Basque Fact of the Week: The Basque City of Eibar

When I lived in the Basque Country, feebly trying to learn Euskara, I spent a lot of time in Ermua, Bizkaia, where my aunt and her family lives. Just across the border, in Gipuzkoa, lies Eibar. As a relatively young kid, I never gave Eibar much thought — it was just a town that the train went through on the way to Ermua. Once or twice, what I might call my cuadrilla took me to Eibar and we wandered the streets, hopping from bar to bar, but that was about all I knew. However, with age comes some “wisdom,” and learning about these places I only passed through back then always offers new surprises. Eibar has a fascinating history that dates back nearly one thousand years.

A view of Eibar, photo from Wikipedia.
  • Eibar was founded in 1346 through a charter granted by King Alfonso XI. The original town, which was encircled by a wall and towers, centered around the parish of San Andrés. However, the first mention of the name dates to the 12th century, regarding the marriage of the daughter of one Unzueta de Eibar. The groom-to-be made an offering of twenty-four pregnant cows to the Church of Cenarruza to praise and honor his bride.
  • During its history, Eibar has been destroyed at least twice, once by French armies in 1794 and a second time during the Spanish Civil War. This act followed in a long tradition of the town supporting liberal causes and being a bastion for social and labor movements. For example, in 1931, Eibar was the first city in Spain to proclaim the Second Spanish Republic, for which it received the title of Very Exemplary City.
  • Eibar is a sanctuary of the Basque language, still used every day by much of the populace. Being on the border with Bizkaia, their Basque has been related to those dialects, though there are certainly influences from Gipuzkoa and some loan words from Spanish. Historical documents from Eibar reveal a number of Basque words that are today anachronistic, but highlight the richness of the local dialect: words such as idacorri, to read; yrago, to pass; ustarrila, January; osteruncian osteantzian, otherwise; auttuba, arbitrate or appoint. Further, because of the importance of the local iron and steel industry, whole vocabularies devoted to these fields arose in Eibar.
  • Many of the inhabitants have worked in the local knife and gun factories. In fact, by the end of the 15th century, knives and guns from Eibar were well known throughout Europe. In 1538, Juan Orbea and Juan Ermua, residents of Eibar, were commissioned to manufacture 1,500 arquebuses and in 1570 armorers were taken from Eibar to Flanders to found the Belgian armory industry. In the 1800s, new factories to make six-shot cylindrical revolvers and arquebuses were established. In 1889, the town manufactured more than half a million weapons. In the early 1900s, some of these factories shifted directions, making for example bicycles, with Orbea being a prime example. However, there are still some 60 companies dedicated to various aspects of weapon manufacture in Eibar today.
  • Notable Eibartarrak include 18th century writer Juan Antonio de Moguel y Urquiza, whose masterpiece Peru Abarka describes the way of life of the people of his time; Francisco de Ibarra, who founded the Mexican city of Durango; cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe Zubía; and mathematician Enrique Zuazua.
  • Of course, many might know Eibar because of the success of their soccer team. In 2014, SD Eibar was promoted to the La Liga, an impressive feat given the small size of the town — only about 30,000 people. They lasted in the premier division for seven years. This is one of the coolest aspects of the European system, where even small clubs have a chance to play in the big leagues.

Primary sources: Auñamendi Entziklopedia. Eibar. Enciclopedia Auñamendi. Available at: https://aunamendi.eusko-ikaskuntza.eus/es/eibar/ar-37475/; Eibar, Wikipedia

The Adventures of Maite and Kepa: Part 75

The Adventures of Maite and Kepa 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!

Kepa felt a sudden stab of pain shoot through his chest. Panic rose as he felt another as something slammed into his chest. Were more bullets ripping through his body? Again, he felt something smash against his chest. Was Donny standing over him, emptying his gun into Kepa’s mangled body?

He opened his eyes. Maite was kneeling beside him, slamming her fists into his chest.

“You bastard!” she screamed. “How could you do that to me?”

Kepa took a moment to reorient himself. He was laying on the floor of the Noriega, but in its older abandoned state. Donny was nowhere to be seen. He smiled to himself. It had worked! They were back home.

Maite slammed another fist into his chest.

“Ow!” he cried. “Would you stop hitting me?” He looked up to see tears flowing down Maite’s cheeks.

Maite slumped away, nearly collapsing to the floor as she sobbed. “How could you?” she whispered.

“What did I do?” asked Kepa as he sat up, his chest on fire, though he couldn’t tell if it was Maite pounding on him or Donny’s bullet he was feeling. Instinctively he reached up to feel his chest. There was no hole. “I just wanted to get out of there as fast as possible and I didn’t see any other way.”

“But sacrificing yourself like that?” cried Maite as she looked at him, her vision blurry with tears. “What if you were wrong, and that wasn’t the zatia? Or it didn’t work the way we thought it should? You would have died! Why take the chance?”

“It worked, didn’t it?” said Kepa with a weak smile. 

“But you couldn’t be sure it would!” screamed Maite. “Do you know what it was like, seeing you die? Feeling your body jerk as that bullet hit you?”

“But it didn’t really happen, right? The time bubble popped and we’re back where we should be.”

“It did happen, at least for me! For a brief moment, I thought I’d lost you.”

Kepa reached up, but couldn’t bring himself to touch Maite. He let his arm fall to his side.

“I’m sorry,” was all he could manage to say, his words barely audible over Maite’s sobs.

Maite looked at him again. “I love you, Kepa. And I can’t imagine going through all of this with anyone else but you. But if you are going to be so reckless, I don’t think I can do this at all. I can’t watch you die a thousand different ways. Even if, in some way, it isn’t real. To me, it is. I saw, I felt, you die. Wasn’t it real for you too?”

Kepa thought again about the bullet tearing through his chest and exploding his heart. The pain had been unbearable. Any other time, his life would have ended and he wouldn’t have to relive that pain, but here and now, he remembered every detail. He realized that his dreams might never be the same again.

He nodded. “Bai, it was real for me too.” His hand reached for his chest, where he had felt the bullet enter his body. “I thought it would all disappear when the time bubble popped, but I forgot that our memories of it don’t.”

“We really experienced what happened in the bubble, even after it pops. Our memories don’t get wiped out. Somehow, the magic of the zatia keeps the bubble alive inside of us, in our memories.”

Kepa looked up at Maite. “I never meant to hurt you.”

Maite sighed, her cheeks still wet but her voice stronger. “I know.”

“And, I love you too,” added Kepa.

Maite threw her arms around him as her lips found his.

If you get this post via email, the return-to address goes no where, so please write blas@buber.net if you want to get in touch with me.

Fighting Basques: The Basques and Navarrese of the Other ‘D’ Day: Saipan and the Pacific Front

This article originally appeared in Spanish at El Diario on October 23, 2019.

“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.

THE AUTHORS
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.

In contrast to the public commemorations of D-Day in Normandy, the Mariana island of Saipan attracts little or no institutional or media attention, despite its strategic importance in the Pacific Ocean theater of operations and the significance it had in the becoming of the war itself. On June 5, 1944, prior to the European “D” Day, 71,000 US Marines and soldiers – nearly half the American force in Normandy – left Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, for the Marianas. Despite intense aerial bombardment flowing from 15 battleships for two days prior to the invasion itself, resistance on the ground was fierce. More than 3,400 American soldiers and about 29,000 Japanese soldiers died. Among the latter, an estimated 3,000 launched various suicide charges or banzai for 15 hours against American troops on July 7. To these figures must be added the 22,000 civilian islanders, the Chamorro people, who died as a result of the invasion, largely victims of a campaign of forced suicides incited by the Japanese military that was unparalleled until that moment in the Pacific campaign, civilians who already knew horrors of all kinds perpetuated by the fanatical Japanese troops. With nearly 10,000 wounded, the US suffered the largest losses to date on the Pacific front. In contrast, the European “D” Day witnessed some 4,400 casualties among Allied troops, of which about 2,500 were Americans. The conquest of Saipan by the American forces, between June 15 and July 9, 1944, became not only a military victory but also a moral one, despite the high human cost.

Pagoaga, the Basque-American hero of Iwo Jima, passed away on January 30, 2017. (Photo courtesy of family).

Among the Japanese military leaders who died in battle or chose to commit suicide is the general of the Japanese army and one of the highest authorities in Saipan, Chūichi Nagumo. Nagumo had supervised the attack on Pearl Harbor. He committed suicide on July 6 and his body was found by the Marines in a cave. The iconic and all-powerful Prime Minister, Minister of War, and Chief of Staff of the Imperial Japanese Army, Hideki Tōjō, was forced to resign on July 18. Tōjō had ordered the attack on Pearl Harbor. Final victory against the Japanese imperial troops seemed possible. The main islands of Japan were about 2,100 kilometers away and the new air bases of Saipan, together with those of Guam and Tinian (conquered in mid-August), allowed the Boeing “B-29” super fortresses, with a radius of action of 5,230 km., to attack the principle cities of Japan, including its capital, as part of a brutal napalm incendiary bombing campaign similar to that of Dresden (Germany) in February 1945. The most destructive air attack in history of humanity would occur over Tokyo on March 9. 40,000 square kilometers were razed and more than 90,000 civilians perished.

On its way to Japan, Iwo Jima became another strategic target for the United States. It was necessary to conquer the volcanic island as a supply and repair point for the “B-29s” on their long round trip between the main islands of Japan and the Marianas, and what was even more important: to ensure the protection of escort fighters. The bloody battle for Iwo Jima took place between February 19 and March 26, 1945. It became the most aggressive, overall, in the entire history of the Marine Corps. More than 6,800 Americans and approximately 20,000 Japanese soldiers perished in the fighting. Another 20,000 American soldiers were wounded, practically all the vanguard units being decimated. En route to the invasion of Japan there was only one obstacle left. Okinawa – the largest island of the Ryukyus and the southernmost of the main islands of Japan – was the last bastion of Japanese resistance before the eventual invasion of the country, and it was only 2,100 km away from Tokyo. The invasion of Okinawa began on April 1 and after almost three months of fierce fighting and tens of thousands of soldiers and civilians killed, the Allies won a decisive victory. It is estimated that between 30,000 and 100,000 civilians of the 300,000 inhabitants of Okinawa perished as a direct result of the invasion, re-enacting, but on a much larger scale, the atrocious scenes experienced in Saipan.

Ordoquihandy’s body was never recovered. However, he is remembered at the memorial at the National Cemetery of the Pacific, in Honolulu.

If in Normandy, we estimate that approximately fifty men of Basque and Navarrese origin participated in “D” Day under the command of the British and Americans, to date we have identified another 157 soldiers, enlisted in the Marines, Air Force, Army, and Navy, which participated in the Pacific Front. Considering that the investigation of the “Fighting Basques Project” is still ongoing, the final number could be much higher. Of these, at least about 60 were involved in the Mariana, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa campaigns.

Within the fleet that supported the invasion of Saipan with crew members of Basque or Navarrese origin, the heavy cruiser USS Indianapolis stands out, where the first-class radio operator Ernest Richard Bordagaray and the second-class administrative officer Alfred Arnaud Lapuyade served, participating in the invasion of Tinian; the destroyers USS Bell, with Lieutenant Raphael Antone Goñi on board, and who also participated in Guam and Okinawa, and the USS Izard with Lieutenant Ricardo “Richard” Ydoyaga (Guam, Tinian, Iwo Jima); and the battleships USS New Jersey (musician 2nd John Louis Facque), which in turn fought off Guam, Tinian, and Okinawa, the USS Idaho (gunner 1st Ralph Hirigoyen) (Guam, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa), and the USS Tennessee (second-hand gunner Joseph Thomas Goyeneche), who was also present throughout the Marianas campaign and the invasions of Iwo Jima and Okinawa.

Of the twenty Marines who fought on the Pacific Front and more specifically in Saipan, the soldier of Navarrese origin Lawrence “Larry” Michael Erburu, from the 4th Marine Division, stands out. He was mortally wounded in the course of the battle. Erburu is buried at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu, Hawaii. As we have commented previously, after the occupation of Guam, the “B-29s” could carry out their missions over the skies of Japan with a greater degree of operability. Among them was First Lieutenant Julius Andrew Beterbide, who was in the 30th Squadron of the 19th Group. With five aerial medals, gunner Beterbide, born in Lovelock, Nevada, in 1917 to a Navarrese father and a mother from Lapurdi, also served in North Africa and Italy. Also flying in the “B-29s,” Lieutenant José Luis Beitia (Shoshone, Idaho, 1923), of Biscayan parents, had already been forced to land without an escort back from a mission to his base in Saipan. He did not reach it, although he was able to survive. Less lucky was the Nevada gunner Johnny Montero (son of Navarre and Lower Navarre parents), who crashed with his B-29 in the Himalayas (known to North American aviators as “The Hump” or “Hump”) when he was flying from his base in China.

After suffering serious injuries and losing a leg, Julián Aramburu received the Silver Star from Colonel Proust on August 17, 1945, while he was still convalescing from his injuries.

In the preparation for the invasions of Iwo Jima and Okinawa, we identified Administrative Officer John Elordi aboard the battleship USS Wisconsin, Cook 2nd Class Emile J. Iratçabal on the destroyer USS Taussig, and Aviation Armaments Specialist 2nd Class Donald Dale Jauregui on the aircraft carrier USS Hancock. In Okinawa they were joined by the battleship USS Mississippi, where the First Class Sailor Edward Valentine Barrenechea was serving, and the escort carriers USS Shipple Bay and USS Makassar Strait, where the aviation lieutenant Raymond Jay Garteiz and the sailor Peter Paul Parisena sailed, respectively. Flying from an aircraft carrier (the USS Yorktown) in the Okinawa area and off the Japanese coast, we find Genty “Santi” Louis Harriet, pilot of an F-6 “Hellcat” fighter.

In the combat for Iwo Jima, Marine Corps 5th Division soldier Albert Philip “Al” Pagoaga was seriously injured, losing a leg. Pagoaga, whose parents were from Gipuzkoa, was born in 1925 in Boise, Idaho. Only 32 of the 200 men from Pagoaga’s company, the Easy Company of the 27th Marine Regiment, made it off the island alive. Amongst the marines taking the beaches of Iwo Jima and Okinawa was Ramón Isidoro Oyarbide (of Biscayan parents), a university student from Battle Mountain (Nevada) who served on the infantry landing craft USS LCI (L) 632. Soldier of the 17th Infantry Regiment, Dominique Laxague (of Navarrese parents), and the Marine of the 1st Division Lawrence Amoriza (of Biscayan parents), died in combat in Okinawa. Corporal Felix François “Red” Ordoquihandy (of Zuberoa origin – the Baretous valley to be specific), also of the 1st Marine Division, died in an accident after surviving two of the bloodiest battles in the Pacific, Peleliu and Okinawa. Rudolph Iglesias, of Biscayan parents, obtained the precious Silver Star in Okinawa as a platoon leader of the 1st Marines in Okinawa.

Barrenechea died tragically at the age of 22 in a traffic accident in 1948 in Nevada.

In the Philippines, where there was a large Basque colony, another Silver Star was won a sheepherder from Bedarona (Bizkaia) named Julián Aramburu Goicoechea, from the 33rd Infantry Division, while Higinio Uriarte Zamacona, a member of one of the Basque families of the island of Negros, became a prominent leader of the local resistance. The Battle of Manila (February 3-March 3, 1945) saw the total devastation within the walls of the splendid colonial city and the massacre of the Spanish community. The masses celebrated in the Basque communities of the western United States in memory of their relatives murdered in Manila by the Japanese occupiers are the only clue to many stories yet to be investigated, such as the one about the “Fighting Basques” battle tank that the very same Higinio Uriarte saw there.

The war ended in Europe on May 8, 1945, with the surrender of Germany. After a month of occupation of the island of Okinawa, the Allies asked Japan for its unconditional surrender on July 26. On August 6 and 9, the United States detonated two nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, respectively. Japan surrendered to the Allies on August 15, 1945. The “B-29” bombers from which the atomic bombs were dropped had taken off from the island of Tinian. On September 2, the terms of surrender were signed aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay, “officially” ending World War II. Barrenechea (of Gipuzkoan father and Navarrese mother) and Hirigoyen (of origin Lower Navarrese), aboard the USS Mississippi and USS Idaho, respectively, were historical witnesses of the capitulation. Hirigoyen continued his military career and participated in the Korean War.

Only nine days apart, both the Normandy Landing and the Battle of Saipan marked a point in time before and after in World War II. Seventy-five years later, Saipan and the Pacific Front have been relegated to the background, without any political prominence or media coverage that could compete with their French counterpart. Saipan has gone down in history as the decisive battle of the Pacific offensive, but the passage of time has not been kind to this battle or the men who fought it. It has been unjustly overshadowed by the events commemorating the anniversary of Normandy in response to public policies of memory that serve the interests of the present more than the memory of the past. Without world leaders, without the global media, Saipan continues to inevitably fade into oblivion, perhaps in an effort by the Western powers, and more specifically the United States, to move away from a military front that forces them to confront the consequences of the use of nuclear weapons for the first time in human history.

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Basque Fact of the Week: Tug of War or Sokatira

Get some kids together and throw in a rope and it won’t be long before they are trying to pull each other from one side to another. Tug of war is one of the most basic and raw competitions you can imagine and is a fixture at Basque festivals across the western United States. But, did you know that there are international competitions, pitting teams from across the globe in a quest to show they are the best at tug of war? And that the Basque Country just hosted the world championships in tug of war?

The Goiherri team in action. Photo from Deia.
  • Tug of war, as a competition, is as old as humanity. Etruscan friezes show teams pulling on ropes. And in The Iliad, Zeus brags how he could pull all the other gods put together. Tug of war was even an event in the original Olympic Games held in Ancient Greece and in the first few modern Olympics. It was played all over Europe, and indeed across the world in places like Cambodia and India.
  • While tug of war is as old as time in the Basque Country, it may be connected to the daily work of sailors, who had to tug boats into dock, or whalers that had to pull their catch to port. And organized competitions go back at least a century when, in 1915, Sokatira contests were held in the Atocha soccer stadium.
  • In the Basque Country, there are numerous clubs that participate in Sokatira, or tug of war, competitions. These competitions come in two varieties. There are open matches, in which anyone can participate, and closed or more regulated events in which there are strict weight categories, based on the weight of the team. Teams consist of 8 competitors. Only the last one can wrap the rope around their bodies — for everyone else, they can’t support the rope with any part of their body except their hands.
  • Over the last three years, about 50 different teams from all over Euskal Herria have competed in the Sokatira Euskadi Championship, representing all seven provinces of the Basque Country. As a national team, the Basque Country first competed in 1978, but under the name of Spain. They won the gold medal in 1991. After sitting out the 2005-2008 competitions to support the formation of an official Euskal Selekzioa team, the Basque Country was formally recognized as a full member of the Tug of War International Federation in 2014 and won their first gold as their own team in 2016.
  • The Tug of War world championships (Sokatira Mundiala) were held in September in Getxo, just outside of Bilbao. Teams from around the world, including multiple teams from the Basque Country, competed in a number of different classes, involving different weight classes and genders, including men’s, women’s, and mixed competitions. The Basque Country won the 560 kg men’s and the 500 kg women’s titles, and placed in a couple other events. The best teams move on to the World Games, to be held in 2022 in Alabama.

Primary sources: Sokatira Mundiala; Estornés Zubizarreta, Mikel Garikoitz; Etxezaharreta, Xarlot; Aguirre Franco, Rafael. SOKA-TIRA. Enciclopedia Auñamendi. Available at: https://aunamendi.eusko-ikaskuntza.eus/es/soka-tira/ar-110595/; Tug of War, Wikipedia; Basque rural sports, Wikipedia; Sokatira, euskonews.eus

The Adventures of Maite and Kepa: Part 74

The Adventures of Maite and Kepa 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!

Donny slowly slid off his saddle, his boots stirring up a small cloud of dust when they hit the dry ground. His horse was panting hard and frothing at the mouth, but Donny paid it no heed. His attention was focused on Kepa and Maite, who stood just behind him.

“I admit,” said Donny as he spit into the dirt. “That was some chase. I haven’t ridden so hard since I was a boy.” His face cracked into a smile that Maite could only call evil. “I guess it’s only fitting that you make me work for this, boy.”

Donny took a few steps forward as Kepa stepped back instinctively.

“Like I said,” barked Donny, waving his gun, “you better stay out here, or the whole thing goes up in flames.”

He took another step forward. “I don’t know what you did back there, with that light trick, but my boy, my cousin, isn’t looking too good after that last trick you pulled. We had to put down his horse. And he might not make it himself.”

“It was self defense,” seethed Kepa through gritted teeth, his hand behind his back holding strong to Maite’s. “He was trying to kill us.”

Donny shrugged. “Maybe. Who can say? All I know is that he’s the one hurt and here you are, with your honey. What do you think the sheriff will think?”

“That’s a good question. Let’s go ask him.”

Donny paused, his hand on his chin as he pretended to think about Kepa’s suggestion. But after a moment, he continued. “Nah, we don’t have to involve the poor man. I’ve got a better idea.”

Kepa watched as Donny opened the chamber of his revolver and let the few remaining bullets tumble out and into the dirt. His eyes on Kepa, he reached into his vest and pulled out something. Kepa was startled to see that it was glowing.

“Kepa!” whispered Maite in his ear. “It’s the…”

“Badakit,” interrupted Kepa as he squeezed her hand. “I know. It’s the zatia.”

“You see,” said Donny, oblivious to their conversation, “I found this bullet – “ he held up the glowing object between his finger and thumb “ – on the body of a dead sheepherder.”

“A sheepherder you killed, I imagine,” interrupted Maite. 

Donny shrugged. “I didn’t say that. But it don’t matter. The man was dead, and I found this on him, tucked into his pocket. Seemed weird that he carried a bullet that way, but I took it, saving it for a special occasion. And now, it only seems proper that it returns to the body of another sheepherder.”

He slowly slid the bullet into the chamber of his revolver. Maite gasped as the chamber clicked closed and Donny pointed it at them. Kepa shifted slightly to position himself even more completely between Donny and Maite.

“So, is that your plan?” asked Kepa. “You’re just going to shoot me? Here? In front of everyone?” He pointed to the windows surrounding them. Most had their lights on and a few shadowy figures were silhouetted in their frames.

Donny looked around. “What are they going to do? Turn me in? Say I shot an unarmed man in cold blood?” He raised his voice so that everyone could hear him. “Not if they know what’s good for them, they won’t.”

Kepa saw more than a few shadows withdraw and a few lights go out. He realized no one was going to come to their rescue.

Donny lifted his revolver, aiming it at Kepa’s heart. Kepa, feeling Maite’s breath on the back of his neck, squeezed her hand. 

“I’ll see you soon,” he whispered. Glaring at Donny, he yelled “Shoot me already, you damn coward! What are you waiting for? Shoot!”

Donny’s face twisted in rage as he pulled the trigger. Kepa watched, almost as if in slow motion, as the bright light of the zatia flew across the space separating them. Maite screamed in his ear, but her voice seemed far away. He felt the bullet rip through his chest, cracking bones and tearing flesh as pain exploded in his body. His heart burst just as a bright white light filled his vision.

If you get this post via email, the return-to address goes no where, so please write blas@buber.net if you want to get in touch with me.

Basque Fact of the Week: Agustín Ibarrola, Painter of Forests

Not far from Gernika, in the forests of the small village of Kortezubi, resides one of the most unusual art displays one can imagine. The trees are painted with splashes of color and geometrical forms that, individually, have no rhyme or reason, but together, when viewed from the right spot, form figures and shapes that come to life. The creation of Agustín Ibarrola, the Forest of Oma is but one of his many works that combine nature with human intervention, or take materials of our modern age – things like concrete and railroad ties – to create something new that forces us to look at the world around us in new ways.

The Forest of Oma, from Agustín Ibarrola‘s website.
  • Agustín Ibarrola Goicoechea was born in 1930 in the town of Basauri, Bizkaia. He was born into a working class family, which imparted in him a sense of the struggles of the everyman that he took with him into adulthood. He first studied art in Bilbao and then, thanks to a scholarship, Madrid, where he studied under Daniel Vázquez Díaz and was introduced to cubism. In the 1950s, his friendship with Jorge Oteiza led him to constructivism. In 1956, he moved to Paris and was part of the collection of Spanish artists called “Equipo 57.”
  • Ibarrola was a member of the Communist Party and participated in opposition to the Franco regime’s treatment of workers in the 1960s. He was imprisoned twice for his activities, once in 1962 and again in 1967.
  • In the 1980s, he began working on one of his most famous “pieces” – the Forest of Oma. He secluded himself in his baserri in Kortezubi and, over the course of 5 years, painted the trees in the forest. Individually, they appear as almost random colors and lines, but when seen from the right vantage point, figures, including animals and humans, appear.
  • His work expanded beyond painting and he used many industrial materials in his art. Using railroad ties, for example, he created “Viaje al Infinito,” which resides in the Abando station in Bilbao; “Ola a ritmo de txalaparta” (Chamartín station in Madrid), and “El Bosque de Totems” (Príncipe Pío station in Madrid).
  • One of his most recent works involves painting the large concrete blocks that help form the water break in the town of Llanes, just outside of Bilbao in the province of Asturias. The bright cubes – Cubos de la Memoria – contrast with the more stark colors of the ocean and the grey walls that form the rest of the breakwater.
  • Ibarrola has been an active member of both the Ermua Forum and ¡Basta Ya!, both of which advocate for the victims of terrorism and against terrorist activities. As a result of his political activities, some of Ibarrola’s works have been attacked and he himself has been threatened, causing him to leave the Basque Country and settle in Ávila.
  • His work has garnered multiple awards, including the Medalla de Oro del Círculo de Bellas Artes (1994), la Medalla al Mérito y Reconocimiento al Trabajo (2001), y la Medalla al Orden y Mérito Constitucional (2003).
  • In 1977, he painted Guernica Gernikara, part of an attempt to get Picasso’s Guernica to the Basque town of Gernika. The piece, which recreates aspects of Picasso’s work, was long forgotten in Ibarrola’s studio but was recently purchased by the Museum of Fine Arts in Bilbao.

Primary source: Ibarrola Goicoechea, Agustín. Enciclopedia Auñamendi. Available at: https://aunamendi.eusko-ikaskuntza.eus/es/ibarrola-goicoechea-agustin/ar-72311/

The Adventures of Maite and Kepa: Part 73

The Adventures of Maite and Kepa 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!

“Lagundu!” cried Kepa as he barreled into town a few hours later, Santi slumped against him as he tried to guide the exhausted horse down the road toward the Noriega. “Help!”

It was late at night and most lights were out. Even so, a few weary souls came rushing out of the Noriega as Kepa pulled up. Juan Jose was the first one out.

“What’s happened?” asked Juan Jose. Kepa assumed he must have been in the middle of a game of mus. 

Kepa hopped off of the tired beast. “Santi’s been shot. In the shoulder. He’s lost a lot of blood.”

Maite came bursting out of the front doors. “Kepa!” she yelled as she rushed over to him.

“It’s ok, we’re safe now,” he said as she engulfed him in her arms.

Juan Jose and a few other men helped Santi off of the horse and into the boarding house as a few others led the horse toward the stable. Santi turned as he crossed the doorway, his hand clutching his injured shoulder and his eyes wide in fear as he stared at Kepa.

“What’s that about?” asked Maite when she saw the terror etched on Santi’s face. 

“I…” began Kepa, quietly so only Maite could hear. “I did some magic.” 

“You what?” asked Maite incredulously.

He shrugged and gave her a weak smile. “I shot light out of my hand. It helped us get away from Donny.”

“Donny? He’s behind this?”

“Bai,” replied Kepa. “And I don’t think this is the end of it.”

“I think you’re right,” said Maite as she pointed behind him. 

Kepa turned to see Donny riding into town, his horse at a full gallop, throwing dirt and dust with every kick. It seemed Donny was alone.

Donny bore down on the Noriega as Maite and Kepa retreated for the door. A bullet smashed into the door frame, sending splinters of wood flying in all directions. Kepa cringed.

“If you go in there,” bellowed Donny, his voice twisted in rage, “I swear I will burn the whole damn thing down!”

Kepa and Maite stopped. They turned to watch Donny pull up in front of the Noriega, his revolver aimed directly at them.

If you get this post via email, the return-to address goes no where, so please write blas@buber.net if you want to get in touch with me.

Basque Fact of the Week: The Basque History of Boise

Boise, Idaho, is one of the centers of Basque culture in the United States. The home of the Basque Block, which features the Boise Basque Center, the Basque Museum and Cultural Center, a fronton, the Basque Market, and the restaurants Bar Gernika and Leku Ona, it is also home to the Oinkari Basque Dancers and Jaialdi. With about 16,000 Basques, Boise has one of the largest Basque communities outside of the Basque Country. As one can imagine, this vibrant culture is a reflection of a long history in the area.

Photo from the Basque Center.
  • Basques first came to Idaho in the late 1800s, attracted by the promise of silver and gold with discoveries in places like DeLamar (1889) and Silver City (1890). However, many quickly found themselves working as sheepherders. Others found work in timber or even building dams. Antonio Azcuenaga claimed to be the first Basque to reach southwest Idaho – he was trailing sheep in the area in 1889. By 1897, The Idaho Statesman was describing how John Archibal brought sheep down to the city.
  • With the influx of Basques to the region, they need places to stay and people to help them get settled. As in other places, boarding houses popped up in Boise. What is now known as the Cyrus Jacobs/Uberuaga House began as a Basque boarding house in 1910. Even earlier, in 1900, Azcuenaga, who lived in Jordan Valley, Oregon, built the Oregon Hotel to cater to Basque immigrants. By 1920, there were nearly a dozen boarding houses in Boise. These included the Star Rooming House, Bicandi’s Boarding House, Anduiza’s, Uberuaga’s, and Bilaustegui’s. The last of them, the Uberuaga’s, closed in 1978.
  • While Catholicism was an important aspect of the cultural heritage of those Basques living in Boise, young Basque immigrants tended not to attend church regularly. So the first Bishop of Boise, Monsignor Alphonse Glorieux, requested a priest to serve the Basque community in Southern Idaho and Eastern Oregon. Father Bernardo Arregui arrived in Boise on July 11, 1911 to serve the Basques of Idaho, Nevada, and Oregon. In 1916, he was named Spanish Vice Consulate in the United States. In 1918, he became pastor of the Church of the Good Shepherd, the only Basque parish in the United States. The Good Shepherd was dedicated in 1919. The church closed its doors in 1928 when the then-Bishop decided there shouldn’t be separate churches for different ethnicities.
  • Boxing played an important role in the history of the Boise Basques. In 1954, three Boise Basques – John Bastida, Zenon Ysaguirre, and Teles Hormaechea – hired Vicente Echevarria, the Welter Weight champion in the Basque Country. They sponsored fights once a month, which drew spectators from as far as Nevada. Even though gambling was illegal, some places promoted betting on the fights. The proceeds went to maintaining and renovating the Basque Center.
  • At one time, Boise had four frontons. Of those four, only one still exists: the Anduiza fronton that was built in 1914-15. In its heyday – the 1920s to 1940s – games were played every day at Anduiza. The Anduiza actually closed in 1943, bought by an engineering company, but in 1972 they agreed to restore it for pelota. In 1993, Adelia Garro Simplot and Richard Hormaechea bought the building and kept pelota alive in Boise. The other frontons were at the Star Hotel, the Hotel Iberria, and at Domingo Zabala’s.
  • The Basques of Boise formed a tight group. They had specific societies to help one another. In 1908, the Basque men’s society Socorros Mutuos was founded to help with medical and funeral expenses. By the 1920s, there were at least two more: the Mutual Aid Society and the American Basque Fraternity. But these all catered to men. In 1930, a group of Basque women, including Escolástica Arriandiaga Ondarza, saw the need for a society dedicated to their needs and they formed the Subsidiary of the American Basque Fraternity. This was the first of several Basque organizations dedicated to Basque women.

Primary sources: Church of the Good Shepherd, Boise, Idaho, USA, Gloria Totoricagüena Egurrola; Totoricagüena Egurrola, Gloria Pilar. Estados Unidos de América. Idaho. Enciclopedia Auñamendi. Available at: https://aunamendi.eusko-ikaskuntza.eus/es/estados-unidos-de-america-idaho/ar-27125/; A Travel Guide to Basque America, Nancy Zubiri; Home Away from Home, Jeronima Echeverria.

The Adventures of Maite and Kepa: Part 72

The Adventures of Maite and Kepa 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!

Donny screamed, his hands covering his face as the bright light shooting from Kepa’s hand blinded him. 

Kepa rushed over to Santi, who was staring at him with wide eyes.

“Sorgina!” exclaimed the older Basque. “Witch!” he said as he trembled and cowered away from Kepa’s reach.

“I’m no witch!” yelled Kepa as he tried to grab Santi and pull him to his feet. “At least, I don’t think I am,” he muttered under his breath. Louder, he added, “We need to go, now! Before he recovers.”

Kepa pulled Santi up and led him to one of the horses, Donny’s yells and curses filling the night air. As he got Santi up on the horse, he could see the other two cowboys rushing to Donny’s side.

“Boss…?” began one. 

“Forget about me!” screamed Donny. “Kill them!”

Kepa pulled himself onto the horse and gave it a slap as a few gunshots flew by. He could hear them ricocheting off of the rocks. 

“We won’t make it,” cried Santi. “It’s too far. They’ll catch us and kill us.”

“No they won’t,” bellowed Kepa. “Just hang on.”

For a moment, the gunshots died off. Kepa pushed the horse into a hard run as they flew across the hill side. The town seemed like forever away, but Kepa knew that if they had any chance of surviving, he had to reach town. It wasn’t long, however, before the gunshots resumed. Kepa stole a glance backward and saw one of the cowboys in pursuit. He couldn’t help but think what would happen if their horse got hit by one of the bullets. They would all go down, maybe even crushed by the large beast. And if they weren’t, he shuddered to think of the cowboys catching up to them.

As he gritted his teeth and urged the horse on faster, he felt the fire return to his finger tips. Stealing a glance at his hand, he saw it glowing again, just like it had when he attacked Donny. A bullet grazed his thigh and he yelled out in pain. Without looking, he aimed his hand behind him and let the light flare from his fingertips. He heard one scream pierce the night and the bullets stopped. For a moment, he felt a pang of guilt as he thought about the other rider’s horse, but he shook it off and kept riding.

“Zer zara zu?” asked Santi, almost delirious from the pain and loss of blood from his shoulder. “What the hell are you?”

“Laguna naiz. I’m a friend,” was all Kepa said as he pushed the horse forward.

The rest of the ride was relatively uneventful, though Kepa never let up on the horse. He knew there was at least one more cowboy likely following them and Donny would be on his tail as well. He could only hope that they wouldn’t catch him before he and Santi reached town.

If you get this post via email, the return-to address goes no where, so please write blas@buber.net if you want to get in touch with me.

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