Category Archives: History

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 This graphic novel, based on historical documents of Basque derring-do on the high seas, culminates the grand adventures of Joanes and his crew as they encounter deadly pirates, an even deadlier monster whale,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.

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.

Robert Laxalt: Story of a Storyteller by Warren Lerude

Lerude ppbk cover.inddProbably most Basque-Americans are vaguely familiar with who Robert Laxalt was, though the Laxalt name might be more recognizable because of his brother, Paul Laxalt, who was a Senator from and Governor of Nevada. Robert was a writer who distilled the Basque-American experience into simple but stark stories of life in the Nevada hills. His stories explored Basque identity both in the American West as well as in the Basque Country, which was the focus of a couple of his books. My favorite book of his, though, doesn’t deal with the Basques at all. A Man In The Wheatfield deals with a small rural western American town and the people and their fears that govern the life within the town. It’s been a long time and I’ve forgotten most of it, but I remember a scene dealing with rattlesnakes that was pretty intense (clearly, I need to go back and read his books again!). The other minor anecdote I have about Laxalt is that, by pure chance, browsing a used bookstore in Albuquerque I ran across a signed copy of one of his books, a cool buried treasure I chanced upon.

If you haven’t read any of his books, I would highly recommend them, even to someone with minimal or no interest in the Basques themselves. Laxalt’s writing is wonderful and paints a vivid picture of life in the American West. It’s not for nothing that he was nominated for the Pulitzer twice.

This all brings me to a new book, a biography of Laxalt by Warren Lerude entitled Robert Laxalt: Story of a Storyteller, published by the Center for Basque Studies at the University of Nevada, Reno. I haven’t read Professor Lerude’s biography yet, but I’m hoping it captures that magic I encountered in reading Laxalt’s words. You can read some advance praise about the book here and here.

Basque Journal BOGA has been launched!

It’s been a while since I’ve been able to do any updates. I hope to do a series of them over the next few weeks and get reasonably “caught up”.

A while back, I blogged about a new journal, BOGA, that intended to take up the reins of the former Journal of Basque Studies in America as a vehicle for publishing original research about the Basque people and culture in English. BOGA’s mission statement is:

This journal is a multi-disciplinary, peer-reviewed academic publication dedicated to the scholarly study of all aspects of Basque culture with the aspiration to foster a better understanding of Basque culture and heritage in its diverse aspects by disseminating original works of interest to an English speaking audience and to encourage interaction–learning links–among academics from various learning traditions; e.g., linguistic, philosophical, anthropological, ethnological, historic, literary, artistic, religious, economic, cultural, international relations, etc.

It is very exciting to report that BOGA has launched its inaugural issue! The issue features articles by William Douglass on Basque Immigration to the United States, an article on Basque literature by David Laraway, and another on the Etxepare Institute by Sho Hagio.

I’m not very familiar with the original Journal of Basque Studies in Americabeyond an article I wrote in 2000 on the then-state of the Basque presence on the Internet, but it seems that BOGA takes the scholarship of the Journal to another level, and is thus an admirable successor to the spirit of the Journal of Basque Studies in America that provides an excellent vehicle for promoting the Basques and their culture.

Zorionak Boga!

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The Basque Diaspora Webscape by Pedro Oiarzabal

It’s been a while since I’ve been able to do any updates. I hope to do a series of them over the next few weeks and get reasonably “caught up”.

Diaspora Online_PBack_cover.inddPedro Oiarzabal has been a dedicated researcher of the use of the internet and modern media to connect peoples, especially diasporas separated by great distances and, in many cases, language and local culture. His most recent book on the subject just came out. The Basque Diaspora Webscape: Identity, Nation, and Homeland, 1990s-2010s looks at how the internet helps not only transmit culture, but helps shape identity, at how the internet provides a vehicle to promote culture in a new way. I haven’t had the chance to read it yet, but it looks like a very interesting look at how an ancient culture such as that of the Basques intersects with the most modern means of communication to create something new.

You can learn more about the book by listening to Pedro’s interview for Radio Euskadi (in Spanish).

Zorionak Pedro!