Basque Fact of the Week: Mount Oiz, the Balcony of Bizkaia

The day after celebrating Madalenas, we went to Munitibar, the home town of my dad, where we met up with my friend and distant cousin Jon Zuazo. He and his cuadrilla made lunch for us at the txoko in Gerrikaitz and it was fabulous! Fried peppers, tomato salad, merluza, and home made cheesecake! After, we found my aunts Rosario and Begoña, and Begoña’s husband Javier in the plaza, where we ate and drank even more. But, before all of that, Jon took us to the peak of Mount Oiz, the dominating mountain visible from town. The view from the top was simply spectacular! We took a different road back down and passed by my dad’s childhood baserri, Goikoetxebarri.

My daughter, me, and my wife Lisa on top of Mount Oiz. Photo by one of our friends.
  • The mountain, the peak of which is part of the municipality of Munitibar, rises to a height of 1026 meters (or 3366 feet). Its sides are covered in oak and beech trees, but near the summit, the landscape opens to large pastures where sheep, horses, and cows graze.
  • In past times, Oiz, known as the “balcony of Bizkaia,” was one of the deiadar mountains. Bonfires were lit on its peak and horns blown to signal the gathering of the General Assembly in Gernika.
  • Multiple dolmens have been discovered on the mountain. Barandiaran discovered three: Iturzurigaña near the Iturzuri spring to the SE of the Oiz peak; Probazelaiburu located 200 meters to the NE of Iturzurigaña, and Estrakinburu on the hill of the same name. In 1976 Sarachaga found another two new dolmens. These dolmens attest to the ancient human populations that settled on the mountains of the Basque Country.
  • The hermitage of San Cristóbal lies next to the Arreseburu spring on the mountain. Ecclesiastically, it belongs to the parish of Our Lady of Gerrikaitz – one of the two villages that now form Munitibar. San Cristóbal celebrates its fiesta the Sunday following July 10, the day of San Cristóbal.
  • In ancient times, it was believed that Oiz was one of the homes of Mari. Every seven years, she would move between Oiz and Anboto and whichever she called home tended to have better weather and healthier crops.
  • Today, Oiz is home to the largest, and first, wind park in Bizkaia. 40 turbines, built between 2003 and 2007, sprout from the mountain near its summit. The combined power generating capacity of the wind park, owned by the company Eólicas Euskadi, is 34 MW, able to power some 85,000 homes each year.
  • On February 19, 1985, Oiz was the scene of a terrible accident. A plane flying from Madrid to Bilbao crashed into an antenna on top of the peak. 148 people died.

Lasalle, Xabier. OIZ. Auñamendi Encyclopedia. Available at:; Oiz (mendia), Wikipedia; Oiz, Wikipedia; Oiz, Wikipedia

The Adventures of Maite and Kepa: Part 163

“This is it,” said Maite as she looked over at Kepa. They had left the city early in the morning, driving back to Bizkaia, to Mallabia, where Ainhoa lived with her parents, Martin Goikoetxea and Marta Zabala, who resided in apartment C on the 4th floor. “You ready?”

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 gave a slight nod as Maite pushed the buzzer.

“Zer?” answered a male voice from the speaker. “Nor da?”

“We are friends of Ainhoa. Is she home?” replied Maite.

There was a pause before Ainhoa’s voice crackled from the speaker. “Nor da?”

“Ainhoa, it is Maite and Kepa. Can we talk?”

“Maite and Kepa?” replied Ainhoa with surprise. “What are you doing here?”

“We’ll explain everything. Can we talk for a minute?”

“Bai, noski.” Maite and Kepa heard a muffled shout as Ainhoa told her parents she was heading out to the street, that she wouldn’t be long. 

Within moments, she was at the front door to the apartment complex. She gave Maite a hug and Kepa gave her a kiss on each cheek.

Ainhoa led them down to the plaza and one of the few bars that was open this early.

“What brings you to Mallabia?” asked Ainhoa as they sat down at one of the tables and ordered a round of coffees.

“We need to talk to Marina,” replied Maite with such sternness that Ainhoa was taken aback before she could parse the request.

“Marina?” she repeated. “I don’t know…” she began but then her eyes glazed over and a flash of light swept across her pupils. She looked exactly the same when she looked back up at them, but there was something different about her eyes, something older, wiser.

“Marina,” said Maite almost nonchalantly.

Ainhoa, or rather Marina in Ainhoa’s body, nodded. “Bai, it’s me.”

“Dammit!” barked Maite as she slammed her fist on to the table, rattling the coffee cups. The few other patrons of the bar looked up. Maite’s shoulders slouched as they returned to their conversations. In a barely audible hiss, she glared at Marina. “You didn’t tell us how dangerous this would be.”

Marina almost shrugged her shoulders. “Would you have agreed to help me if I had?”

Kepa’s eyes widened. “Of course not!”

“Well, there you go. I need help. And if I told you all of the dangers, you would have told me no.” She paused for a moment as she took a sip of her coffee. “Oh, I do so love the coffee from this time. But, I digress. Look at you both. You are both perfectly healthy. What’s the problem.”

“What’s the problem?!?” repeated Maite incredulously. “We’ve now gone on four excursions to retrieve the zatiak from the bubbles. Twice, Kepa has been shot. I’ve been captured and nearly tortured. And I almost died myself…”

“Ah, but you didn’t, did you?” interjected Marina. “You are finding the zatia and gaining power, becoming powerful enough to protect yourselves in the bubble.

“What happens if we do?” responded Maite. “What if we both die? Garuna says…”

“Who is Garuna?” interrupted Marina.

Maite pointed to her head. “The AI I’m stuck with.”

Maite could hear Garuna rumble in her head. “I beg your pardon…” it began, but she ignored it.

“Garuna said that, if we both die – “ she pointed to herself and Kepa “ – we are stuck just watching the bubble from afar, almost like ghosts, until someone miraculously finds the zatia.”

Marina sighed. “I guess that is a possibility, yes.” She looked at first Maite and then Kepa, recognizing the fear and the panic rising behind their eyes. “But,” she quickly added, “it isn’t going to happen. As you grow more powerful, there is nothing that will stop you from finding the zatia and staying out of harm’s way.”

“Has it happened to you?” asked Maite coldly.


“Have you died, only to watch the bubble from the outside?”

Marina shook her head as it drooped. “No. There is always another descendant or ancestor I can occupy. I’m not tethered to a specific body like you are.”

“But you knew it could happen to us?” asked Kepa.

“I knew it was hypothetically possible, but I really didn’t think it would ever happen.”

Maite stood up and turned to leave.

“What are you going to do now?” asked Marina.

“Ez dakit,” replied Maite, her back to Marina. “I don’t know.”

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

Basque Fact of the Week: The Madalenas Fiesta of Bermeo, Mundaka, and Elantxobe

One of the most memorable parts of my time living in the Basque Country was the fiestas. There simply is no equivalent in the United States – throngs of people cramming the streets, drinking, eating, and singing until the wee hours of the morning. That the Basques have a phrase for spending all night out – gau pasa – is telling. By coincidence, the day after we arrived in Bermeo was the fiesta de las Madalenas. While we didn’t stay up until dawn, it was still a great opportunity to introduce my family and friends to a Basque festa. But, before that, we had to go to Aritzatxu beach and get a little time in the ocean.

My daughter having a wonderful time at the dance in the Goiko Plaza during Madalenas in Bermeo. Photo taken by Lisa Van De Graaff.
  • The Madalanas commemorates the resolution of a dispute over the island of Izaro. Izaro lies in the Cantabrian Sea about 2 kilometers (1.25 miles) from Mundaka and 3 (nearly 2 miles) from Bermeo. It is a small island, only about 650 meters or 2100 feet long. Back in 1422, the Franciscans established a convent on the island. There were also hermitages dedicated to Clara and Magdalena. In 1596, while the Bizkaian fleet was otherwise occupied, Francis Drake and his fleet of 14 ships attacked the island. The convent subsequently fell into ruin.
  • The island had been a source of constant dispute between the towns of Bermeo, Elantxobe, and Mundaka, a dispute that even reached the Juntas Generales of Bizkaia. However, legend tells that the dispute was settled peacefully, through a rowing contest, or regatta.
  • According to the story, Mundaka and Bermeo raced to see who would control the island. Elantxobe had already given up its claim and instead acted as arbitrator for the race. At dawn, the two crews left their respective ports for the island of Izaro. Bermeo won the race, despite losing a rower who fell into the sea. Mundaka claimed that Bermeo cheated: the race was to begin at dawn and the people of Bermeo supposedly tricked their roosters to crow early by lighting bonfires. Another story says that the Bermeo sailors got those from Mundaka drunk the night before.
  • The contest and Bermeo’s win are celebrated every July 22, the day of Saint Magdalena. The mayor of Bermeo leaves the port with a fleet of boats for Izaro, where he or she throws a tile into the water to recognize Bermeo’s claim to the island. The tile is meant to represent the fact that the roofs of Bermeo reach that far. The mayor then travels by water to Elantxobe and then Mundaka, where the Bermeo mayor is even given power for a few hours. Ultimately, the fleet returns to Bermeo, to much dancing and singing in the streets, particularly in the Goiko Plaza.
  • There is no historical record of this race and it has to be chalked up to legend and the storytelling of sailors. But that the three towns were able to come to a peaceful resolution of this dispute and celebrate it together is pretty cool.

Primary sources: Arozamena Ayala, Ainhoa. Izaro. Auñamendi Encyclopedia. Available at:; The Festival of Las Magdalenas (Bermeo, Elantxobe, and Mundaca), Fascinating Spain; La fiesta de Madalenas: Bermeo, Elantxobe y Mundaka, UrdaiLife

Bringing Ely, Nevada to London

Vince Juaristi, who amongst many other activities has written extensively about his Basque experience, just wrote to me about Daniel Gamboa Camou, a young Basque-American who is an actor, producer, and theatre-maker and who’s debut production, Now Entering Ely, Nevada, is going to have multiple performances in London. They are looking for some help to make it all happen. The play, which Daniel wrote as his senior thesis, is about his memories visiting his grandmother in rural Nevada.

Daniel has set up an Indiegogo page that describes the play, the performance space, and the performance team. He describes the play:

It is an immersive play about sensory memory.

My grandma grew up in a high desert copper-mining town in Nevada. When I was little, she bought a rickety two-bedroom house, and for the rest of my childhood, my family would spend our summers there. All 17 of us.

We use my memories from Ely as a case study to explore questions about home, nostalgia, and growing up.

We welcome the audience into this old home of mine, where we attempt to rebuild and sort through a childhood of disorganized, fragmented, and forgotten memories.

How do we remember? How do we forget? What does that memory feel like? What do we do with a memory we know is unreliable?

“I don’t remember much of my childhood, but I remember my summers in Ely. So, I thought it’d be a good place to start.”

And, here is a little about Daniel himself:

Daniel Camou
Actor, producer and theatre-maker

I am a Basque American actor, producer, and theatre-maker from San Francisco. I recently completed my MA in Actor and Performer Training with distinction at Rose Bruford College in London. I co-founded CORDUROY THEATRE COMPANY, which strives to make work that is devised holistically. Our debut, NOW ENTERING ELY, NEVADA, will have 6 performances at THE SPACE THEATRE on the Isle of Dogs in East London from October 24th to the 28th. Come along for the ride!

The Adventures of Maite and Kepa: Part 162

“We should go,” said Kepa, breaking Maite’s somber reverie. “The last boat will be leaving soon.”

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!

Maite nodded and, taking Kepa’s hand, walked down the path back toward the dock. 

“What was it like?” she asked.

“What was what like?”

“Being dead.”

“I died before…” began Kepa.

“Bai,” Maite cut him off. “But last time, it was at the same time you touched the zatia, instantly returning us here. This time, you were dead for a while before I found the zatia. What was that like?”

“Ah,” said Kepa as he understood Maite’s question. “To be honest, I’m not really sure. I can’t remember much from between when I was shot to when I woke up next to you. It’s almost like it was instantaneous, like all of the other times. Except, I remember sort of watching over you, like it was some sort of distorted movie. It’s all very hazy, like a dream that you know you had but you can’t remember the details.”

“Or a nightmare. I can’t imagine being forced to watch all of that and not being able to do anything about it.”

“I’m just glad you found the zatia pretty quickly. If it had taken days…”

“Or years,” interrupted Maite.

Kepa nodded. “Or years, it would have been hell, watching you struggle, powerless to do anything.”

Maite stopped in the middle of the path and pulled Kepa’s arm so that he turned to face her. 

“We need to do everything we can to make sure we aren’t left alone in one of these bubbles again.”

“I didn’t…” began Kepa.

Maite put a finger to his lips. “I know you didn’t mean to get shot, and I really don’t think there was anything you could have done differently. But, we need to be more cautious in the future. I got lucky this time. But, I can’t do this without you.”

“Nor I without you,” whispered Kepa.

Maite shuddered. “I don’t know what would happen if we both died in one of these bubbles without finding the zatia.”

“You’d have to wait until someone else did,” echoed Garuna in her skull. “You’d both be like ghosts, passively watching the bubble, unable to do anything.”

Kepa felt Maite’s hand suddenly go cold. “We need to talk to Marina,” she said as she turned back to the path.

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

Basque Fact of the Week: The Bizkaian Port of Bermeo

A few weeks ago, after a few days in Barcelona, we went to the Basque Country. Traveling with a childhood friend and his family, we found an awesome Airbnb in Bermeo, a delightful port city on the coast of Bizkaia. I’d been there before – my dad’s brother Jose and his wife Eli used to work there – and I’m always charmed by the bright and colorful apartment buildings that line the main port. While a little out of the way from the heart of Bizkaia, it was still a great home base for us. By coincidence, my mom’s neighbor Gloria Lejardi was there with her daughter and grandkids, taking Euskara classes.

The port of Bermeo. Photo taken by Blas Uberuaga.
  • In the Middle Ages, the center of Bermeo was surrounded by a massive stone wall with seven different gates offering access: Las Ferrerías, Burgos, San Juan, La Baca, Nuestra Señora de los Remedios, Santa Bárbara, and San Miguel. Today, the only one that is still standing is San Juan, though remains of some of the others still exist.
  • However, Bermeo has a much older history than that. Roman coins have been found in both the port and one of the hermitages, suggesting the village existed in Roman times. In any case, historical mentions of Bermeo go back as far as any of Bizkaia – back to 1051 – and Bermeo was mentioned in the context of the Kingdom of Pamplona/Nafarroa. The importance of Bermeo to the history of Bizkaia is reflected in the fact that it was once, before Bilbo, the capital of the province.
  • By the thirteenth century, Bermeo was an important port city, where merchants traded things like Castilian wool and salted fish with the biggest ports of Europe in England, France, and Flanders. This economic growth was spurred, in part, by special privileges afforded the city and the granting of a charter and fueros around 1236.
  • By the next century, Bermeo was the most important port in Bizkaia. However, with the founding of Bilbo in 1300, by the end of the fourteenth century and particularly in the fifteenth, Bermeo began to loose importance to Bilbo. At its lowest point, only 500 people lived in the village. (Today, Bermeo boasts a population of about 17,000.) Bermeo saw more than a few fires and conflict with England during these times. There were also internal squabbles between the most notable families of Bermeo, the Asoagas (later split into the Arilzas, Almendurus and Arósteguis) and the Apiozas that led to the mingling of other notable families of Bizkaia into the affairs of Bermeo. Some Bermeo sailors become involved in piracy against other nations and exploring the African coast. Some of these are also part of the first trip around the world.
  • In 1504, yet another fire ravaged the town, nearly destroying it. And another fire hit the town in 1722.
  • In the late 1700s, batteries were installed both at Tompon Nagusi and at the port to defend the village against pirates.
  • Bermeo was also the scene of an important offensive in the Spanish Civil War. The “Black Arrows,” a nationalist troop comprised mostly of Italians, made their way to Bermeo with little resistance. However, the Basques cutoff the road out and essentially trapped the Black Arrows in the town. If it hadn’t been for the air support afforded to the nationalist forces, the Basques might have been able to hold the town. In the end, however, Bermeo ultimately fell to Franco’s forces.
  • Today, Bermeo is still one of the most important fishing ports in the Basque Country. Indeed, Bermeo is home to the Tuna World Capital, an association of tuna-fishing cities that are working to promote a sustainable and environmentally healthy tuna industry.

Primary sources: Castaño García, Manu. BERMEO. Auñamendi Encyclopedia. Available at:; Bermeo, Wikipedia; Bermeo, Wikipedia

The Adventures of Maite and Kepa: Part 161

Maite opened her eyes. It was dark and for a moment she wondered if, somehow, she had messed up and this time she had truly died. But as her eyes adjusted to the darkness, she started to make out a face hovering over her. It was Kepa, looking down at her and smiling.

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!

“You did it.”

Maite gave him a weak smile. But before she could respond, images of Catalina’s life and death flashed through her mind. Her body shivered uncontrollably. Kepa, thinking she was cold, pulled of his jacket and wrapped it around her body.

“It’s ok,” he said. “You’re safe.”

Maite pushed herself up so that she was sitting, Kepa to her side, bent over on his knees. 

“What happened, after I got…”

“Shot?” finished Maite. She paused. “Not yet. I’m not ready to talk about it.”

Kepa simply nodded. He remembered how hard it had been for Maite when Donny McCowen had shot him. He assumed that she was upset about him being shot again, this time leaving her alone to find the zatia.

Maite stood and looked around. It had gotten dark, which puzzled her as she thought they usually returned to the same time they had left. It hadn’t been quite dark when they touched the zatia. 

“How long have I been out?” she asked. 

“A couple of hours,” replied Kepa. “You were breathing, but it seemed like you were in a deep sleep.”

“Almost like a coma,” murmurred Garuna from deep in her mind. “Like a medically induced coma. You are welcome.”

Maite’s blood started to boil. Her fists clenched as her face contorted in anger. “What the hell did you do?” she shrieked. 

Kepa took a step back. “I didn’t…” he began.

Maite sighed, all of the anger released at once. She nearly collapsed, but Kepa rushed to her side, keeping her from falling.

“Not you,” she said, looking up at him. “The damn AI.”

“You needed rest,” replied Garuna. “I made sure you got some. If you over tax your body, I’ll die too.”

“Great,” she muttered to herself. “I’ve got a built-in nanny.”

Maite leaned on Kepa’s shoulders and looked out beyond the water. The city, Donostia, was so beautiful. The lights from the apartments facing La Concha reflected off the rippling water. She could hear the faint sounds of people in the streets, enjoying the pintxos, zuritos, and kalitxikis. A wave of jealousy washed over her. It felt like she would never enjoy another day in her life.

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

Basque Fact of the Week: Pedro Etxenike, Physicist

As a scientist of Basque heritage, it is truly inspirational to see the success of people like Professor Pedro Etxenike. Not only is he a world class scientist, but over his career he has advocated for the role of science in society, helping the Basque government form educational and scientific policy as well as advocating for the wider use of the Basque language. In a society where musicians and athletes tend to capture our attention, I think it worth while to also celebrate people like Pedro Etxenike.

Pedro Etxenike in front of his blackboard. Photo from Noticias de Navarra.
  • Pedro Miguel Etxenike Landiribar was born in Isaba, Nafarroa, on June 8, 1950. His father, Pedro, was a medical doctor and his mother, Felisa, was a teacher. At the time, Isaba was a village with less than 1000 people. Etxenike attended a local Catholic school before enrolling in the University of Navarra, obtaining his degree in physics in 1972.
  • Etxenike went to the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom for his graduate studies, under the mentorship of celebrated physicist John Pendry, a solid state theorist who developed the concepts of the super lens and the invisibility cloak. Etxenike obtained his PhD in 1976, followed by a second one awarded by the Autonomous University of Barcelona in 1977. His thesis was titled Interaction of electronic particles with surfaces.
  • After graduate school, Etxenike did a postdoc at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and spent time at the Niels Bohr Institute before accepting a faculty position at the University of Barcelona. However, in 1980 he stepped down to take a position in the government of the Basque Autonomous Community – the political entity that is composed of Bizkaia, Gipuzkoa, and Araba. In 1984, he returned to academia, becoming a professor of Condensed Matter Physics at the Donostia campus of the University of the Basque Country.
  • Etxenike’s scientific work has focused on the interaction of charged particles with solids – how they behave once they’ve entered the solid. This work is important for understanding the interaction of ions with solids, such as encountered in the semiconductor industry when they implant elements in to silicon, or how electrons interact with a solid in electron microscopy. His more recent work has focused on topics such as study topological insulators and attosecond physics. He has published more than 400 papers that have been cited nearly 30,000 times.
  • He has received numerous awards and accolades for his work over the years, including the 1998 Premio Principe de Asturias, the Premio Vasco Universal in 1999, and the 2002 Medalla de Oro de la Real Sociedad Española de Física. He is a Fellow of the American and the European Physical Societies and a member of the Spanish Royal Academy of Sciences.
  • Over his career, Etxenike has been a statesman of science, espousing the role of science in society. For example, he recently presented the film The Name of the Rose at the “Cinema and Science” event held in Donostia, highlighting the role of science in modern humanism and that of cinema in conveying scientific ideas and thinking.
  • He has also been a champion of Basque language and culture. In his stint in government in the early 1980s, he served as Minister of Education and as Minister of Education and Culture and Spokesman for the Government; in these roles, Etxenike was instrumental in passing the law normalizing the use of Basque. He also helped set up the modern Basque educational system and the establishment of research and development centers.
  • In addition to all of these activities, he is the founder and first president of Donostia International Physics Center, was the first director of the Center for Materials Physics, and was instrumental in the establishment of the Cooperative Research Centre CIC nanoGUNE. He was also one of the founders and first president of Jakiunde, the Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters of the Basque Country.

Primary sources: Pedro Miguel Etxenike, Wikipedia; Etxenike Landiribar, Pedro Miguel. Auñamendi Encyclopedia. Available at:

The Adventures of Maite and Kepa: Part 160

“What the hell?” hissed Maite. 

“Yeah, dude,” added Kepa. “What the hell?”

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!

Maite just shook her head. “Whenever you want a break, that’s fine. You can leave us here, leave the plot hanging. But we barely get five words before you throw us back into the fire. How is that fair?”

Kepa shrugged. “He has all the power. We are at his mercy. We have to literally jump whenever he says jump, but he doesn’t have to do anything we say.”

Maite turned to Kepa. “How did this happen? We are the ones with the zatiak, with these marvelous powers. He’s just a guy in front of a computer.”

“Have you tried blasting him? Maybe that will get him to cooperate.”

A mischevious grin crossed Maite’s lips as she held out her hand. Sparks crackled between her fingertips. “You are going to give us some down time, or else.”

There was no response.

“You don’t even have the dignity to answer us?” shrieked Maite as her hand began to glow so brightly, the bones in her fingers were visible. 

Still there was no response.

Maite yelled as a bolt of lightning burst from her hand and evaporated into nothingness.

Maite held her hand in front of her puzzled face. “Zer…?”

“See?” said Kepa exasperatedly as he threw his hands in the air. “He has all the power. He could erase us if he wanted. Or just put us on ice, forget about us and keep us locked away on his computer forever.”

“It’s so unfair,” cried Maite. “We are put through hell for his entertainment, but what do we get out of it? Character growth? Personal development? All I know is I’m sick and tired of being put through an emotional roller coaster.”

Kepa nodded. “Maybe we can go on strike?”

“Can we? He’s the writer, we’re ‘just’ the characters. Can we go on strike?”

Kepa’s shoulders slumped. “Yeah, I guess we can’t, unless he writes us going on strike. And why would he do that?”

Maite chugged the whiskey from the glass that had suddenly appeared in her hand. “Since he’s back from whatever the hell he’s been doing the last few weeks, it’s time for us to get back to work.”

Kepa looked at Maite and at his own empty hands. “How come I didn’t get one of those?”

Maite looked ahead into the emptiness. “Because he’s so damn fickle.”

Kepa shook his head. “Do you think anyone is even reading this anymore?”

Maite shrugged. “Does it matter? We have to keep doing this as long as he keeps writing.”

They both sighed as the page turned.

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

Basque Fact of the Week: The Basques and the Bees

There are over 16,000 species of bees in the world and humans have had a long association with them. Of course, humans have exploited bees to produce honey and wax, but they have had a more intimate relationship with bees as well, telling them of important events in their lives. The Basques have their own special relationship with bees, viewing the bees as sacred to the point that killing a hive could result in the loss of an arm.

The Basque Black Bee, photo from ERBEL.
  • Of course, bees are valued for the products they produce: honey and wax. Honey was often the only sweetener and was used in all types of foods and drinks. It was also considered an energy food, to eat before hard work. Honey was also valued as a gift. Wax was even more important, as it was used for making candles, not so much to light the house, but for ritual use. Some places valued the venom from the bee sting, saying it helped prevent rheumatism.
  • Communicating with bees was an important part of the death rite. If the master or mistress of the house died, it was the responsibility of those left behind to notify the bees. It could be a child or even a friend, but if a stranger told the bees, the bees would attack. They would go up to the hive, sometimes knocking on it with their hand or a stick, and simply tell the bees that “Nagusia hil da” (The master has died) or “Etxekoandria hil da” (The lady of the house has died). In some places, the bees would be told if any death occurred in the household, in others, only if the master or mistress died. This practice of “telling the bees” was still performed as recently as the early 1900s, and is not unique to the Basque Country – the royal bees were informed when Queen Elizabeth died. In some places, the heir to the house had to communicate the news, to also inform the bees of their new owner. And, in some places, a black cloth or veil had to be placed on the hive as a sign of mourning, or the bees would die.
  • The origins of this practice are lost to time, but it is thought that, at some point, Basques thought that the bees were the souls of the dead, and that by announcing a death to the hive people were letting the bees know another soul was coming. In other places, they ask the bees to make more wax, to help light up the church or the grave of the deceased and the path for the soul. In many places, it was believed that the bees would die or the hive move if they were not told of the death. In others, it was thought that telling the bees about the death would cause them to produce twice as much honey.
  • The bee was thus considered a scared animal. It was addressed as you would a person, with the second person “zu.” When trying to get a queen to take to a new hive, she was addressed as “anyeru ederra” or beautiful lady. In Bizkaia, it was illegal to buy and sell bees for money. Instead, they could only be traded, perhaps for linen, wheat, or sheep, or simply given away. It was also considered a sin to kill bees. In some places, if someone killed a bee hive, they had their arm amputated.
  • There is one species of bee native to the Basque Country – the Euskal Herriko erle beltza, or the Basque black bee. These bees have a reputation for being aggressive, but they produce honey regularly and their hives require little attention from beekeepers. Further, they are used to the mountains and can withstand lower temperatures than other bees. There is a group – ERBEL, the Association of Black Bee Breeders, that is working to conserve and improve the breed.

Primary sources: Aviso a las abejas. «Erletxuak, erletxuak», Atlas Etnográfico de Vasconia; Las Abejas. Erlea, Atlas Etnográfico de Vasconia; Gorostitxo, Centro de extracción de la miel, Euskonews

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