Their son, Musa ibn Musa, became an important leader of the Banu Qasi dynasty. Musa, in turn, married one of Arista’s daughters, becoming both his half-brother and son-in-law.
  • Under Musa ibn Musa, the family gained new prominence. He allied with his brother-in-law, García Iñiguez, son of Eneko Arista, to ambush and capture the Wali of Zaragoza, Harit. This in turn led Emir Abd al-Rahman II to attack Pamplona. This cycle of antagonism between ibn Musa and the Emir would continue, with ibn Musa on the losing side and the Emir making greater inroads to Pamplona. Despite this, his power and relationship with the Emir grew and he became ruler of the region. His power and influence were so great that he was sometimes called the third king of Hispania (maybe at his own order).
  • Under Musa ibn Musa, his troops participated with the Basques in the second Battle of Roncevaux (Orreaga) Pass in 824, in which they defeated the advancing Carolingians. This victory led directly to the establishment of the Kingdom of Pamplona.
  • After the death of Eneko Arista in 851, Pamplona aligned itself more with Asturias and less with the Banu Qasi. This rift led ibn Musa, at the behest of the Emir, to plunder Araba, in retaliation for the Basques having helped the Asturians against their interests. ibn Musa’s time ended when he was killed fighting his son-in-law.
  • After his death, ibn Musa’s sons led uprisings in the area, taking several prominent towns in 872. However, their victories were short-lived and by 875 all but one was dead. Because King García Íñiguez of Pamplona and other Basque families had supported these uprisings, the Emir initiated new campaigns against them.
  • ibn Musa’s grandson, Muhammad ibn Lubb, solidified his control of the family by 885. However, the weakening of the emirate in Cordoba meant that there was less central oversight of his rule. He caused significant conflict in the region until his death by treachery in 898. His son Lubb ibn Muhammad continued hostilities until the Jimena family took over the Kingdom of Pamplona from the Iñigo family. In 907, Lubb ibn Muhammad is killed and the decline of the Banu Qasi dynasty begins.

Primary sources: Etxegarai Garaikoetxea, Mikel. Banu Qasi. Auñamendi Encyclopedia, 2024. Available at:; Banu Qasi, Wikipedia

The Adventures of Maite and Kepa: Part 182

Monday night they found themselves at a cocktail bar just a little off one of the main thoroughfares of the Parte Vieja. Maite had never even heard of the place, much less been there, but Belen raved about it. The interior was dark and moody, with couches spread around small tables. Very different from most of the pubs in the old part of town.

The Adventures of Maite and Kepa is a weekly serial. While it is a work of fiction, it has elements from both my own experiences and stories I’ve heard from various people. The characters, while in some cases inspired by real people, aren’t directly modeled on anyone in particular. I expect there will be inconsistencies and factual errors. I don’t know where it is going, and I’ll probably forget where it’s been. Why am I doing this? To give me an excuse and a deadline for some creative writing and because I thought people might enjoy it. Gozatu!

Two bartenders waited behind the bar, and behind them was a huge array of bottles, more than most of the other pubs in town. She and Kepa sat down on one of the couches and perused the menu in front of them while they waited for Belen and her boyfriend. As Maite looked at all of the exotic names, her head began to spin. There were so many choices! She was used to getting a kalimotxo or a gin-kas or a zurito. These menus almost reminded her of the United States – so many choices!

Before she could really delve into the menu, though, the door opened up and Belen walked in with a young man in tow. 

“Epa!” cried Belen as she spotted them and came over, giving both Maite and Kepa kisses on each cheek.

“This is Joseba,” she introduced the man who waited patiently behind her. 

Joseba gave Maite kisses on each cheek and Kepa a firm handshake.

“Nice to meet you two,” he said as he sat down. 

Joseba didn’t look like most of the men who wandered the fiestas and pubs of the Basque Country. Maite had gotten used to the mullet which had either come back in style or never quite got out of style in the Basque Country. And the large hoop earrings. Joseba sported neither. He had longer dirty blond hair that was a bit unkempt. He also sported what she guessed must be perpetual stubble. But, he had an infectious smile. And an odd accent…

“You’re not from around here, are you?” asked Kepa, as Maite elbowed him in the ribs. 

“How rude!” she hissed in his ear, but Joseba just laughed.

“No, no,” he said. “I grew up in Mexico. My grandfather left the Basque Country for work when he was a teenager. He always wanted to come back, but then he made a family there and sort of got stuck, as he would say. But he would always tell these stories about his home, stories that would captivate me. He always talked about the lush mountains, the wonderful beaches, and – “ he glanced over to Belen – “ the beautiful women. I knew I had to come when I got a chance. I’ve been here a few years now, but my Mexican accent still shines through.”

“Is it all you imagined?” asked Maite.

“It’s different, you know. My grandfather, his Euskal Herria was very different than the Euskal Herria of today. I don’t think he would recognize it. It is much more modern than he described. Much more cosmopolitan. And much more diverse. I don’t know if he would like it so much. But, then, I don’t know if he liked Mexico either. It’s where he lived, but I don’t think it was home for him.” Again looking over at Belen, he added with a big smile “But he was right about the Basque women.”

As they were talking, one of the bartenders walked up.

“Can I help you with the menu?” he asked.

Kepa and Maite nodded enthusiastically, prompting the bartender to delve into the details of all of the strange cocktails they served.

If you get this post via email, the return-to address goes no where, so please write if you want to get in touch with me.

Random Bits of Basqueness

Usher and his girlfriend Jennifer Goicoechea. Photo found on USA Today, credit: Kevin Mazur/VF23, WireImage for Vanity Fair.

I woke up today to news alerts that Usher, who performed at the Super Bowl halftime show, had obtained a marriage license with his longtime girlfriend. I normally wouldn’t care, but her name certainly caught my attention: Jennifer Goicoechea. No idea if she is aware of or even cares about her Basque surname, but it jumped out at me…

Basque Fact of the Week: Txorizo (Chorizo) and Txistorra

About the time I went off to college, my dad started making his own chorizo. He’d send me off with packages of frozen sausage – at the time, he’d pack them in a cut up milk jug filled with water and freeze them. So, I’d have rows and rows of chorizo that I’d broken free from the ice laid out on my dorm-room desk to dry. I got more than a few odd looks, but they were wonderful – more tangy than the ones we’d get from the store made by Gem Meat Packing. My dad would always give me a hard time, teasing me about how I could love chorizo so much when they were full of peppers – I hate the taste of peppers, but I never could taste it in the chorizo.

Dad and some of his friends with their racks of chorizo out to dry.
  • Chorizo – txorizo in Euskara – is a pork sausage that is typically cured and dried. It is common to the whole Iberian peninsula – Portugal and Spain. In Spain, there are literally hundreds of local varieties and for a sausage to be called chorizo, it must contain both garlic and paprika (specifically pimentón). Of course, the paprika gives it the mild spiciness and red color that make it stand out. Depending on the variety, it can either be eaten as is – sliced and served – or after cooking (baked, fried, grilled).
  • Chorizo de Pamplona is a variant that is common in Nafarroa. It is distinguished by the more finely chopped meat and the combination of minced pork and beef as well as bacon. It is typically much thicker than other chorizos and is often sliced and used in sandwiches. Chorizo de Pamplona takes about 3 months to cure. The drier climate of Pamplona is essential to this process.
  • Txistorra is another variant of chorizo that is from the Basque Country and Aragon. It tends to be thinner than regular chorizo, only about one inch thick. It has a faster curing time, needing as little as 24 hours to set and 2-3 days to dry. It is thought that it has its origins in Gipuzkoa where it was made with left over pig meat – in some places it is called birika, which means lung in Basque, as it was made with pig’s lung. It is cooked before serving and is usually served as an accompaniment to other foods or as a pintxo. It is particularly popular during the Feria of Santo Tómas. A common dish is txistorra (or txorizo) with fried potatoes and eggs.
  • Chorizos (or chur-dee-shows as they are often called locally) are staples of the Basque festivals in the US west. In fact, I’d go so far to say that you can’t have a Basque festival without chorizo. Down at the Basque Block in Boise, there are “hotdog” stands that sell chorizo (or at least there used to be…) And, because of the popularity of Basque-style chorizo in the region, there are a number of producers: Ansots, Falls Brand, and Hill’s Premium Meats (using the recipe from Gem Meat Packing) are just a few.

Primary sources: Chorizo, Wikipedia; Chistorra, Wikipedia; Chorizo de Pamplona, Wikipedia; Chistorra, Wikipedia

The Adventures of Maite and Kepa: Part 181

After a few weeks, Kepa found his groove at the pub. Iratxe was still a bit rough around the edges, but he enjoyed the comraderie he was building with Belen in the kitchen. She was light-hearted, didn’t take anything too seriously, and laughed as his jokes. And, he admitted to himself, she was quite attractive. If he and Maite weren’t together…

The Adventures of Maite and Kepa is a weekly serial. While it is a work of fiction, it has elements from both my own experiences and stories I’ve heard from various people. The characters, while in some cases inspired by real people, aren’t directly modeled on anyone in particular. I expect there will be inconsistencies and factual errors. I don’t know where it is going, and I’ll probably forget where it’s been. Why am I doing this? To give me an excuse and a deadline for some creative writing and because I thought people might enjoy it. Gozatu!

He’d always stop himself there. Of course he and Maite were together, something he’d dreamt of so many times when they were just friends, just part of the same cuadrilla. He mentally kicked himself whenever he caught himself thinking about Belen. But, sometimes, those thoughts came unbidden.

On one particularly light Tuesday afternoon, Iratxe suddenly appeared in the kitchen. She had a preternatural ability to do that, to appear without notice. Kepa was always taken aback, wondered if she had some kind of special ability of her own that made her even more intimidating than she already was.

“You’ve got a visitor,” she said a bit gruffly, as if he wasn’t supposed to have any kind of visitors.

“A visitor?” he repeated as he threw the dish towel he was using to dry pans over his shoulder. He went around the long way from the kitchen to the bar. And there was Maite, sitting at the bar, looking as marvelous as she always did.

“Maite!” he exclaimed, swooping over to her and putting a little peck on her cheek. “What are you doing here?”

“Classes got out a bit early today and I’m all caught up on my homework, so I thought I’d see where you work.”

Kepa made a grand sweep of his arm. “This is it,” he said. “What do you think?”

“Oh, I like it a lot,” she replied. “It reminds me of my parents’ place.”

Iratxe appeared suddenly behind the bar, conspiculously clinking glasses together as she rearranged them on the shelves.

“Iratxe,” said Kepa, almost timidly. He waited more than a few seconds before she turned around. “This is my girlfriend, Maite.”

Maite stood up and waved to Iratxe. “Nice to meet you,” she said. “And what a marvelous place you have here.”

“Eskerrik asko,” replied Iratxe somewhat stiffly. “It pays the bills.” She paused a moment. “Kepa has really turned out to be a godsend.”

Kepa blushed. Those were the first nice words Iratxe had said since he started here. Before he turned completely red, he grabbed Maite’s hand and pulled her through the dining room. 

“Here, let me introduce you to the others.”

In the kitchen, Belen was cutting up vegetables for the evening soup. She paused as Maite and Kepa came through the doorway.

“Belen, this is my girlfriend Maite. Maite, this is Belen, the other cook here.”

Belen and Maite exchanged kisses on each cheek.

“It’s very nice to meet you,” said Belen. “Kepa talks about you all the time and it is nice to put a face to the stories.”

Maite raised an eyebrow in a way that always made Kepa jealous. “All good things, I hope.”

Belen leaned in and, in a whisper that wasn’t all that quiet, said “He adores you.”

It was Maite’s turn to blush.

“He’s told me about what a wonderful cook you are,” said Maite, changing the subject. “Better than his ama makes.”

Belen laughed. “Now that, I doubt. But thank you.”

“Hey,” she added. “The bar is closed on Monday. Do you want to get a drink? My boyfriend also has the day off.”

Kepa felt an odd pang at the mention of Belen’s boyfriend. She had never mentioned a boyfriend before. But, even so, why should he care?

“We’d love to!” exclaimed Maite.

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