Category Archives: People

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Gnarled and Twisted

I visited my dad a few weekends ago. On the way home after taking him to a doctor’s appointment, we decided to stop to visit a couple of friends. Old friends, friends that had come over, like my dad, from the old country, who, like him, had made their life off the land of the western US.

Our first stop was one I knew well. An old buddy of my dad’s, one that he still gets together with to make chorizo and play mus, as a dairy between Boise and Homedale. We pulled into his drive way and he came trudging out of the barn. He doesn’t have so many cows any more, but he still plugs away. He and dad chatted about lots of things — various people they knew, the changes in the dairy business since they were younger — while we all sipped on beer, wine, or diet coke.

We then moved on to our second stop. This friend had just harvested his grapes and was in his garage, getting things ready to make wine. He had big bags of walnuts too, collected from his trees. If I recall correctly, this old Basque had made his living in the mills near Boise. He and dad had grown up together in the Basque Country and their talk drifted towards the girls they knew back then (how different would life have been if my dad had settled with a girl in the old country).

While talking to these guys, or better said listening, as they would drift between English and Basque, with some Spanish cuss words thrown in for good measure (to break up the English cuss words), I couldn’t help but notice their hands. These are men who had used their hands as tools, just like I might use a hammer, it seemed. Their hands were massive, with large knots for knuckles. Finger nails were deformed, having been smashed multiple times during a life of hard manual labor. They reminded me of some old tree, a tree that has been hit by the multiple forces of nature and man, and while damaged and scarred, still stands tall. Hands with fingers that bend in ways that they didn’t when these men were children, like some twisted branches off of the trunk of a tree.

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Tio Joe. Photo credit: Lisa Van De Graaff.

I couldn’t help but think of my Tio Joe, who simply has these massive hands. Hands that seem primal in form, the result of a lifetime of use. Not abuse, as they have been extremely productive, but they show the wear and tear of a life of hard work. The fingers don’t have the dexterity they were born with, but rather are almost lumpy appendages that seem to get in the way more than actually help.

Then, I look at my hands, hands that are soft in comparison. Hands that maybe have a scar or two, but are overall in good shape. When I compare my hands with their hands, I feel a twinge of guilt, born of a career spent at a computer, using my hands not to wield axes or buck bales of hay, but of typing and writing. These men have hands that were strong. They may not be now, but they had such strength in their prime.

But, then, I realize that this is the whole point. My dad left the Basque Country to find a better life, a life with opportunity, at least more opportunity than seemed possible at the time in Spain. All of these men did. They worked hard at what they knew best, using their hands, their shoulders, their backs to make the best life they could in a foreign land. They worked hard to make their life and the lives of their offspring the best they knew how. My dad worked so hard so that I wouldn’t, at least not that kind of work. I work hard in my own way, but it isn’t the back-breaking work my dad, or his friends, did.

Those hands, then, are part of the legacy of the ambition that brought these men to the US. Hands that the women who came also have, hands that suffered decades of abuse in the name of a better life. Hands that provided that life for countless sons and daughters.

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Two New Basque Novels: The Hammer of Witches and The Invisible Guardian

The Basque Country is central to two new Basque novels that

Hammer-of-WitchesThe Hammer of Witches, by Begoña Echeverria, takes place during the Spanish Inquisition, a time when Basques accused other Basques of being witches, when witches were burned for presumed heresy against the Church, and when a few brave souls fought back against such maleficent forces. Echeverria’s novel, though fictional, takes place during the peak of the Inquisition, as a cast of characters including a priest, a mysterious woman, and a young lady all navigate this dangerous time. Echeverria did extensive research to make the setting of her novel as historically accurate as possible. Here is an interview both about her motivation and her approach to writing this novel. The book can be purchased form the Center for Basque Studies.

Zaindari-IkusezinaThe Invisible Guardian (El guardián invisible in Spanish and Zaindari Ikusezina in Basque) by Dolores Redondo, isn’t exactly new. Published in 2013, Redondo’s novel takes place in the modern Basque Country, in the valley of Baztan. It follows a young detective, Amaia, who’s job is to uncover the mystery behind some recent murders. However, there are elements of the supernatural, of Basque legend, that creep into the story, and that confuse Amaia’s investigation. Could those stories her grandmother told her as a little girl be true? Could the fantastic creatures of legend be responsible for the murders?

Unfortunately, The Invisible Guardian isn’t available in English, yet, though an English translation is expected in 2015. There is, however, a comic book in the works and possible movie plans. Further, The Invisible Guardian is the first in a series of three novels following Amaia’s adventures in the Basque Country. Redondo has been labeled the rising Basque star of crime fiction, combining the standard tropes of that genre with a strong heroine and fantastical elements from Basque mythology to create something new.

Both of these novels sound intriguing and I’m looking forward to reading both.

Indispensable Man by Saxon Uberuaga

Found this during some random searching. Not Basque, exactly, but written by a Uberuaga (by marriage) and I thought it worth sharing.

Indispensable Man

Sometime when you’re feeling important;
Sometime when your ego’s in bloom
Sometime when you take it for granted
You’re the best qualified in the room,

Sometime when you feel that your going
Would leave an unfillable hole,
Just follow these simple instructions
And see how they humble your soul;

Take a bucket and fill it with water,
Put your hand in it up to the wrist,
Pull it out and the hole that’s remaining
Is a measure of how you’ll be missed.

You can splash all you wish when you enter,
You may stir up the water galore,
But stop and you’ll find that in no time
It looks quite the same as before.

The moral of this quaint example
Is do just the best that you can,
Be proud of yourself but remember,
There’s no indispensable man.

saxon-uberuaga“Indispensable Man” was originally published in “The Nutmegger Poetry Club” under the name Saxon Uberuaga. It has also been published in “Boots” in Spring 1993, in “The Country Courier” 1996, “Rhyme Time” in Winter 2000, and in “Golden Times” in August 2003.

Saxon White Kessinger was a member (and past president) of Gem State Writers’ League and a member of Idaho Writers’ League. She was an award winning writer, receiving Idaho Writers’ League “2003 Lifetime Achievement Award,” “Writer of the Year” in 1992, 1995, and 2002 and “Poet of the Year” in 1999 and 2000 from her Idaho State Leagues. She published various poetry offerings and many articles in various newspapers and magazines. She died in 2010 in Idaho.

Inside the kitchen of Elena Arzak

In 2012, Elena Arzak was named the Best Female Chef in the world. Arzak, the restaurant she runs with her father, was named the 8th best restaurant in the world in 2014 by Restaurant Magazine. The New York Times took a brief look into her world and this video provides a glimpse inside the kitchen of renowned chef, Elena Arzak.

http://nyti.ms/Qc8OSi

A Basque Costume Party: A Traditional Fiesta of Demons, Chain Wielding Tigers, and Bell Carriers

The International Business Times has some fascinating photos of costumed revelers at fiestas in Zubieta and Ituren. Some of them wear bells to make noise and scare away evil spirits. The noise also wakes up the land, getting it ready to produce for the next farming/harvesting cycle. See the link for more photos.

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Gure Esku Dago — It’s in Our Hands

Back in June, right after I visited the Basque Country, citizens across the region held a peaceful demonstration in support of greater autonomy for the Basque people. The demonstration, called Gure Esku Dago, or It’s in Our Hands, consisted of around 150,000 people holding hands in a chain that extended from Durango to Pamplona, roughly 76 miles long. The goal is to demonstrate the desire of the Basque people for greater autonomy and more control over their own destiny. In particular, the participants support the right of the Basque region to decide their future, a referendum on self-determination.

It was inspired by a similar event that drew over 1 million people in Catalunya in September as well as even older events. These human chains have been a peaceful way of demonstrating since at least the 1980s. In 1986, possibly the longest chain, with 5 million people, was formed in the United States to raise awareness for hunger.

In Munitibar, where my dad is from, the local residents created a short video to promote the event. It features various people in Munitibar (my cousin appears around the 2:20 mark) waving and showing their hand to the camera.