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.

Basque Fact of the Week: Gazta! Cheese!

There is a story that, millennia ago, a Basque shepherd was working under the hot southerly wind. The night before, he had finished a lamb for his dinner and, today, he used the lamb’s hide to hold milk. He then trekked home — this all took place near the modern town of Eibar — and upon reaching his house, he found that the liquid milk had solidified; he had accidentally discovered cheese. Whatever the true origin, today there are over 2000 varieties of cheeses made around the globe.

  • Cheese has been part of human culture for thousands of years. The oldest description we have comes from the Sumerians, somewhere between 3100 and 3500 BCE. Homer describes cheese mixed with nuts and honey in the Odyssey in about the 9th century BCE. There are mentions of cheese in the Bible, in the books of Samuel and Job, that are from around 500 and 1000 BCE. And, in the Basque Country, there are clay pots dated about 3000 years old that could have been used to make cheese.
  • The proliferation of cheese is due, in part, to the fact that it is an easy way to preserve milk. Most milk production occurs far from population centers, in the shepherd’s txabola or hut. With milk quickly spoiling in heat, the shepherd needed a way to preserve it so he could get it to market. Cheese is a convenient way to monetize dairy production.
  • Even so, for some people, cheese was scarce. During the first industrialization of the Basque Country (the last quarter of the 19th century), working-class and mining families barely tasted milk, eggs and fresh vegetables, much less cheese. In contrast, the peasantry fed on less meat than the worker, but they had milk, eggs and vegetables in their diet. A typical farmer from Gipuzkoa fed mainly on corn bread, and to a lesser extent wheat, milk, potato, chestnut, bean, broad bean, collard greens, bacon, jerky, apples, and, of course, cheese.
  • The discovery of pasteurization in the mid 1800s by Louis Pasteur (of course) changed dramatically the way cheese was made. Now, milk from multiple animals could be mixed. Milk that is unstable and weak to bacteria, such as cow milk, could then be mixed with sheep or goat milk through pasteurization.
  • In the Basque Country, sheep milk cheeses are much more common than cheese made from cow or goat milk. This is because of the latxa, the native sheep of the Basque Country, which produces milk ideal for cheese making. A good band of 100 latxa can produce 80-100 liters (20-26 gallons) of milk per day.
  • Today, cheese makers use tools and equipment made of aluminum or other metals that can be easily sterilized, but in the old days, these tools were made of wood. The kaiku is a wooden container used to milk the animal. Hot stones could be added to cook the milk, making mamia or gaztanbera, or cuajada — a cheese curd served as dessert. Strainers are used instead of cloth filters which, in the old days, were used with nettles, which were thought to help filter impurities.
  • There are three primary types of cheese made in the Basque Country: Roncal, made in Nafarroa from sheep milk with a very intense flavor and aroma; Ossau-Iraty cheese, again made from sheep milk, which has a more fruity or nutty flavor; and the most famous, from Idiazabal, which uses unpasteurized latxa milk to give its distinct flavor. However, cheeses are made everywhere, even in individual baserri, and come in as many varieties as there are cheese makers.
  • There is a walking trail in the famous Idiazabal region where you can stop at multiple places to sample cheese. Part of the greater European Cheese Route initiative, you can experience the great outdoors while sampling delicious cheeses. Idiazabal also hosts the Feria del Queso, highlighting the cheeses made by Basque shepherds.

Primary source: Aguirre Sorondo, Antxon. El queso. Enciclopedia Auñamendi. Available at: http://aunamendi.eusko-ikaskuntza.eus/es/el-queso/ar-150132/

Buber’s Basque Story: Part 15

Their trip was only weeks away. Maite had had a long sit down talk with her parents, describing the opportunity and that, right now, she was only going for an interview, that she wasn’t making any commitment to attend school in the United States. She could tell her parents were struggling with the news, but they tried their best to hide it.

“In my aita’s generation,” her aita said, “there wasn’t a lot around here. If you didn’t want to work in the mines or couldn’t stay on the baserri, you didn’t have many options. A few went to study to be a priest. But a lot of them went away to find their fortune. I remember one uncle who spent more than thirty years in Idaho before he came back. And a lot never did. Most found a life there, got married, had kids, and died over there.” He shook his head. “I guess it is the Basque way. There is always opportunity out there — in the pampas, in the wild west, on the seas — if you have the courage to go after it.” He grabbed his daughter’s hands, gave them a gentle squeeze. “And I’m proud of you for having that courage.”

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!

“Eskerrik asko, aita,” replied Maite in almost a whisper, the tears welling up in her eyes.

Her ama wrapped her hands — those hands that had washed so many dishes, chopped so many vegetables, fileted so many fish — around those of her husband and daughter. “You always make us so proud,” she said. “Do your best at the interview. If they accept you, we will figure out what comes next. But, this is a wonderful opportunity. This is what we always dreamed for you, for you to have the chance to follow your dreams. We couldn’t be happier for you.”

“Biak maite zaituztet!” exclaimed Maite as she pulled her parents into a hug.

Her aita broke the hug and, digging into his pocket, pulled out his wallet. He opened it and dug into one of the side pockets, pulling out an old, crumpled, and torn green note. He handed it to Maite. “My uncle gave this to me when he came back from America,” he said as Maite unfurled the dollar bill, the image of George Washington staring back at her. “He gave it to me thinking I might find it useful one day if I ever visited the United States myself. Of course, I never went. And, I don’t think this is worth much today, but maybe it will be a good luck charm for you on your visit. It always reminded me of adventure and the bigger world out there. May it do the same for you.”

Maite grabbed her parents and pulled them back in for a hug, holding them tight as tears streamed down her cheeks.

Basque Fact of the Week: Basque Surnames

Magunagoikoetxea. Gorostiaga. Arroitajauregi. Bastarretxea. Basque last names are as distinct as they are complex, at least to an English tongue. It is only relatively recently that children took the names of their parents. Rather, Basques were often, though not universally, known by the names of their houses, which were in turn based upon the location of the house. Thus, most Basque names are toponymic in nature — derived from the name of a place. For instance, Uberuaga comes from ur+bero+aga, meaning water+hot+place or hot springs.

  • Basque surnames tend to come in five varieties:
    • Surnames relating to the origin of the bearer. As opposed to the toponymic names, these are names indicating where a person was from, not where they lived or were born.
    • Patronymic, where the name is taken from an ancestor (most names in the Christian world, including the modern Basque Country, are patronymic in nature, at least in how they are used today).
    • Descriptive, or adjective, names, describing the person physically. Though not common today, in the earliest recorded documents of the Basque Country, these were relatively common. Names like Domenca Beguiurdiña “Domenca the blue-eyed”, Johan Belça “Johan the black”, Domingo Chipia “Domingo the little”, and Sancha Ederra “Sancha the beautiful” are documented in the 13th century and earlier.
    • Nouns that are either nicknames or describe the bearer in some way, such as Domingo Echayuna “Domingo the house owner”, Domingo Erlea “Domingo the bee”, and Gra (possibly short for Grace) Sauela “Gra the belly.”
    • Toponymic names, nouns and adjectives, simply juxtaposed with the first name, which refer not to personal particularities, but to the place of birth or residence of the bearer and its characteristics. This is the original origin of the type that abounds so much in current Basque surnames.
  • As late as the 16th century, surnames in the Basque Country weren’t as fixed as they are today. While people had names from their parents, a requirement of the Catholic system, they also went by the name of the house they were either born or resided in. Even to this day, people can be known by the house they live in rather than their formal surname.
  • There is a lot of variation in the historical record in how Basque names are spelled. This is due to a couple of reasons. First, depending on where you lived, you tended to use either Spanish or French alphabets to write the names. Because some Basque sounds don’t have equivalents in either or both languages, this leads to different choices in how to spell a name. Further, different sounds are represented by different letters in Spanish and French. While Basque and Spanish ‘s’ are similar in sound, Basque and Spanish ‘z’ are not. The opposite would be true between Basque and French.
  • Thus, in my own research, I’ve found a multitude of spellings for the same name. As one example, modern Idoeta can be written as Ydoeta and Ydueta. This certainly makes doing genealogy research a bit more challenging.
  • If you are interested in learning about your own Basque surname, we have a list of some surnames we’ve provided information about in the past. For names not on the list, the best option would be to ask at the Basque genealogy group at groups.io. Run by Cecilia Puchulutegui, this is an excellent forum for asking about your name. The people there are all very helpful and willing to provide what information they can.

Primary source: Mitxelena Elissalt, Koldo. Apellido. Enciclopedia Auñamendi. Available at: http://aunamendi.eusko-ikaskuntza.eus/es/apellido/ar-1383/

Goian Bego, Dave Lachiondo

On Friday, August 7, the Basque community lost a great one, Dave Lachiondo.

Dave was a pillar, not only of the Boise Basque community, but also of Boise more broadly. He had served as both principal and president of Bishop Kelly High School, impacting an untold number of lives. His long career in education touched so many students’ lives, not only at Bishop Kelly, but at Boise High and Fairmont Junior High. His accordion was often heard at Basque events, adding that spark that makes a gathering of people something more, making it an experience, giving it marcha.

I didn’t know Dave well. We traded emails a few times, like when he told me back in 2010 about Hidden in Plain Sight exhibit that was going to be put on display at the Ellis Island National Monument Museum. I didn’t meet him until 2013, through the most unlikely of chance encounters. My family and I went to attend a performance of the Trey McIntyre Project, who had come to Santa Fe and had a piece, a Basque-inspired ballet, that had been commissioned by the Basque Museum and Cultural Center in Boise. Not even weeks before, I had met Dave’s daughter Alicia on the set of Longmire, where we were both extras on an episode featuring a mystery involving the murder of a Basque sheepherder. Alicia had been doing her residency in New Mexico and her parents were visiting when she took them to the Trey McIntyre performance. Bumping into them, I got to meet Dave, who was at the time the Director of the Basque Studies Program at Boise State University.

Since that time, we have a few random chats, primarily about Basque stuff. I was always struck by both Dave’s enthusiasm and his direct manner. He didn’t try to dance around the edges, he just said what was on his mind. And he seemed to have big ideas on his mind.

Dave leaves behind a wonderful legacy, epitomized in his two daughters who are both extremely accomplished, leaders in their fields and communities.

Goian bego, Dave.

Buber’s Basque Story: Part 14

Over the next month, Maite confirmed with the group at Berkeley the logistics for her interview. The interview was scheduled for the beginning of the trip so that Maite didn’t have that hanging over her the rest of their vacation. 

“What do you think?” Kepa asked after taking a sip of his coffee. They sat tucked in the back corner of a tavern in Bilbao, Kepa having come out to talk about their trip during one of Maite’s breaks from class. A map of California was splayed across the table and Kepa’s got a pen in hand. “We can start in Berkeley, swing out to San Francisco for a few days…”

“See Alcatraz!” interjected Maite.

Kepa nods, a big smile on his face as his pen circles San Francisco. “See Alcatraz and then drive along the ocean south towards Los Angeles. My cousin lives in Santa Barbara, so we could spend a couple of days there and check out the area.”

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!

Maite nodded. “Then on to Los Angeles for a few days…”

“I wonder if we will see any movie stars?” asked Kepa. 

“Oh, I’m sure,” replied Maite. “I think Brad Pitt and Scarlett Johansson are always just walking down Sunset Boulevard, ready to get their picture taken with every tourist that comes along.”

“I know they don’t do that! But, maybe someone like Jon Hamm or January Jones…”

“Are you still obsessed with Mad Men?” asked Maite.

“It gets boring in that baserri. It’s better than ama’s telenovelas!”

Maite just shook her head, suppressing a smile as she looked at the map. “From there, we could swing over to Las Vegas and then to the Grand Canyon. What do you think? Or should we go there first and end in Los Angeles so we can fly home from there?”

“Good question,” replied Kepa as he pulled out his phone. After a few moments, he passed it to Maite. “There are no direct flights from either Los Angeles or Phoenix, so I’m not sure it matters much, but there are fewer stops if we fly out of Los Angeles.”

“If we do any real hiking around the Grand Canyon…” started Maite.

“It’s going to be bloody hot!” interrupts Kepa. “Not sure how much hiking we will want to do.”

“We can’t go and not hike at all!”

“Fair enough. But, then it makes sense to fly out of Los Angeles so we have a little time to rest and recover from hiking before getting on a plane.”

“Deal,” said Kepa, as they continued to examine the map and discuss other places they might see.

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