Basque Nuclear

Last week, while visiting the campus of the University of California, Berkeley, for a kick-off meeting for a new project, we visited the Department of Nuclear Engineering. Nuclear Engineering is housed in Etcheverry Hall, clearly named after a Basque. It turns out that Bernard A. Etcheverry was a professor of irrigation and drainage during 1915-1951. So, he himself had nothing to do with nuclear engineering, though the building did house a research reactor from about 1966 to 1987. There are Basque connections everywhere.

Seeing Etcheverry’s name on that building reminded me of the Lemoniz Nuclear Reactor. Did you know there was a nuclear reactor built in the Basque Country, not too far from the now world-famous San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, where Game of Thrones has filmed? During a visit to the Basque Country a few years ago (back in 2014), I dragged my family to see the site. I am pro-nuclear energy, as, in my view, it is one of the few proven CO2-free energy sources and one of the most critical ways for us to reduce green house emissions and counter climate change. My research is focused on understanding the fundamental interactions between radiation in reactors and materials, with the goal of ultimately designing materials that make reactors and nuclear energy both safer and more efficient.

In any case, as I was saying, during a drive along the Bizkaian coast, I asked my family if they would mind going a little out of the way to see the reactor site.  It is on the coast of the Basque Country, only about 30 kilometers from the heart of Bilbao. Construction on the Lemoniz Nuclear Power Plant began in the 1970s but was officially cancelled in 1983. It was the subject of heavy anti-nuclear protest and attacks by ETA, which resulted in at least 5 deaths. One of these involved the kidnapping and later execution of the lead engineer on the project, which resulted in the first anti-ETA demonstrations in the Basque Country.

Today, the site sits more or less abandoned, but still protected by a large fence. We could only see the site through the fence and from above, from an overlook. When we pulled up to the front gate to get as close of a look as I could, a security guy drove up, wondering what we were doing there. I was nervous for a moment, as I clearly didn’t belong there, but he only asked what I was doing and didn’t really stop me. I snapped a few pictures and then left. 

Regardless of one’s views on nuclear energy, it seems to me a big waste to let this site just sit there. These massive reactor buildings are now collecting moss and show other signs of decay. You can tell from the pictures that the site has been overgrown with plants. It seems that they could make a great night club or concert venue. The reactors were never operated, so I don’t expect there is any issue with radioactivity. Why not use the site for something interesting? It isn’t being used for anything. Wouldn’t it make for a cool science museum?

Paisley Lauburuak

The other day, I had an epiphany. Staring at some designs, I realized that the patterns that are in paisleys look like the leafs of lauburus — the traditional Basque “four-headed” symbol that decorates ancient headstones and now is the de facto symbol of the Basques, appearing everywhere.

So, I had to play a bit and make some lauburus from some online paisley patterns. 

When I told my wife about my epiphany, she gave me a look that said “Duh!” and said something to the effect of “You just now realized that?”

Just because I had an epiphany doesn’t mean others haven’t had it thousands of times already…

The original paisley art is from these sites: Vectors by and Designed by Freepik.

Buber’s Basque Mix

One of the most striking things for me when I first visited the Basque Country was the music. In jukeboxes in the bars where we played foosball, there were bands I had never heard. While the rest of the US was enraptured by Nirvana, I was discovering the Basque music scene. Negu Gorriak. Kortatu. Su Ta Gar. These bands, literally, rocked my world. Growing up, I had only known trikitixa and the other types of songs played at Basque dances. I’d never heard this modern, edgy and, frankly, angry music that seemed to surround me in the Basque Country.

To me, the music of the Basque County seemed to reflect some kind of odd dichotomy of the the place itself. On the one had, there was the folk music. The accordion, the melodic singing, the tambourine. The traditional old ways that defined the nostalgic view of the Basque Country. On the other, there was this rebellious punk and metal music. Loud guitars, angry voices, fast tempos. The modern music that represented the future, the way that the Basque Country didn’t stay static, but constantly evolved. There seemed to be little in between. (Of course, now I know there there is a whole spectrum, but back then it seemed so binary to me.) The music seemed to represent the country as a whole: urban versus rural, tradition versus modernization, folk versus punk. And, for someone who, at the time, really didn’t like the dancing and the folk elements so much, the modern punk and rock music really resonated. I came home with tapes of Negu Gorriak, Kortatu, and Su Ta Gar.

Bringing this kind of music home led to a weird connection with my dad. I’d “force” him to play bands like Negu Gorriak in the family car when we went places. My other music, the loud, obnoxious American bands, never bothered him much, probably because he never understood the words. With these bands, he understood the words, of course, at least most of them. He would give me looks, and say “what the hell is this?” I would enthusiastically respond “Basque music!” Later, to try to bridge the gap, I got him some Basque folk music, stuff he knew from his childhood but which he never listened to at home. It turned out that, to him, there was music from Bizkaia and there was everything else. Negu Gorriak, folk songs from Gipuzkoa, these might as well all been that obnoxious American stuff his kid listened to that just sounded like noise.

Later, I began appreciating some of the other forms of Basque music. I really got into txalaparta, it being so distinctive and primitive. I even like some of the more traditional music. Some of the songs by Oskorri really resonate. And, as demonstrated by my admittedly less than glamorous foray into singing (fortunately, my daughter more than salvages that performance), I like some of the folk songs that resonated with my dad. 

Once in a while, I discover a new band that is just great. A few years ago, while visiting my uncle and hanging out in his bar, I heard what I thought was an awesome song on the radio. After a little searching on the internet, I discovered Buitraker, who I think is simply amazing. They even have a song about me, of sorts (did you know that Burt and Ernie, in Spain, are Blas and Epi?) I even convinced a friend to stock her Spanish import store with a bunch of Basque music. Unfortunately, I think I’m the only one who liked the modern stuff, but I discovered Nok that way. 

All of this is to say that I’ve created a Youtube list of some of my favorite Basque music: Buber’s Basque Mix. It’s a mix of folk and modern, loud and melodic, traditional and not-so-much. Putting this together, I’ve discovered some new-to-me bands, such as Vendetta. While most people probably won’t like everything here, it’s all stuff I like and I hope that many of you will too.

Hell yeah! Hella Basque is Back!

Hella Basque is a blog by Anne-Marie, a young Basque woman who grew up in the Bay Area of San Francisco, California. Hella Basque started maybe five years ago and gave a youthful perspective on being Basque in the United States, a view that resonated with many readers. Anne-Marie, a veteran of the Basque festival circuit, shared views about being Basque-American that you simply couldn’t find anywhere else, even discussing issues such as how woman are treated at and experience those festivals. However, about three years ago, Anne-Marie took a break from the blogging world, deciding to take some time to travel and further her education. 

Now, she is back! Spurred on, in part, by her aita’s constant refrain “Right or wrong, do something,” Anne-Marie has rejoined the blogging world. Her first post, Hella Basque is Back, describes her hiatus and her reasons for coming back to revive her online presence, and most intriguingly, teases some big plans in the works.

Welcome back, Hella Basque! We missed your fresh voice and look forward to seeing the new and improved version!

Returning Home

My dad left the Basque Country for the United States when he was 18. As many others before, including three uncles who were already in the US, he was looking for a better life. After three years of sheepherding, he went back to the Basque Country with enough money to buy an apartment in Gernika. But, the opportunity arose again to return to the US and make some more money. During this second contract, fate took a different turn. He met my mom, got married, had three kids, and stayed the rest of his life in the US.

Though he spent the vast majority of his life in the US, his head and his heart were, it seemed to me, always in the Basque Country. Not necessarily the Basque Country of today, with its punk music, its metropolitan cities, and its graffiti seemingly everywhere, but of the “good old days” of life on the baserri, the dances in the plaza, and the sports in the fronton. That was his gold standard of life, and nothing in the US ever lived up to it. 

So, after he died, I really wanted to take something back to his home, back to the baserri. Something of him to take back home. A couple of weeks ago, we were able to do that.

My wife’s dad made a small wooden box that we filled with both small things of his, such as the belt buckle he often wore, as well as notes and recuerdos from us. My mom, my wife, my daughter, and I all put something in there. My uncle, my dad’s lone remaining brother, dug a hole under the apple tree they planted some 40 years ago, during Christmas, outside the family baserri. My daughter and I, surrounded by my uncle, my aunts, and numerous cousins, then buried the box with a few of our thoughts and memories under that tree. Returning something of my dad back to his home.

My own contribution was a little story about what I remember most about growing up and being with my dad:

Blas Pedro Uberuaga

I pick the rope off the ground, gripping it tightly in my hand.

I climbed a lot of these ropes when I was a kid. They held the haystacks together on dad’s truck. Sometimes, I climbed them just for fun, when his truck, parked on the street, loomed over the house, over the neighborhood. My short legs stretched and searched for the footholes that dad and his partners left in the stack. Reaching over the top was always the scariest bit, but, as I got older, that got easier too. We used to climb up and jump from the stack on one trailer to the other. I remember falling once, but now it seems like it would have been so high off the ground. Maybe it wasn’t me, maybe it was one of my brothers. Or maybe it was a figment of my imagination. I can’t remember.

When I went with dad on his runs, it was my job to climb up and unhook the come-along rope puller. After I freed the ropes, I’d either climb down the front, where I could get my feet on the wall separating the first trailer and the cab, or wait until dad unloaded enough hay for me to climb down.

I wrap the rope around my hand. With the five other men, I lift the coffin off the ground.

When I was a kid, dad and his partners loaded and unloaded the truck by hand, but when I got older, dad got a tractor and was able to load and unload by himself. I would still go with him sometimes, mostly to untie the ropes and give him some company. I no longer needed to climb those ropes, but, once in awhile, I still did. Most of the time, though, I would sit on the end of the hay grapple and he would lift me up to the top of the stack. Once I untied one trailer, he would  carry me over to the other. I’d untie that one and then he would lift me down and I would collect the ropes. Dad taught me how to weave the rope between my arms, in a figure eight, to bundle them up.

Once, during Thanksgiving break, or maybe even on Thanksgiving Day itself, we were driving along the highway when the truck got sluggish. It was a cold morning, somewhere below zero. In later years, dad would say it was minus forty. Anyways, he pulled over and found that the diesel in the lines had gelled up, it was so cold. He got out his lighter and heated the metal diesel line by hand. That was enough to get the diesel flowing and we got going again.

The six of us carry the coffin over to the grave and then gently lower it into the hole.

Going with dad on his hay runs was really the only time we ever had time, just the two of us. We never talked much, we would just drive down the freeway or along some remote dirt road, sitting high off the ground, watching the scenery pass by. Dad could navigate his truck along the narrowest mountain passes. We had our stash of soda and sandwiches. I would drink my Mountain Dew while dad smoked his cigarettes, and we would listen to the chatter on the CB. The only real advice he ever gave me was to make sure that I worked in a place with air conditioning, so I didn’t have to work outside in the baking sun like a “jackass” like he did. Ironically, I can’t turn the air conditioning off in my office and it is always too cold.

Once or twice, he let me drive his truck. I never drove as much as my brothers. I’m not sure if dad didn’t think I was very good at it or didn’t have much interest. The truth was that I really wanted to learn to drive his truck, but I never really let him know.

“Goodbye, dad,” I whisper. I drop the rope and watch as it falls into the grave, hitting the lid of the coffin with a dull thud.

Abertzaleak: Basque Patriots

During the Christmas holiday, which we spent in and around Boise visiting grandparents, we made a stop at the Basque Museum and Cultural Center. After making our yearly pass through the gift shop, we took a stroll through the museum itself and found the newest exhibit on Basques in the military. The goal is to recognize Basques who have served, both in the United States military as well as in those in Europe, in various conflicts around the globe, to honor their service and sacrifice. They already have multiple exhibits and stories highlighting the service of various Basques.

After touring the museum, we stopped next door to see Patty Miller. As we talked more about the exhibit, its origins, and the efforts they have been taking to put it together, she said “hold on a minute” and grabbed a big binder of scanned records. You see, as part of this effort, they have been going around to the various government record centers in the surrounding areas and scanning records pertaining to the project. In this binder was the draft registration card of my great-grandfather, my namesake Blas Telleria! It was pretty awesome seeing his signature on this form — he certainly had better penmanship than I do! 

In one of those nice coincidences, just a few days later I saw a link on Facebook to a calendar of Basque Heroes of World War 2, a collection of 12 soldiers from both the US and Europe, summarizing their accomplishments during the war. The calendar was put together by Memoria Bizia, the Sancho de Beurko Elkartea, and Fighting Basques.

If you are interested in contributing, the Basque Museum and Cultural Center would love to hear from you. Let me turn it over to them for the details on how you can contribute:

Abertzaleak/Patriots: Sacrifice & Honor – A Story of Basques in the Military Near & Far

The Basque Museum & Cultural Center opened its newest exhibit in November, 2017, which features Basques who served or are serving in the United States, Basque, French, and/or Spanish military. Our hope is to recognize all submissions through an interactive portion of the exhibit that will be viewed by literally thousands of visitors and students who tour the Museum each year. The Basque Museum would like to be able to represent as many Basques from as many states, countries and branches of the service as possible.

If you are Basque or of Basque decent and have served or know of a relative who has served in the military, would you please take a few minutes to gather the information to contribute to this project? The Museum currently has information and photos on nearly 400 veterans or active servicemen and women.

Please include the following information:
Basque Veteran Submission: Full name of soldier, branch of military, rank if known, and time-period or conflict served. If you have a photo of the military personnel in uniform, that would be wonderful, or a civilian picture from that time-period.

PLEASE CONTACT Amanda Bielmann (208/343-2671); to include information in this exhibit/project.

We would like to thank our generous sponsors for making this exhibit a reality:


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