Category Archives: People

Did you know…?

Wolfram_evaporated_crystals_and_1cm3_cubeThe element tungsten was discovered by two Basque brothers, Juan José and Fausto Elhuyar Lubize, in 1783?

Tungsten is an incredibly important element. Having the highest melting point of any element, it is extremely hard and durable, used in light bulbs, x-ray tubes, as piercing armament, and catalysts. Tungsten is also proposed as an important material for ITER, the demonstration fusion reactor being built in France.

sello_189187The Elhuyar brothers were born in Logroño, La Rioja (Juan in 1754 and Fausto in 1755) to French-Basque parents from Hasparren, France, in the Basque province of Lapurdi. Fausto, at least, became a professor at the University of Vergara and later founded the School of Mines in Mexico City.

Today, the Elhuyar Foundation is dedicated to bringing together science and the Basque language.

Tungsten, officially known as wolfram, is a Swedish word that means “heavy stone” while wolfram means something like “wolf’s froth/cream”, as a consequence of the extraction process of a mineral containing tungsten. If the Elhuyar brothers had given it a Basque name, maybe we’d now be calling it harri-astuna or otso-apar.

The Auñamendi Eusko Entziklopedia has more details (in Spanish) on both Juan and Fausto, including short videos.

Did you know…?

Bilbao, the capital of Bizkaia, was known for its steel. So well known that a type of sword popular in England and America was called a bilbo, after the Basque city. (In Basque, the name of Bilbao is Bilbo…)  In Basque, they were called Labana Bizkaitarrak. These swords were made in Bilbao and exported widely.

This sword was popular because it was typically well forged and very flexible.

Bilboes also refers to a type of shackles, put around the ankles to immobilize people. While it isn’t so obvious that the name of these shackles also comes from the Basque city, the fact that they were made of steel suggests it is possible. Joseba Zulaika, in his book That Old Bilbao Moon, suggests the same origin for the name. However, these devices were in use before Bilbao started exporting steel to England. In any case, these bilboes have a dark history, used to confine prisoners and slaves.

240px-Bilbo_Baggins_Tolkien_illustrationThe most famous Bilbo, these days, is Bilbo Baggins, of The Hobbit fame. While it isn’t clear where J. R. R. Tolkien got the name for his character, at one point Bilbo finds a sword, called Sting, that plays an immensely important role in the story of Mr. Baggins. It is possible that Tolkien named his character after the sword or, maybe more probable, was inspired by the name he had chosen for his character to outfit him with a sword.

The photo of bilbo, the sword, not Bilbo, the hobbit, linked to above is from this site. The image of Bilbo Baggins was taken from Wikipedia, but drawn by Tolkien.

More information about Gure Esku Dago talk

Jon Camio, one of the speakers at the Together or Nothing at All conference during Jaialdi, sent me some more information about the  event. The Agirre Center, where ex-Lehendakari Juan Jose Ibarretxe is now based, has posted more details about the conference. You can find that information here.

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Basque Explorers in the Pacific Ocean by William A. Douglass

BEPO Cover MapBetter2.inddWilliam A. Douglass, one-time Coordinator of what is now the Center for Basque Studies at the University of Nevada, Reno and prolific author on Basque history, is out with a new book on the Basque explorers who navigated the Pacific Ocean, from Elkano (the Basque sailor who took over Magellan’s expedition when Magellan was killed in the Philippines) to later explorers.  Basque Explorers in the Pacific Ocean recounts the stories of these Basques and their role in Spanish and ultimately European activities in the Pacific. From the website:

The Pacific Ocean was for several centuries, from the discovery of the Strait of Magellan in 1520 until Cook’s voyages in the 1700s, considered to be the “Spanish Lake.” However, Spain was never a monolithic entity and this book then considers “Spanish” exploration in the Pacific from the perspective of the Basques, who have an important maritime tradition and were key figures in Pacific exploration. From Juan Sebastián Elkano’s taking over command of the Victoria after Ferdinand Magellan’s death and completing the first circumnavigation of the planet to Andrés de Urdaneta’s discovery of the north Pacific route from the Philippines to modern-day Acapulco, Mexico, Basque mariners and ships were pivotal in European incursion into this vast area. 

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Jaialdi is coming, are you ready?

jaialdi3Jaialdi is getting closer and closer. Are you excited? I know I am, ready to see friends and family and a few kalimotxos too. Lots of people are working hard to get things ready. I thought I’d share a few things I’ve come across as we get closer to the big weekend.

The official website for Jaialdi is www.jaialdi.com, where you can find information about lodging, the schedule of events, vendors, sponsors, and more. Things start off on Tuesday and Wednesday with Welcome to Boise, but things really get going on Thursday with Sports Night and Street Dance. Events wrap up on Sunday at the Expo and a final Street Dance to close out the festivities.

In conjunction with Jaialdi, Athletic Bilbao, one of the premier soccer teams in Spain, will come and play Mexico’s Club Tijuana Xoloitzcuintles de Caliente in a friendly match at Albertson’s Stadium (the stadium where the Boise State Broncos play) on July 29. Tickets are already half-way sold, so if you want to join in on the fun, you better hurry.

A lot of work has been going on behind the scenes to get this friendly to happen. Originally, Athletic Bilbao was going to play a MLS team from the Pacific Northwest, but that fell through. And regulations state that the game has to be played on real turf (not that blue stuff the Broncos play on) so that had to be arranged. One of the drivers organizing this event is Argia Beristain and in this article in the Boise Weekly she gives up some of the dirt on how this was all pulled together.

What else should everyone know about? What are you looking forward to the most? Me, I’m looking forward to a kalimotxo on the Basque Block, talking to old friends, and maybe a few new ones too.

Luze ta oparo bizi: Leonard Nimoy’s Basque connection

Screen Shot 2015-02-27 at 8.34.17 PMLeonard Nimoy, beloved actor who is best known for his role as Mr. Spock, died today at the age of 83. He is of course world-renowned for his contributions to the Star Trek franchise, but he was a versatile actor, appearing in many movies, television series, and on Broadway. What I didn’t know was that he also had a Basque connection.

This NPR story highlights how Nimoy, before he got his big break on Star Trek, was a journey-man actor, playing primarily ethnic roles. One of those roles was on the TV show Wagon Train, which follows a wagon train as it makes its way across the American West, from Missouri to California. In the 4th episode of season 3, entitled The Esteban Zamora Story, the plot deals with a trio of Basque sons, one of which is found dead with a knife. When their father joins them from the old country and learns of his son’s death, he is honor-bound, as are all Basques, to avenge his son. Leonard Nimoy plays one of the sons, Bernabe Zamora. Ernest Borgnine, that venerable veteran of film and TV, plays his dad, Esteban Zamora.

This bit from the Basque media outlet EITB, playing on the resemblance between Mr. Spock and the previous Lehendakari of the Basque Country, Jose Ibarretxe, examines in detail the show’s interpretation of Basque culture, including the quite stunning outfit that Mr. Borgnine wears in honor of his home town.

At the risk of spoiling the show, here is the synopsis from IMDB:

Scouting ahead of the train Flint discovers a young man bleeding to death from a stab wound and a knife nearby. He takes the body and knife to Sheriff Hixon who he knows. The Sheriff recognizes the body as that of the youngest Zamora brother who has a reputation as a trouble maker. His father Estaban Zamora, a Basque from Spain, is on the train planning to join his three sons in the new country herding sheep. The sons tell him a horse fell killing his son but Estaban quickly realizes they are lying. The Basque tradition requires the father to exact revenge for the killing of a son. Everyone including the sons want to prevent Estaban from following the tradition. As Esteban asks questions, he soon learns his youngest son was running with a group of sheep rustlers and the family name is smeared. The Sheriff tells Estaban there is little evidence showing him the knife Flint recovered. Estaban recognizes the knife as one he made for his sons and confronts the eldest son Manuel. His wife shows Estaban Manuel’s knife to protect her husband forcing Estaban to learn the painful truth.

Thanks to Guillermo Zubiaga for translating “live long and prosper” to Euskara!