Juan Uberuaga, the Lion of Oiz

juan uberuaga-stoneIn a recent post, I mentioned my dad’s uncle, Juan Uberuaga, who was renown for his strength. He was called “Oizko Lehoia,” or the Lion of Oiz, the mountain peak very near Munitibar. I was recently in the Basque Country and had dinner with his son, who had seen my post, and provided me with a lot more information. It turns out that, like for most of us, once you did a little deeper, there are some fascinating stories waiting to be told.

juan uberuaga-txingasOne story involved a contest between Juan and another strong-man, Gandiaga. In February of 1957, Gandiaga had carried the txingas for “8 1/4 clavos y 5.25 metros”, according to Lucio Doncel Recas in his book Deportes tradicionales de fuerza en España. A clavo is about 28 meters, so this is 236.25 meters, or about 775 feet. This was a competition in Abadiño, where Gandiaga was the winner out of 7 contestants. A few months later, in May, Juan and Gandiaga had a “dual” of sorts in Durango. Gandiaga could only muster 119 meters this time, while Juan won the day with 261 meters. The very next day, Juan left for America to become a sheepherder, where he joined his brother, Jose, who had already been there a few years.

(A funny aside regarding Tio Joe, as we call him. My dad would simply call him Tio. Well, my mom, when she addressed my uncles on her side, would always call them by their name, so I always thought Tio Joe’s name was Tio, so we called him Uncle Tio. Funny how kids think.)

 

juan uberuaga-treeIn the United States, Juan continued his feats of strength. The book The Super-Athletes, by David P. Willoughby, mentions that, in 1958 in Boise, Juan “carried two 103-pound stones equipped with handles a distance of 240 yards.” That’s nearly two and a half football fields, effectively carrying two “suitcases” that each weigh about 100 pounds.

When he returned to Euskadi, Juan entered more txinga contests. In 1977, twenty years after his battle with Gandiaga, Juan won a contest in Mallabia, where he was first out of thirteen contestants, carrying the txingas for a distance of 281 meters.

juan uberuaga-trophyJuan, the Lion of Oiz, was the txinga champion of Bizkaia, at least once. It was in recognition of his skill and excellence in the sport that they threw that homage to him I mentioned last time, the sporting exhibition in which he was a guest of honor. By that time, Juan had had a stroke that left him in a wheelchair and he was no longer the paragon of strength he had been his whole life, but it was a touching moment to remember one of the old great ones. Juan was also a champion in the US, in 1961.

It is interesting that, in the time of Juan, the longest distances were about 10 or so clavos but, in the 1980s and later, the distances doubled or tripled. This is because, as pointed out here, the txingas used by athletes such as Juan had thick rings to hold and they swayed a lot, making carrying them much more difficult. The basic design changed in the 80s and gave the athlete more control and made carrying the txingas much easier. Today, the best carry 100 pound weights in each hand for over a kilometer, or more than half a mile! I wonder how far Juan might have carried the new fangled txingas?

Two Basque History Lessons: Anaiak Danok and Refugee Children in Bristol

Here are two articles that provide some interesting Basque history, both outside of the Basque Country.

anaiokThe first, an article at the Blue Review by Kyle Eidson and Dave Lachiondo, describes an interesting period in the history of the Basque diaspora in Boise. During the middle of the 1950s, when new Basques were immigrating to the United States from Franco’s Spain, there was much more political awareness of what was occurring back in Spain than had been true of the previous generations. Many of these Basques had experienced life under Franco’s rule, and were interested in what they could do against it. This lead to the formation of the group Anaiak Denok (All Brothers), which brought together like-minded Basques who discussed these issues. The most prominent member, Pete Cenarrusa, was of course also heavily involved in Idaho politics, and his two passions often overlapped. Dave and Kyle describe how, in the end, it was different views of ETA that ultimately lead to the end of the group.

bristol-refugeeAlso related to the after-effects of the Spanish Civil War, the second article, published on the Bristol Post’s website, delves into the role that the city of Bristol played in adopting 4000 Basque refugee children escaping the ravages of the War. These children, ranging in age from 5-15 years old, were originally expected to spend only about 3 months in the UK before being returned to the Basque Country. Things didn’t turn out quite like that.

There is a funny little anecdote that the children misunderstood and thought that the straw that was being used for their bedding was what they were meant to eat for dinner.

 

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.

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