Basque Fact of the Week: The Muslim Banu Qasi Dynasty

I’ve often heard that the Basques have never been conquered. However, during the Muslim invasion of what would eventually become Spain, they reached the borders of the Basque region. This led to significant military, political, and even familial interactions between the Muslims and the Basques. In fact, one of the most prominent families of the time, the Iñigo family that effectively founded the Kingdom of Pamplona, were closely related to their neighbors, the Muslim Banu Qasi family.

Bust of Musa ibn Musa in Tudela. Photo from Wikipedia.
  • The Banu Qasi dynasty is said to have started with the Christian Count Casio, or Cassius, shortly after the arrival of Muslim troops to the Ebro valley in 712 or 713. We know little about Casio himself. He was possibly from the southern Nafarroan town of Tudela. After converting to Islam, he supposedly traveled to Damascus to pledge his loyalty to Al-Walid, the Caliph of the Umayyad.
  • His descendants became known as the Banu Qasi, an important dynasty of rulers in the Ebro valley region. Their territory bordered what would become the Kingdom of Pamplona/Nafarroa to the south.
  • The Banu Qasi family was intertwined with the Iñigo family who were prominent in the Kingdom of Pamplona. Because of their close connections, a member of the Banu Qasi family, Mutarrif ibn Musa ibn Fortun, was appointed governor of Pamplona in 798 (and murdered the following year). Similarly, Onneca, the mother of the first King of Pamplona Eneko (Iñigo) Arista, after the death of Iñigo’s father, married Musa ibn Fortun. Their son, Musa ibn Musa, became an important leader of the Banu Qasi dynasty. Musa, in turn, married one of Arista’s daughters, becoming both his half-brother and son-in-law.
  • Under Musa ibn Musa, the family gained new prominence. He allied with his brother-in-law, García Iñiguez, son of Eneko Arista, to ambush and capture the Wali of Zaragoza, Harit. This in turn led Emir Abd al-Rahman II to attack Pamplona. This cycle of antagonism between ibn Musa and the Emir would continue, with ibn Musa on the losing side and the Emir making greater inroads to Pamplona. Despite this, his power and relationship with the Emir grew and he became ruler of the region. His power and influence were so great that he was sometimes called the third king of Hispania (maybe at his own order).
  • Under Musa ibn Musa, his troops participated with the Basques in the second Battle of Roncevaux (Orreaga) Pass in 824, in which they defeated the advancing Carolingians. This victory led directly to the establishment of the Kingdom of Pamplona.
  • After the death of Eneko Arista in 851, Pamplona aligned itself more with Asturias and less with the Banu Qasi. This rift led ibn Musa, at the behest of the Emir, to plunder Araba, in retaliation for the Basques having helped the Asturians against their interests. ibn Musa’s time ended when he was killed fighting his son-in-law.
  • After his death, ibn Musa’s sons led uprisings in the area, taking several prominent towns in 872. However, their victories were short-lived and by 875 all but one was dead. Because King García Íñiguez of Pamplona and other Basque families had supported these uprisings, the Emir initiated new campaigns against them.
  • ibn Musa’s grandson, Muhammad ibn Lubb, solidified his control of the family by 885. However, the weakening of the emirate in Cordoba meant that there was less central oversight of his rule. He caused significant conflict in the region until his death by treachery in 898. His son Lubb ibn Muhammad continued hostilities until the Jimena family took over the Kingdom of Pamplona from the Iñigo family. In 907, Lubb ibn Muhammad is killed and the decline of the Banu Qasi dynasty begins.

Primary sources: Etxegarai Garaikoetxea, Mikel. Banu Qasi. Auñamendi Encyclopedia, 2024. Available at: https://aunamendi.eusko-ikaskuntza.eus/en/banu-qasi/ar-10935/; Banu Qasi, Wikipedia

The Adventures of Maite and Kepa: Part 182

Monday night they found themselves at a cocktail bar just a little off one of the main thoroughfares of the Parte Vieja. Maite had never even heard of the place, much less been there, but Belen raved about it. The interior was dark and moody, with couches spread around small tables. Very different from most of the pubs in the old part of town.

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!

Two bartenders waited behind the bar, and behind them was a huge array of bottles, more than most of the other pubs in town. She and Kepa sat down on one of the couches and perused the menu in front of them while they waited for Belen and her boyfriend. As Maite looked at all of the exotic names, her head began to spin. There were so many choices! She was used to getting a kalimotxo or a gin-kas or a zurito. These menus almost reminded her of the United States – so many choices!

Before she could really delve into the menu, though, the door opened up and Belen walked in with a young man in tow. 

“Epa!” cried Belen as she spotted them and came over, giving both Maite and Kepa kisses on each cheek.

“This is Joseba,” she introduced the man who waited patiently behind her. 

Joseba gave Maite kisses on each cheek and Kepa a firm handshake.

“Nice to meet you two,” he said as he sat down. 

Joseba didn’t look like most of the men who wandered the fiestas and pubs of the Basque Country. Maite had gotten used to the mullet which had either come back in style or never quite got out of style in the Basque Country. And the large hoop earrings. Joseba sported neither. He had longer dirty blond hair that was a bit unkempt. He also sported what she guessed must be perpetual stubble. But, he had an infectious smile. And an odd accent…

“You’re not from around here, are you?” asked Kepa, as Maite elbowed him in the ribs. 

“How rude!” she hissed in his ear, but Joseba just laughed.

“No, no,” he said. “I grew up in Mexico. My grandfather left the Basque Country for work when he was a teenager. He always wanted to come back, but then he made a family there and sort of got stuck, as he would say. But he would always tell these stories about his home, stories that would captivate me. He always talked about the lush mountains, the wonderful beaches, and – “ he glanced over to Belen – “ the beautiful women. I knew I had to come when I got a chance. I’ve been here a few years now, but my Mexican accent still shines through.”

“Is it all you imagined?” asked Maite.

“It’s different, you know. My grandfather, his Euskal Herria was very different than the Euskal Herria of today. I don’t think he would recognize it. It is much more modern than he described. Much more cosmopolitan. And much more diverse. I don’t know if he would like it so much. But, then, I don’t know if he liked Mexico either. It’s where he lived, but I don’t think it was home for him.” Again looking over at Belen, he added with a big smile “But he was right about the Basque women.”

As they were talking, one of the bartenders walked up.

“Can I help you with the menu?” he asked.

Kepa and Maite nodded enthusiastically, prompting the bartender to delve into the details of all of the strange cocktails they served.

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.

Random Bits of Basqueness

Usher and his girlfriend Jennifer Goicoechea. Photo found on USA Today, credit: Kevin Mazur/VF23, WireImage for Vanity Fair.

I woke up today to news alerts that Usher, who performed at the Super Bowl halftime show, had obtained a marriage license with his longtime girlfriend. I normally wouldn’t care, but her name certainly caught my attention: Jennifer Goicoechea. No idea if she is aware of or even cares about her Basque surname, but it jumped out at me…

Basque Fact of the Week: Txorizo (Chorizo) and Txistorra

About the time I went off to college, my dad started making his own chorizo. He’d send me off with packages of frozen sausage – at the time, he’d pack them in a cut up milk jug filled with water and freeze them. So, I’d have rows and rows of chorizo that I’d broken free from the ice laid out on my dorm-room desk to dry. I got more than a few odd looks, but they were wonderful – more tangy than the ones we’d get from the store made by Gem Meat Packing. My dad would always give me a hard time, teasing me about how I could love chorizo so much when they were full of peppers – I hate the taste of peppers, but I never could taste it in the chorizo.

Dad and some of his friends with their racks of chorizo out to dry.
  • Chorizo – txorizo in Euskara – is a pork sausage that is typically cured and dried. It is common to the whole Iberian peninsula – Portugal and Spain. In Spain, there are literally hundreds of local varieties and for a sausage to be called chorizo, it must contain both garlic and paprika (specifically pimentón). Of course, the paprika gives it the mild spiciness and red color that make it stand out. Depending on the variety, it can either be eaten as is – sliced and served – or after cooking (baked, fried, grilled).
  • Chorizo de Pamplona is a variant that is common in Nafarroa. It is distinguished by the more finely chopped meat and the combination of minced pork and beef as well as bacon. It is typically much thicker than other chorizos and is often sliced and used in sandwiches. Chorizo de Pamplona takes about 3 months to cure. The drier climate of Pamplona is essential to this process.
  • Txistorra is another variant of chorizo that is from the Basque Country and Aragon. It tends to be thinner than regular chorizo, only about one inch thick. It has a faster curing time, needing as little as 24 hours to set and 2-3 days to dry. It is thought that it has its origins in Gipuzkoa where it was made with left over pig meat – in some places it is called birika, which means lung in Basque, as it was made with pig’s lung. It is cooked before serving and is usually served as an accompaniment to other foods or as a pintxo. It is particularly popular during the Feria of Santo Tómas. A common dish is txistorra (or txorizo) with fried potatoes and eggs.
  • Chorizos (or chur-dee-shows as they are often called locally) are staples of the Basque festivals in the US west. In fact, I’d go so far to say that you can’t have a Basque festival without chorizo. Down at the Basque Block in Boise, there are “hotdog” stands that sell chorizo (or at least there used to be…) And, because of the popularity of Basque-style chorizo in the region, there are a number of producers: Ansots, Falls Brand, and Hill’s Premium Meats (using the recipe from Gem Meat Packing) are just a few.

Primary sources: Chorizo, Wikipedia; Chistorra, Wikipedia; Chorizo de Pamplona, Wikipedia; Chistorra, Wikipedia

The Adventures of Maite and Kepa: Part 181

After a few weeks, Kepa found his groove at the pub. Iratxe was still a bit rough around the edges, but he enjoyed the comraderie he was building with Belen in the kitchen. She was light-hearted, didn’t take anything too seriously, and laughed as his jokes. And, he admitted to himself, she was quite attractive. If he and Maite weren’t together…

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!

He’d always stop himself there. Of course he and Maite were together, something he’d dreamt of so many times when they were just friends, just part of the same cuadrilla. He mentally kicked himself whenever he caught himself thinking about Belen. But, sometimes, those thoughts came unbidden.

On one particularly light Tuesday afternoon, Iratxe suddenly appeared in the kitchen. She had a preternatural ability to do that, to appear without notice. Kepa was always taken aback, wondered if she had some kind of special ability of her own that made her even more intimidating than she already was.

“You’ve got a visitor,” she said a bit gruffly, as if he wasn’t supposed to have any kind of visitors.

“A visitor?” he repeated as he threw the dish towel he was using to dry pans over his shoulder. He went around the long way from the kitchen to the bar. And there was Maite, sitting at the bar, looking as marvelous as she always did.

“Maite!” he exclaimed, swooping over to her and putting a little peck on her cheek. “What are you doing here?”

“Classes got out a bit early today and I’m all caught up on my homework, so I thought I’d see where you work.”

Kepa made a grand sweep of his arm. “This is it,” he said. “What do you think?”

“Oh, I like it a lot,” she replied. “It reminds me of my parents’ place.”

Iratxe appeared suddenly behind the bar, conspiculously clinking glasses together as she rearranged them on the shelves.

“Iratxe,” said Kepa, almost timidly. He waited more than a few seconds before she turned around. “This is my girlfriend, Maite.”

Maite stood up and waved to Iratxe. “Nice to meet you,” she said. “And what a marvelous place you have here.”

“Eskerrik asko,” replied Iratxe somewhat stiffly. “It pays the bills.” She paused a moment. “Kepa has really turned out to be a godsend.”

Kepa blushed. Those were the first nice words Iratxe had said since he started here. Before he turned completely red, he grabbed Maite’s hand and pulled her through the dining room. 

“Here, let me introduce you to the others.”

In the kitchen, Belen was cutting up vegetables for the evening soup. She paused as Maite and Kepa came through the doorway.

“Belen, this is my girlfriend Maite. Maite, this is Belen, the other cook here.”

Belen and Maite exchanged kisses on each cheek.

“It’s very nice to meet you,” said Belen. “Kepa talks about you all the time and it is nice to put a face to the stories.”

Maite raised an eyebrow in a way that always made Kepa jealous. “All good things, I hope.”

Belen leaned in and, in a whisper that wasn’t all that quiet, said “He adores you.”

It was Maite’s turn to blush.

“He’s told me about what a wonderful cook you are,” said Maite, changing the subject. “Better than his ama makes.”

Belen laughed. “Now that, I doubt. But thank you.”

“Hey,” she added. “The bar is closed on Monday. Do you want to get a drink? My boyfriend also has the day off.”

Kepa felt an odd pang at the mention of Belen’s boyfriend. She had never mentioned a boyfriend before. But, even so, why should he care?

“We’d love to!” exclaimed Maite.

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: Uberuaga Island

Basque names are unusual and often striking, immediately recognizable. And generally they are rare, particularly on maps. So, it is pretty cool when your distant cousin is recognized for her career by having an island named after her. Maybe that should be on my bucket list – to visit Uberuaga Island.

Julia Uberuaga with her Cat, stationed at McMurdo Station in Antarctica. Uberuaga Island is located by the red point. Photo of Julia found on The Antarctic Sun.
  • Uberuaga Island is one of several volcanic islands that make up what is collectively known as the Dailey Islands. Discovered by a British expedition in 1901-1904, the group of islands, which sits a few miles from Cape Chocolate, were named after the expedition’s carpenter Fred Dailey.
  • Uberuaga Island is about half a mile long and is the easternmost of the Dailey Islands.
  • The island is named for Julia Mary Uberuaga. From 1979-99, Julia made 20 consecutive Antarctic seasonal deployments working for contractors in support of U.S. Antarctic Project (USAP). At the beginning, she worked as a general field assistant. For the rest of her deployments, she was a heavy equipment operator, the last few seasons operating a Caterpillar D7 Pearl on the McMurdo Ice Shelf.
  • When Julia began her first deployment in Antarctica, at the age of 24, she was one of the few women in a place otherwise dominated by men. As she recalled, it was more than a challenging experience, but she loved the landscape and there were promises of promotion, so she stuck it out. By the time she was in her last deployment, twenty years later, women comprised some one third of the work force at McMurdo Station.
  • McMurdo Station is the primary settlement run by the United States in Antartica. It can support about 1500 people. Sponsored by the National Science Foundation and established in 1955, the station supports a wide range of scientific activity: “aeronomy, astrophysics and geospace sciences, biology and ecosystems, geology and geophysics, glaciology, geomorphology, ice cores, and ocean and climate systems.”
  • Julia’s grandfather, Domingo Uberuaga, was from Munitibar/Gerrikaitz-Arbatzegi. He was one of three Uberuaga brothers that emigrated from the Basque Country to the United States, settling in the state of Idaho. There was a fourth brother who stayed in the Basque Country who was my great-grandfather.

Thanks to Damiana Uberuaga for suggesting this topic for a fact! If you have an idea, please let me know.

The National Basque WWII Veterans Memorial

Plans are underway to build the first national WWII memorial in the United Sates to honor veterans of Basque descent.

Do you know that over 1,600 veterans of Basque origin served in the U.S. Armed Forces during WWII? The time has come to permanently honor and thank all WWII veterans of Basque descent who served and sacrificed their lives for our freedoms. Pedro Oiarzabal will present a public lecture on the Basques in WWII on February 17 at 2pm at the Basque Cultural Center. It is free and open to all.

US Navy WWII veteran John Mainvil Oses (San Bernardino, California, 1926-2022, in Eagle, Idaho) and wife Grace Lacouague Mujica (San Juan Capistrano, California, 1934-2017, Eagle) were interviewed by Joseba Etxarri, director of EuskalKultura.eus, and Pedro J. Oiarzabal at the home in Eagle in 2015. Grace was the North American Basque Organizations’ treasurer for 28 years.

The North American Basque Organizations Inc., has launched a fundraising campaign with an inaugural event that will be held February 16th at the Basque Cultural Center of South San Francisco, CA. The two goals of the campaign are to first raise funds to complete the “Fighting Basques: Memory of WWII” research and second to build “The National Basque WWII Veterans Memorial.” The memorial is intended to serve as a long-lasting memory to all veterans of Basque origin who served in the U.S. military during WWII as well as an educational tool for all to recognize and learn of their sacrifices and unselfish contributions to this country.

As of today, the “Fighting Basques” project research team, under the direction of the Basque homeland history association Sancho de Beurko, has identified more than 1,600 WWII combatants of Basque origin in the U.S. Armed Forces, following research in 46 States, Washington D.C., and Puerto Rico. The result of this research is the writing up more than 1,100 biographies of these veterans and their families. According to Dr. Pedro J. Oiarzabal, “Fighting Basques” project’s main researcher, “The National Basque World War II Veterans Memorial intends to become a place where we all can permanently remember, honor, and thank all WWII veterans of Basque descent. We believe that the Memorial would become a national symbol of public recognition and pride comparable to the Basque Sheepherder Monument at Rancho San Rafael, in Reno, Nevada.”

To achieve this goal, they need all our help

To donate todayplease visit this website (https://nabasque.eus/wwii_memorial.html), scan the QR code

or send a check payable to:

N.A.B.O. WWII Veterans Memorial Fund
c/o Mayi Petracek
11971 S. Allerton Cir
Parker, CO  80138

Your contribution to support this important project is tax-deductible.

Educational Fund of the North American Basque Organizations, Inc.

EIN: 82-0489192

The Adventures of Maite and Kepa: Part 180

It was a little before noon and Kepa stood in front of the bar again, though Iratxe was no where to be found. He heard some bustling coming from the back as he waited patiently for Iratxe, or anyone really, to pop out front. Some fifteen minutes must have passed as he waited there, quietly.

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!

Suddenly a face peaked from behind the curtain separating the bar from the kitchen.

“There you are!” barked Iratxe irritatedly. “Get your ass back here.”

Kepa looked around and quickly made his way through the dining room and into the kitchen.

“Barkatu…” he began as Iratxe took off the apron she had been wearing and threw it at him. 

“Dammit,” she said, shaking her head. “We are already behind. The first customers will be showing up any moment. Tortilla, now!” She disappeared behind the curtain.

Kepa pulled on the apron and grabbed three pans. He was glad he had the test run yesterday as that gave him just enough familiarity with the kitchen that he didn’t have to go asking Iratxe where things were. She had already peeled and sliced a bowl full of potatoes. Not quite the way he would have done it – while Iratxe’s potatoes were cut up into almost perfect cubes, he preferred very thin slices, almost like coins. He just thought they cooked better. He threw her potatoes into one of the pans after the oil got hot while he sliced up his own.

Soon, three perfect tortillas sat plated and ready to pass to the bar. Almost as soon as he had finished, the plates came back empty. He could hear the ruckus on the other side of the curtain. He had no idea how popular this place was. And here he had hoped to find a nice quiet place to work with no stress.

But, he didn’t stop making tortilla. Another cook was in the kitchen working on the various lunch items. Kepa wasn’t sure if he should help her, but she didn’t ask for any help and he figured he should just keep making tortilla until he was told to stop. Both he and the other cook worked silently for hours. Only once did Iratxe peak in to eye things, but saying nothing, she disappeared behind the curtain. A young man appeared, taking plates of food prepared by the other cook to the dining room. Still Kepa made his tortilla. 

Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, Iratxe walked through the curtain, her forehead glistening with sweat. 

“I think we’re good,” she said, looking at Kepa. “You can help Belen now.” Iratxe gestured to the other woman in the kitchen, who barely looked up and gave Kepa a brief nod as she gestured to some pots in the sink.

Right, Kepa thought to himself. I get to help wash…

Kepa had always known that working in a bar was hard, he’d seen enough of his friends doing it. Particularly Maite and her parents. They were up in the earliest part of the day, getting ready, and one of them was always up way past midnight, serving drinks to the last few patrons. And he had done a few stints himself, helping out with a parttime job here and there. But this was a bit different. The enormous crush of the lunchtime crowd just overwhelmed him. He wasn’t sure he could do this every day.

“How do you do it?” he asked as he scrubbed a pot.

“Eh?” replied Belen as she flipped a steak. “What do you mean?”

“How do you do this every day?”

Belen shrugged. “It’s my job,” she said. “It’s what the boss pays me for.” She paused before letting out a little smile. “But, today was about as rough as I’ve seen. A big wedding party booked the whole bar. It won’t be like this yesterday.”

Kepa looked stunned. “She could have told me!” he stammered.

“Would you have come?” asked Belen, her smile widening. 

“Maybe not,” Kepa admitted.

“Don’t worry, tomorrow will be a lot easier.”

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: Composer Juan Crisóstomo Arriaga

When a budding genius dies young, one wonders “what if” they had lived longer, what could they have accomplished? Juan Crisóstomo Arriaga, though not even reaching his 20th birthday, displayed such musical genius that he was often compared to Mozart. His teachers praised him for his deep understanding of composition and harmony, despite the fact that he had not been formally instructed in either when he wrote many of his works. Yesterday marked the 218th anniversary of his birth, and one can only speculate what he might have accomplished if he had made it to 40 or 50 or even longer.

Juan Crisóstomo Arriaga and part of his Overture for Los esclavos felices.
  • Juan Crisóstomo Arriaga was born in Bilbo on January 27, 1806, fifty years to the day after Mozart, one of the multiple reasons he was nicknamed the “Spanish Mozart.” His father, Juan Simón, originally from Errigoiti, had moved to Bilbo from Gernika in 1804 and had displayed some musical talent of his own – he had been an organist. Living and working in Bilbo, he was able to provide for his future son’s much more prodigious talent. Arriaga’s mother, María Rosa Catalina de Balzola, was from Gernika. Arriaga was the eighth of nine children born into the family.
  • The name Arriaga comes from a small hamlet near Gernika, and means place of stone.
  • Arriaga was a musical prodigy. He wrote his first octet, Nada y Mucho, when he was eleven years old. He wrote an overture when he was twelve and, by his fourteenth birthday, he had written the two-act opera Los esclavos felices (The Happy Slaves), his Variation for strings, and La Húngara for violin and piano.
  • At the age of 15, his dad arranged his move to Paris to complete his musical studies – he would never see his family again. There, he studied violin with Pierre Baillot, counterpoint with Luigi Cherubini, and harmony under François-Joseph Fétis, all at the Paris Conservatoire. When he was 18, Fétis made him a teaching assistant.
  • One of his first compositions while in Paris was his Arco Quartets, of which Fétis said “It is impossible to find anything more original, nor more purely and correctly written.” He also wrote his Symphony in D for Large Orchestra and several other vocal pieces to be accompanied by orchestra. He was particularly praised by his instructors for his “sophisticated harmonies, counterpoint and fugue,” all this despite relatively little formal training. Cherubini called him “the very personification of music.”
  • Unfortunately, Arriaga’s brilliance was cut short. He died just short of his twentieth birthday on January 17, 1826, from a lung ailment, possibly tuberculosis or fatigue as a consequence of overexertion due to his meteoric trajectory. Upon his death, a trunk with his violin and some of his manuscripts was sent to his father’s house in Bilbo. It was left in an attic where it remained abandoned for years until it was rescued, almost half a century later, by a relative in 1869.
  • The Teatro Arriaga in Bilbo, which opened in 1890, was named after the famed composer in 1902.
  • You can find a playlist of some of his compositions – many have been lost to time – on Youtube.

Primary sources: Sagardia Sagardia, Ángel. Arriaga, Juan Crisóstomo (1806-1826). Auñamendi Encyclopedia, 2024. Available at: https://aunamendi.eusko-ikaskuntza.eus/en/arriaga-juan-crisostomo-1806-1826/ar-4933/; Juan Crisóstomo Arriaga, Wikipedia; Juan Crisóstomo de Arriaga, Wikipedia

The Adventures of Maite and Kepa: Part 179

Weeks had passed and classes were about to begin for Maite. Kepa had continued to check out the local bars to see if anyone could use a bartender or waiter, but so far, he hadn’t found anything he liked. Or rather, no one had seemed to like him. He had been let go from his first job in the Parte Vieja and no one since had been willing to give him a chance. They all told him that helping out at the local taberna in a small village simply didn’t compare to the bustle of the big city – none of them thought he could keep up. Eventually, he decided he needed to go a bit away from the heart of the city and check out some of the quieter neighborhoods, maybe a side street, and see if anyone there might give him a chance.

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!

“Egun on,” he said as he entered what was probably his fifth stop today. 

A woman stood behind the bar drying glasses. She was probably in her late forties. Her black hair, pulled tight into a bun behind her head, showed a few streaks of silver running through it. She wore a loose-fitting t-shirt that looked like it might have been as old as Kepa. The words “Negu Gorriak” were emblazoned across the front. 

“Barkatu,” she said without looking up. “But we are closed. We open at 2. Come back later.”

“I’m not here to eat or drink,” replied Kepa tentatively – the woman gave off an almost hostile vibe. “I was hoping you might be looking to hire.”

“Hire?” replied the woman quizzically as she put the glass down and looked up. Her striking grey eyes almost seemed to pierce Kepa. “What do you mean, hire?”

“I’m…” stammered Kepa. “I’m trying to find work,” he finally belted out. “Anything really.”

“Do you know how to cook?” asked the woman.

“Only what my ama taught me,” replied Kepa sheepishly. He wasn’t sure why, but this woman really made him feel uncomfortable. She exuded a confidence, a power, that took him off guard.

“Etorri,” barked the woman as she passed behind the bar to the kitchen. Once there, she pointed at the stove. “Make me a tortilla.”

Kepa scanned the kitchen, locating a pan and the fridge where he assumed the eggs would be.

“How do you like it?” he asked.

“Very good question,” replied the woman with a smile. “Most people don’t bother to ask. I like mine just a little gooey inside.”

Kepa smiled as he hefted the pan in his hand. “The same as me.”

He cracked the eggs and peeled the potatoes. Soon the pan was sizzling. He knew it was a risk, but he decided he needed to do whatever he could to impress the woman. He flipped the tortilla in the air and caught it dead center in the pan. Moments later, he was plating a slice and handing it to the woman.

“Not bad,” judged the woman as she took a bite. “Do you think you can do it any faster?”

“Probably,” replied Kepa.

“Oso ondo. Come back tomorrow around 12.”

As Kepa was about to leave the bar, he turned to see the woman back behind the counter, continuing to dry glasses. 

“Eskerrik asko,” he began and then paused.

“Iratxe,” she replied. “See you tomorrow.”

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