Buber’s Basque Story: Part 19

Kepa and Maite, huddled with Ainhoa, watched from the shadows as the man entered the cave. He was dressed in a running suit typical of the 1990s — the bright blue nylon jacket and pants were decorated with square patterns of white, pink and grey. To Kepa, he looked like a parody of all of the photos he saw of his aunts and uncles when they were younger. The man’s hair fell down in long wet locks that drooped past his shoulders. He sported a goatee that was immaculately groomed and formed into a point beneath his chin. He was older, maybe in his mid-forties, though Kepa was horrible at guessing ages. Everyone always seemed either much older or much younger than himself.

As the man entered the cave, he almost nonchalantly waived his hand. Instantly, the cave entrance disappeared and the cave itself transformed. The rocks Maite and Kepa had been sitting on earlier became stools and chairs. The walls of the cave became brick and a desk emerged out of one of the walls. The desk was covered in books and papers. Above it was a shelf with seemingly hundreds of cubby holes, each filled with some object, most of which Kepa didn’t recognize.

Buber’s Basque Story is a weekly serial. While it is a work of fiction, it has elements from both my own experiences and stories I’ve heard from various people. The characters, while in some cases inspired by real people, aren’t directly modeled on anyone in particular. I expect there will be inconsistencies and factual errors. I don’t know where it is going, and I’ll probably forget where it’s been. Why am I doing this? To give me an excuse and a deadline for some creative writing and because I thought people might enjoy it. Gozatu!

The man himself changed as well. The running suit disappeared, replaced with an outfit that looked like it came out of some French historical movie. He now wore a tight black jacket that was fastened down the middle with gold buttons and loose fitting black pantaloons that matched his jacket. His black boots, polished to a lustrous shine, reached up to his knees. On his hands, he wore several rings set with large jewels that sparkled red, blue, and green. Most striking, from Kepa’s perspective, was the white frill that encircled his neck. His hair had dried instantly and was now filled with curls. On top of his head he wore a large-brimmed black hat with a large white feather sticking out of the band.

Maite and Kepa watched as the man strode to the desk, opened a drawer, and pulled out a box. The box was made of wood but the edges were adorned with polished silver. The clasp, which the man opened, was also made of silver. The man took something out of a pocket on the side of his jacket. He smiled as he held it up to the light of a candle that had also appeared on the desk. He placed the small object into the box, which he then returned to its spot inside the desk. 

Ainhoa grabbed Kepa and Maite’s hands. “Be still and don’t panic!” she whispered in a voice filled with urgency. The man turned his head toward the shadow, as if he had heard them. But a moment later, he shrugged. He then picked up something off of the desk — what Kepa couldn’t see. Holding it between his finger tips, the man waved his hand through the air and the room began to disappear, only to be filled with solid stone. Maite and Kepa gasped as the stone surrounded them.

“Hold on and hold your breath!” they heard Ainhoa hiss. She squeezed their hands as they became completely entombed in the stone and all light and sound disappeared. Kepa could feel a tug on his hand and then his body felt like it was being dragged through the rock. It was almost like walking through water in a pool, except the rock was infinitely more dense and he couldn’t see or hear anything. After what seemed like forever, he could feel the movement of air on his hand as it slipped free of the stone. Soon his head also peaked free. He took a gasp of air as he turned to see Maite’s head also appear out of the stone face of the mountain, a look of terror mixed with wonder etched in her face. Ainhoa led them out onto the muddy path, pulling them out of the rock, until they were completely free. Trembling, Maite and Kepa watched as Ainhoa collapsed to the ground.

Basque Fact of the Week: Trainera Rowing Regattas, or Estropadak

As one might suspect for a people so intimately connected to the sea, the Basques have a special relationship with the ocean. From a long history of fishing and whaling, to exploring distant lands, the Basques have taken to the seas like literal fish to water. Combined with a competitive spirit, it was only natural for Basques to extend their competitions to the water. The estropadak, or regattas of traineras, is the epitome of the mixing of these elements.

The 2011 Kontxako Bandera. Photo by José Juan Gurrutxaga.
  • The trainera is a long thin boat, typical of the Cantabrian coast. These boats grew out of the whaling and fishing industries. Speed was of essence in whaling, as the first to a sighted whale was able to claim it. Similar, the first boats back to the docks with fish got the best price. Thus, speed was crucial and the trainera, consisting of 13 crew and 1 cox (helmsman), evolved to be fast.
  • The oldest mention of trainera regattas comes from the early 1700s. According to an anecdote recalled by José Luis Muñoyerro, the towns of Mundaka and Bermeo had an ongoing dispute over the island of Izaro, close to Mundaka, but controlled by Bermeo. They decided to have a race to determine which town it should belong to. On July 22, 1719, two teams raced for the island, with the team from Bermeo reaching it first, claiming the island for their town.
  • The same boats used for fishing were used for racing until 1916, when Vicente Olazabal build the Golondrina, a special boat for the racing crew of Getaria. In the following years, Eusebio Lazcano, a carpenter from Getaria, continued to build custom boats. As these were never destined to be used for fishing, their form evolved, with the width and weight decreasing to maximize speed.
  • While the oldest trainera regatta is from Santander, started in 1859, the most famous is the Kontxako Estropadak, Kontxako Bandera, or Regattas of San Sebastián, which began in 1879. The course raced today is 3 miles, a distance set in 1898. Orio has won the race the most, a total of 32 times, while the fastest time belongs to Castro Urdiales, with a time of 18:59.94, set in 2006.
  • The latest edition of the Kontxako Bandera was held earlier today. On the men’s side, Hondarribia won their third consecutive Bandera with a combined time for the two races of the final of 39:26.52 (the final consists of two races amongst the eight finalists) while Orio won the women’s race with a combined time of 21:59.80. (The women’s course is 1.5 nautical miles, or half that of the men’s.)
  • It is only recently that women began officially racing in the regattas, but there is evidence that women participated in rowing teams. Female rowers were called batelerak, a name taken from the batel, a smaller boat with 4 rowers. The batelera dantza, performed by women using oars, also points to this history.

Primary sources: Wikipedia: Kontxako Bandera; Wikipedia: Trainera; Auñamendi Entziklopedia. Regatas de Traineras. Enciclopedia Auñamendi. Available at: http://aunamendi.eusko-ikaskuntza.eus/es/regatas-de-traineras/ar-102442/

Buber’s Basque Story: Part 18

Staring out of the mouth of the cave, Kepa watched the rain come down. “I think it is starting to pass,” he said. 

Maite came up to stand beside him. Water dropped from the leaves of every tree, splashing in a multitude of puddles on the ground. “We might be able to leave soon,” she said, “though it is going to be messy.”

“Look!” said Kepa suddenly, pointing down the path. “Someone’s coming!”

Maite could see a shadowy figure many meters down the path slowly making its way up toward where they waited in the cave.

Buber’s Basque Story is a weekly serial. While it is a work of fiction, it has elements from both my own experiences and stories I’ve heard from various people. The characters, while in some cases inspired by real people, aren’t directly modeled on anyone in particular. I expect there will be inconsistencies and factual errors. I don’t know where it is going, and I’ll probably forget where it’s been. Why am I doing this? To give me an excuse and a deadline for some creative writing and because I thought people might enjoy it. Gozatu!

“We should call out to him, let him know there is shelter up here,” she said. 

She was about to call out when something clamped her mouth shut. Startled, her eyes nearly popping out of their sockets, she reached up to rip off whatever had covered her mouth. She mumbled, trying to scream through the gag while she clawed at it. Kepa, hearing Maite’s sounds of struggle, turned to her, and his eyes also widened. A strange glowing strip was covering Maite’s mouth. He reached up to help her, about to yell out for help, when a similar gag covered his mouth. 

“Back here!” they heard a voice say from the back of the cave. “Get over here quick!”

Maite and Kepa looked toward the back and saw something move in the shadows. As panic began to rise in their chests, they both looked out of the cave and then each other. In a silent nod, they both bolted towards the mouth of the cave.

“Madarikatu!” yelled the voice. “Stop! I won’t hurt you.” There was a sudden flash of light at the mouth of the cave and Maite and Kepa were frozen in their steps, their feet rooted to the ground. They looked at one another in terror before turning their gaze toward the back of the cave. They watched as a figure emerged from the shadows, waving its hands in the air in a complex pattern. The gags disappeared from their mouths as the figure entered the light.

“Ainhoa?” gasped Maite. “What the hell?”

“Bai ta ez. Yes and no. I’ll explain later, but first, you need to get away from the entrance, before he sees you.”

Maite looked at Kepa in confusion. “The man coming up the path?”

“Yes!” exclaimed Ainhoa in clear frustration. “Get back here now!”

Reluctantly, Maite and Kepa, their feet freed from whatever trap had held them, slowly made their way toward the back of the cave. Kepa, still rattled from whatever it was Ainhoa had done to them, looked at her warily. “What did you do to us?”

“I will explain everything in a moment, but right now, we need to be quiet. Isilik!”

The three of them huddled in the shadows in the back of the cave, Kepa and Maite’s arms wrapped around one another while Ainhoa crouched in front of them, facing the entrance to the cave. Her stance reminded Maite of a cat ready to pounce on its prey. Maite could sense her tensing as the shadowy figure of the man appeared at the mouth of the cave.

Fighting Basques: Basques on the Forgotten Front of America — The Aleutian Islands of Alaska, 1942-1943

This article originally appeared in Spanish at El Diario. You can find all of the English versions of the Fighting Basques series here.

Sergeant Matthew Etcheverry Saragüeta participated in the Aleutian military campaign. He was later wounded in combat in Leyte, Philippines, and received two bronze stars and a purple heart. He passed away at the age of 86 in his hometown of Fresno, California. (Courtesy of the Etcheverry family).

Even more than the devastating attacks by German U-boats against the Allied merchant navy on the Atlantic coast, in the Gulf of Mexico, or in the Caribbean, or the failed espionage attempts by Abwehr military intelligence agents on US soil, the greatest military challenge during World War II (WWII) to the integrity of the United States came from Japan. Not only did Japan cause the United States to enter the armed conflict with the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, but it also brought the tragedy of the war to the Aleutian Islands of the Alaska Territory (in American hands since 1867) six months later, symbolically putting American society “in check.”

The Aleutian Islands are a chain of volcanic islands with a length of 1,900 kilometers (1,180 miles) between the Bering Sea and the northern Pacific Ocean that extend between the peninsulas of Alaska and Kamchatka, in Russia. Characterized by a hostile climate and inhospitable terrain – with high mountains and thick tundra – they were inhabited by a few thousand people of the Unangan ethnic group (also known as Aleutians). Sadly, they became unwitting witnesses to the atrocities of a war on an isolated front whose strategic value is still questioned today. Was the Japanese invasion of the Aleutians a diversion from the attempt to storm Midway Atoll in the central Pacific? Or was it an attempt to protect the northern flank of its military expansionism? Or was it the beginning of a potential air assault on the west coast of North America?

Map of the Aleutian Islands Campaign, 1942-1943. (National Park Service, US Department of Interior; https://www.nps.gov/aleu/planyourvisit/maps.htm).

“Echoes of two wars, 1936-1945” aims to disseminate the stories of those Basques and Navarrese who participated in two of the warfare events that defined the future of much of the 20th century. With this blog, the intention of the Sancho de Beurko Association is to rescue from anonymity the thousands of people who constitute the backbone of the historical memory of the Basque and Navarre communities, on both sides of the Pyrenees, and their diasporas of emigrants and descendants, with a primary emphasis on the United States, during the period from 1936 to 1945.

Guillermo Tabernilla
is a researcher and founder of the Sancho de Beurko Association, a non-profit organization that studies the history of the Basques and Navarrese from both sides of the Pyrenees in the Spanish Civil War and in World War II. He is currently their secretary and community manager. He is also editor of the digital magazine Saibigain. Between 2008 and 2016 he directed the catalog of the “Iron Belt” for the Heritage Directorate of the Basque Government and is, together with Pedro J. Oiarzabal, principal investigator of the Fighting Basques Project, a memory project on the Basques and Navarrese in the Second World War in collaboration with the federation of Basque Organizations of North America.

Pedro J. Oiarzabal is a Doctor in Political Science-Basque Studies, granted by the University of Nevada, Reno (USA). For two decades, his work has focused on research and consulting on public policies (citizenship abroad and return), diasporas and new technologies, and social and historical memory (oral history, migration and exile), with special emphasis on the Basque case. He is the author of more than twenty publications. He has authored the blog “Basque Identity 2.0” by EITB and “Diaspora Bizia” by EuskalKultura.eus. On Twitter @Oiarzabal.

Josu M. Aguirregabiria is a researcher and founder of the Sancho de Beurko Association and is currently its president. A specialist in the Civil War in Álava, he is the author of several publications related to this topic, among which “La batalla de Villarreal de Álava” (2015) y “Seis días de guerra en el frente de Álava. Comienza la ofensiva de Mola” (2018) stand out.

On June 3, 1942, the Japanese Imperial Navy launched a first air attack against the naval base and Fort Mears of the US Army in the city of Unalaska, in Dutch Harbor (Amaknak Island, the most populated of the Aleutians). They would repeat the attack on the 4th, coinciding with the beginning of the naval Battle of Midway (June 4-7, 1942), whose objective was to widen the defensive perimeter of Japan. The airstrikes on Dutch Harbor – the first in history against the American mainland – claimed the lives of about forty Americans. This pyrrhic victory paled before the American victory at Midway and from whose defeat the Japanese navy would not recover, since it prevented not only the final blow to the American fleet, but ensured the impossibility of their own fleet exercising dominion over the entire Pacific. On the 6th, 600 Japanese marines invaded Kiska Island, completely uninhabited except for 12 researchers from the US Department of Aerology. This was the first time that an American territory fell into foreign hands since its independence, which was a severe blow to American morale, increasing panic among the civilian population of the west coast due to the fear of air attacks. Throughout its occupation, the Japanese detachment had more than 5,000 soldiers who strove to build all kinds of defensive infrastructure, reaching the highest proportion of antiaircraft batteries of any other enclave in the Pacific. On the 7th, some 1,100 Japanese infantrymen stormed Attu Island, the furthest from the Alaskan mainland (about 1,800 km away) and which was populated by about fifty Unangans. After three months, some 47 survivors were taken as prisoners to the port city of Otaru, on the island of Hokkaido, in Japan, of whom almost half died of starvation. (After their release in 1945, they never returned to Attu.) Faced with an escalation of invasions and a scorched earth policy (infrastructure, houses and churches were burned), the American authorities ordered the forced evacuation of about 900 Unangans (about 500 from the islands of Atka, on June 12, and from Saint Paul and Saint George, on the 14th) to southeast Alaska where they were held in internment camps in inhumane conditions for another two years (1).

On August 7, 1942, the United States began Operation Watchtower, giving rise to the Battle of Guadalcanal, in the Solomon Islands, and the victory of which marked the beginning of the great allied offensive in the Pacific. In its shadow, on August 30, the United States launched a counteroffensive to recover the two Aleutian islands from Japanese hands, which reached 144,000 American and Canadian soldiers against a Japanese force of about 8,500 Japanese, of whom more than half perished. Military operations in the Aleutians became a true combat laboratory, where the tactics developed would be employed throughout the Pacific campaign. Among the US contingent we have been able to identify a good number of soldiers of Basque origin. The first Allied objective was to secure the Island of Adak, in which the submarine USS S-33 (S-138) took part. Among the crew we find the veteran Chief Electrical Officer Joseph Peter Tabar, of Navarrese origin, who had been born in 1904 in Los Angeles, California. Of the eight patrols the submarine carried out during the war, six were carried out in the Aleutians from July to December 1942, including protecting the convoy that occupied Adak (400 kilometers from Kiska and about 720 kilometers from Attu). After the island was secured by some 4,500 US military personnel, an air base was established – with an airport built in record time – in which Sergeant Gene Acaiturri of the 515th Combat Engineer Company quite possibly participated. Acaiturri was born in Mountain Home, Idaho, in 1919 to Biscayan parents. The ultimate goal was to bombard the Japanese positions at Kiska and Attu. The bombing campaign was carried out both from Adak and Amchitka (occupied by American troops on January 12, 1943; at a distance of 117 kilometers from Kiska and about 445 kilometers from Attu) in the summer and fall of 1942 and throughout much of 1943.

Photograph of the USS Louisville, the ship on which Floyd “Ike” Cortabitarte Lecertua sailed, as it left Kulak Bay, on Adak Island, with the aim of joining the rest of the fleet at the beginning of operations against the Japanese base on Attu, April 25, 1943. (US National Archives).

The Basque-American aviation support equipment technician Floyd “Ike” Cortabitarte, born in Jordan Valley, Oregon, in 1917, was aboard the USS Louisville in the Aleutians when Japan launched the attack in June 1942. At the same time, aboard the heavy cruiser USS Indianapolis was sailing Assistant Electrician First Class Anthony Lizoain. Lizoain was born in 1911 in Santa Barbara, California. During 1942, both the Louisville and Indianapolis escorted convoys and bombed Japanese ships and facilities in Kiska Bay.

The US Navy imposed an iron blockade on the islands of Attu and Kiska in order to prevent them from being resupplied. In February 1943, the USS Indianapolis intercepted a Japanese cargo ship, loaded with troops, ammunition, and supplies, destined for the bases on Attu and Kiska. On March 26, a Japanese supply transport convoy, escorted by several destroyers, was intercepted near the Russian Komandorski Islands, with the light cruiser USS Richmond taking part. On board was engineer assistant Michael Errecart. Errecart was born to a Laburdine father and a Navarrese mother in 1919, in the Californian county of Fresno. After an intense battle, the Japanese fleet was forced to give up its objective. From then on, the Attu and Kiska bases only received supplies sporadically from submarines.

Ike Cortabitarte with two buddies on Caspan at Agution Iscamos, 1942. Left to right: Elmer Just, Wood Lake Minn.; Ike; Byno Irwin, Falls City Neb.

The cruisers USS Louisville, Indianapolis, and Richmond, joined by the battleship USS Idaho, among others, provided covering fire to amphibious assaults, both at Attu and later at Kiska. An old acquaintance was traveling on the Idaho, the Basque-Californian Ralph Irigoyen – Artillery Assistant First Class – who, like many of his companions that served in the Aleutians, would continue his journey throughout the Pacific. Irigoyen participated in the D-Day of the Pacific Theater with the invasion of Saipan.

On May 11, 1943, 77 years ago, some 12,000 American soldiers, mainly from the 7th Infantry Division, began the invasion of Attu Island. It was the first US offensive in the Pacific, two months before the famous Guadalcanal landing. The soldiers, without specialized training or adequate equipment for the harsh climate, without sufficient provisions and with great difficulty in maneuvering their vehicles on the tundra, also had to face a motivated, acclimatized enemy with perfect knowledge of the island.

Anthony Lizoain, a sailor on the USS Indianapolis, poses in military uniform with his parents, Eduardo Lizoain and Ignacia Yturri, natives of the Navarran towns of Urdaniz and Idoieta, respectively. (Courtesy of the Lizoain family).

In the invasion of Attu we find several Basque-Americans, for example, Captain Leon Etchemendy (born in Gardnerville, Nevada, in 1918) and Sergeant Matthew Etcheverry (Fresno, California, 1916). Both would be seriously injured during the campaign to liberate the Philippines. Serving in the 184th National Guard Combat Regiment were Corporal Donald Urain (Marysville, California, 1922) and Sergeant Joseph Urriolabeitia (Boise, Idaho, 1919). The 184th was the only National Guard regiment that participated in the recovery of American soil lost to a foreign enemy during WWII. Urriolabeitia was also wounded in Leyte, Philippines, and was killed in Okinawa at age 25. He received a bronze star and a purple heart. We also have another Basque-Californian, Sergeant John Errea Etchenique, born in 1918 in Bakersfield.

As his sister Helen Errea tells us, “as soon as they discovered that he was Basque, they made John a chef for the company.” The photo shows how harsh the weather was in the Aleutians. (Courtesy of the Errea family).

After 18 days of small-scale attacks and ambushes by Japanese snipers, the balance turned to the American side. Desperation prompted the surviving Japanese, led by their colonel, Yasuyo Yamasaki, to launch a suicide charge, banzai, against the US positions on May 29. It was one of the largest suicide attacks to occur at the Pacific Theater. An estimated 1,400 Japanese soldiers lost their lives in just a few hours. Only 28 men survived. The island was returned to American hands at a cost of 549 Americans killed and about 3,300 wounded (most as a result of extreme cold, illness, accidents and psychotic crises) and 2,351 Japanese killed, almost 100% of the enemy troops. Despite being one of the most unknown battles today, the Battle of Attu became one of the bloodiest in the Pacific, second only to Iwo Jima. After Attu was liberated, on August 15, 1943, approximately 35,000 US and Canadian troops landed at Kiska. They expected the worst. However, to their surprise, the Japanese troops, some 5,200 soldiers, had left the island two weeks earlier. The Aleutian Campaign was ending.

US soldiers unload supplies from landing craft on the beach at Massacre Bay, Attu Island, May 13, 1943. (US National Archives).

The military operation in the Aleutian Islands will be remembered for being a year-long campaign fought amidst snow, frozen mud, thick fog, freezing temperatures, constant rains, and intense gusts of wind; a place whose waters were and continue to be considered some of the coldest and stormiest of the world. The lives of American soldiers were perfectly reflected in a short war propaganda documentary, “Report from the Auletians,” shot by John Huston in 1943, in which the silence and monotony that made such a dent the morale of the troops could be felt (2). The landings at Attu and Kiska were the only invasions the US suffered during WWII, while the offensive for the liberation of Attu was the first land battle fought on US soil since the War of 1812. For the Unangans, life was never again the same. Many were unable to return home to rebuild their lives. The US government did not provide them with the means to rebuild their towns, nor did it compensate them in any way for their internment or for the material losses suffered during their forced evacuation. The Aleut Restitution Act of 1988 (and its 1993 extension) was an attempt by Congress to compensate survivors. Seventy-five years later, in 2017, the US government formally apologized for the internment of the Unangan people and their appalling treatment during captivity.

(1) Chandonnet, Fern. (2007). Alaska at War, 1941-1945: The Forgotten War Remembered. Fairbanks, AK: University of Alaska Press.

(2) Huston, John. (1943). Report from the Auletians. US Signals Corps.

If you want to collaborate with “Echoes of Two Wars,” send us an original article on any aspect of the WWII or the Spanish Civil War and the Basque or Navarre participation to the following email: sanchobeurko@gmail.com

Articles selected for publication will receive a signed copy of “Basque Combatants in World War II”.

Basque Fact of the Week: Aztikeria, Basque Magic

Humans have always had a contentious relationship with nature. We’ve always sought to control the world around us. Today, science and technology allow us to manipulate the very atoms that literally make up everything. However, it wasn’t so long ago that people turned to other ways of trying to bend the cosmos to their will, to divine the future, to heal their friends, to punish their enemies. The Basques were no different and believed in a number of supernatural elements that co-existed with every day life.

Model Iris Muñoz as a sorgina. Image from Baztango Haizegoa, Argazkiak.
  • A key concept in the Basque magical view of the world is argi, or light. Light embodied the human soul and the soul would appear as light. Candle light could represent the soul, providing the dead with their own light. But, it could also be used to manipulate the living. Some thought they could avenge wrongs by lighting a candle and twisting the wax, twisting and burning the perpetrator, almost like a form of voodoo.
  • Coins also played an important role in Basque magic. A magician might twist and fold a coin, or throw it in a fire or in the bushes near a church, hoping that to cause his or her enemy to suffer and die.
  • There are many recipes to heal injuries. To cure heart disease, the magician would sacrifice a rooster and bury its heart; the rotting heart would heal the patient’s heart. To mend muscles, they would place a garment on the injured limb and sow a seam in it, hoping that it would transfer to the muscles and heal them.
  • An important function of all magicians is to control the weather, whether for good or bad. To drive away a threatening hail storm that might destroy crops, a magician would “guide” the storm with uztaibedar (rumex crispus) or curly dock, using it to point to a new place for the storm to go. Sometimes they could guide it to the field of an enemy.
  • A lot of magic works through transference. If a cow is sick with herpes, for example, the magician would touch the afflicted animal with fresh branches of holly and juniper. They would then let these dry out, drying out the herpes and curing the cow. Similarly, people in Iduskimendi would cure eczema by touching a handkerchief first to a special stalagmite, and then to their afflicted skin. They would then leave the handkerchief to rot away, taking the eczema with it.
  • Names are also crucial in Basque magic. Names represent the things they name, and curses could be levied on people by invoking their name. A magician might curse someone — cast a birao, causing misfortune or disease, or, worse, having a devil take the enemy — by invoking their name with phrases such as etsaiak artuko al au, “may the devil take you.”

Primary source: Barandiaran Ayerbe, José Miguel de. Azti, Aztru, Aztua. Enciclopedia Auñamendi. Available at: http://aunamendi.eusko-ikaskuntza.eus/es/azti-aztru-aztua/ar-10771/

Buber’s Basque Story: Part 17

They continued up the path, making their way over rocks and a few times across the stream, slowly making their way up the mountain.

“Zer arraio? What the hell?” exclaimed Kepa. Dark clouds had suddenly formed above them. “It was supposed to be clear all day today. Damn meteorologist!”

“Hey now!” retorted Maite. “Do you know how hard it is to predict the weather? And they are actually pretty accurate…”

“Not today, they aren’t,” Kepa interrupted. “That storm is about to hit us.”

Buber’s Basque Story is a weekly serial. While it is a work of fiction, it has elements from both my own experiences and stories I’ve heard from various people. The characters, while in some cases inspired by real people, aren’t directly modeled on anyone in particular. I expect there will be inconsistencies and factual errors. I don’t know where it is going, and I’ll probably forget where it’s been. Why am I doing this? To give me an excuse and a deadline for some creative writing and because I thought people might enjoy it. Gozatu!

Almost as suddenly as the clouds had appeared, they released a deluge of water. Maite and Kepa scrambled, trying to keep their footing on the now drenched rocks as they looked for shelter. 

“Begira! Look!” exclaimed Maite as she pointed just ahead. “A cave! We can duck in there.”

They made their way to the small hole in the rock Maite had found as the small stream began overflowing its banks and water flowed down the path. 

“I’ve never seen a storm hit that fast or that hard before,” said Kepa. 

They sat down on some stones that lie on the cavern floor. Kepa couldn’t help but notice the way that Maite’s wet clothes clung to her body while Maite couldn’t help but notice how Kepa’s eyes clung to her body. “Ahem,” she said as she stood up, breaking Kepa out of his daze. 

“Barkatu,” he mumbled as he realized what he had been doing.

Maite shrugged and walked to the walls and ran her hand across the surface. “This is a strange cave, the walls are smooth, not like any cave I’ve seen before.”

Kepa also stood, avoiding any eye contact with Maite. He wandered to the entrance of the cave. “I’ve been past this point dozens of times over the years,” he said. “I’ve never noticed this cave before. Is it possible that some tremor opened it up?”

“If that had happened,” replied Maite, “I would have expected the walls to be sharp and jagged, not smooth like this.”

“Well, I’m just glad it’s here,” said Kepa. “The way that water is flowing down the mountain, we might have gotten swept away with it if we had stayed out there any longer.”

“Looks like it might rain for a while,” added Maite. She dug in her pack. “Glad I brought this along,” she said as she pulled out a flashlight. “Want to explore?”

The cave almost felt like a small home. The main entrance, where they had first taken shelter, was like a small foyer. Off to the sides, there were two small caverns that had stones arranged almost like furniture. The walls everywhere were smooth, as if worn down by centuries of activity. There were no signs of life. 

“I wish I’d found this place before,” said Kepa. “It would be a cool place to hang out. We could make it a little txoko. Put a small stove over there, a mattress over here…”

Maite laughed. “Yeah, we could be a regular basajaun and basandere, making our home in the woods.”

Chastised, Kepa mumbled “It was just an idea.”

Maite gave him a little kiss on the cheek. “There is no one else I’d rather have as my basajaun.”

Kepa’s cheeks glowed a bright red that almost outshone Maite’s flashlight.

Basque Fact of the Week: The First Tourist Guides of the Basque Country

Tourism accounts for about 10% of the world’s gross domestic product. We all want to experience new things, see new sites, get to know new people. We want to see something new. And, for many of us, the Basque Country is something new. As of 2014, tourism contributed just about 6% of the Basque Country’s GDP. Clearly, the Basque Country is a hidden gem that is being discovered by more and more people. Efforts to advertise the sites and sounds of the Basque Country began more than one hundred years ago, in Iparralde.

The Place du Théâtre in Bayonne/Baiona by Blanche Jeanette Feillet-Hennebutte. Source: Wikimedia.
  • The first tourist guides dedicated to the Basque Country were published in the early 1850s, with Pays Basque: Le Guide du voyageur de Bayonne à Saint-Sébastien published in 1851 and l’Album des deux frontières in 1852. They were published by Charles Hennebutte. These books, which targeted the aristocratic class, featured illustrations by Charles’ wife Blanche Jeanette Feillet-Hennebutte and her sister Hélène Feillet.
  • Blanche and Hélène were the daughters of Pierre Jacques Feillet. The two sisters studied under their father and their maternal grandfather, Pernotin. Becoming accomplished painters and lithograph artists, they moved to Baiona in 1834 where they each began making lithographs of the surrounding areas that were featured in Charles’ books. While their lithographs appeal to the “romantic” sentiments of their readers, the sisters did incorporate a modern perspective of their adopted home when they could.
  • Another promoter of the region was one Joseph Augustin Chaho. Born in Atharratze-Sorholüze (Tardets), Zuberoa, Chaho is most famous for creating, in 1845, the myth of Aitor, the legendary patriarch of the Basques. He got the idea from the expression “aitoren (aitonen) semeak” which meant noblemen, but which he took more literally to mean “Aitor’s children,” and became synonymous with the Basques themselves. He was also the leader of the Revolution of 1848 in Baiona.
  • Chaho did much to help create a romantic, idyllic view of the Basque Country that guides such as those by Hennebutte sold to tourists. And not all viewed this transformation positively. While before, Basques were often noted for their “seafaring abilities, love of wine, … and angry, arrogant disposition,” the new view promoted, in Julio Caro Baroja‘s view, a “pacific, idyllic creature,” a transformation that folklorist Rodney Gallop blamed on “that monster of inaccuracy Augustin Chaho.”

Primary sources: Aquitaine Online; Patrimoine du Pays Basque.

Buber’s Basque Story: Part 16

It was a beautiful Saturday morning. Their trip to the United States was only a week away and Maite and Kepa had decided to spend their last weekend in the Basque Country before leaving in the mountains. Kepa had suggested a hike along a well-worn path that snaked from behind Goikoetxebarri, through the trees, along a stream, and up to the peak of Mount Oiz. He and Maite had taken the same trail many times over the years — it was one of their favorite hikes in Bizkaia.

They walked along the stream, backpacks slung on their shoulders filled with water bottles and sandwiches wrapped in foil. “What did your ama say?” asked Maite.

“Oh, she was fine,” answered Kepa. “She’s going to join her sister and her family in Peñiscola. They have an apartment there and try to escape the rains as often as they can. They were planning on spending some of the August vacation there and ama is going to join them for a few weeks. I think she could use a few nights of txikiteo with her sister. She spends too much time in the baserri with her telenovelas, if you ask me.”

Buber’s Basque Story is a weekly serial. While it is a work of fiction, it has elements from both my own experiences and stories I’ve heard from various people. The characters, while in some cases inspired by real people, aren’t directly modeled on anyone in particular. I expect there will be inconsistencies and factual errors. I don’t know where it is going, and I’ll probably forget where it’s been. Why am I doing this? To give me an excuse and a deadline for some creative writing and because I thought people might enjoy it. Gozatu!

“I’m sure she never asked you!” said Maite.

Kepa laughed. “No, she never has.”

They made their way along the path, climbing over a few larger rock outcroppings that were easier going over than around. Maite, who was leading, stopped to pull out her water bottle. She took a sip and then handed it to Kepa. “Mil esker,” he said as he took his own gulp and handed it back. 

“I’ve always loved this hike,” said Maite as they continued on. “I remember the first time you brought me. We must have been what, ten years old?”

“Yeah,” replied Kepa. “I remember. You fell and scraped your knee. Blood was flowing down your leg and I was freaking out, wondering how I was going to carry you back home. You just washed it off and told me to keep up as you continued marching along.”

Maite laughed. “I thought you were going to pass out for a minute,” she said. 

“I was scared for you,” replied Kepa, sheepishly. 

Maite stopped and turned around. Kepa, who had been watching his feet, almost bumped into her. “And, I appreciated it,” said Maite, looking into his eyes as she drew him closer and kissed him. Kepa’s legs nearly melted as he wrapped his arms around Maite and pulled her body against his. It felt like eternity had passed when Maite finally broke the kiss, gave him a wink, and continued on the hike.

Clearly flustered, Kepa said “Anyways, this was my aita’s favorite hike too. I remember stopping on that rock up there for a snack. He always seemed so big and powerful, and I was so little. I never thought I’d keep up with him. But, he always took slow steps, was always patient with me as I looked under some rock or behind some tree.” He sighed. “God, I miss him.”

The path widened a bit and Maite slowed just a bit so that she could walk besides Kepa. Saying nothing, she simply took his hand and held it in hers as they hiked forward.

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