Buber’s Basque Story: Part 10

Maite was already up and sitting at the kitchen table, getting an early start on her next homework assignment, when she heard the door to the living room open, her ama entering the room. “Egun on,” said Maite as she looked up from the notebook and equations in front of her.

“Egon on, Maite,” replied her mother as she made her way past the couch and TV stand and into the kitchen. As she opened a cupboard to pull out a saucepan and a small French press, she gave a small shake of her head. “You work too hard.”

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 smiled. “No harder than you and aita did.”

Her ama sighed. “And look at us now, old and frail. This isn’t the life we wanted for you.”

Maite put her pencil down and stood up. Taking her mother’s hands in her own, she looked into the face that had always been there to comfort her when she was sick, to listen to her stories about the boy down the road, to fly with her in her dreams. “You gave me the best gift any parents ever could, opportunity. Because you worked so hard and sacrificed so much, I now have the chance to follow my own dreams, to follow my own heart, to be the best I can be. If I work hard, it is out of choice, not out of necessity. And I have that choice because of you and aita.”

She watched as a tear trickled down her ama’s cheek. Her ama pulled her into a big hug. “Maite zaitut, Maite.”

“Nik ere maite zaitut,” replied Maite.

Her ama, her cheeks wet with tears, broke the embrace and smiled at her daughter. “At least, let me make you some coffee and breakfast while you work.” 

Maite smiled as her ama turned toward the stove and she returned to her notebook. But, instead of on her homework, her mind focused on the swirling whisk in the saucepan as her ama heated the milk. She felt like a little girl again, watching her ama in the kitchen of the bar where she had seemingly prepared a million different dishes at the same time, juggling pots and pans, glasses and dishes, as she had readied for the day’s patrons. Her parents had never had a lot of free time to play, to spend with her, to do all of the things she saw her friends doing with their parents, but she had always known that everything they did they had done for her. And she loved them for it.

Maite turned back to her homework, sighing, and smiling, as she took pencil to paper and continued working on solving the equation for temperature.

A Magical View of the Basque Country

In 2001 or so, the Basque television company ETB aired a series of videos about the Basque Country entitled Lau Haizeetara in Euskara and La Mirada Magica in Spanish. These videos, led by first Iñaki Pangua and later Edu Llorente, explored the land of the Basque Country from helicopter. From what I can tell (my Spanish is not so great), Iñaki and two others died in a helicopter crash during filming and that is when Edu took over.

In any case, these videos explore the Basque Country from a bird’s eye view. The camera follows the coast, zooms through the mountains, and hovers over cities as the narrator delves into the history and beauty of the Basque Country. Narration is in both Spanish and Euskara.

I first discovered these randomly maybe 10-15 years ago. As I mentioned, my Spanish isn’t good enough to really follow the narration in depth, so I haven’t gone through all of them. But simply as a visual feast, these videos are great. That said, I’ve always thought it would be awesome to have these dubbed into English. Given that there are no actors, one isn’t dubbing dialog, but narration, and it seems that wouldn’t be so hard. And these videos would be an excellent introduction to the wonders and majesty of the Basque Country. I can’t imagine I’m alone in wanting an English version of these.

In the end, there were 10 chapters, each containing 3 episodes, that explored different parts of the Basque Country. Here are links to them, direct from EiTB’s website. Enjoy!

1×01 El Hierro Y El Mar: Costa occidental de Bizkaia / The Iron and the Sea: The Western Coast of Bizkaia

1×02 Una Proa Al Mar: Costa norte de Bizkaia / A Bow to the Sea: The Northern Coast of Bizkaia

1×03 Costa oriental de Bizkaia / The Eastern Coast of Bizkaia

2×01 Costa occidental de Gipuzkoa / The Western Coast of Gipuzkoa

2×02 Costa Oriental Gipuzkoa / The Eastern Coast of Gipuzkoa

2×03 Costa Labortana / The Coast of Lapurdi

3×01 Entre El Cielo y La Tierra / Between the Sky and the Earth

3×02 La Ciudad Del Mar, San Sebastián / The City of the Sea, San Sebastián

3×03 La Ciudad De Los Anillos, Vitoria-Gasteiz / The City of the Two Rings, Vitoria-Gasteiz

4×01 Entre El Agua Y El Vino, Ribera Del Ebro / Between the Water and the Wine, the Bank of the Ebro

4×02 La Vieja Ciudad, Pamplona / The Old City, Pamplona

4×03 Campos Y Fortalezas, Navarra Sur / Fields and Fortresses, Southern Nafarroa

5×01 La Montaña Habitada, Pirineo Atlántico / The Inhabited Mountains, the Atlantic Pyrenees

5×02 La Roca Y El Agua, Alto Pirineo / The Rock and the Water, the High Pyrenees

5×03 A Los Pies Del Orhi, Pirineo Central / At the Feet of Orhi, the Central Pyrenees

6×01 Vientos De Invierno / Winds of Winter

6×02 Los Valles Profundos, El Deba y El Urola / The Deep Valleys, Deba and Urola

6×03 Zuberoa, El Paraíso Escondido / Zuberoa, the Hidden Paradise

7×01 Bizkaia, Valles Orientales / The Eastern Valleys of Bizkaia

7×02 Bizkaia, Valles Occidentales / The Western Valleys of Bizkaia

7×03 El Corazón De Bizkaia / The Heart of Bizkaia

8×01 Ría Adentro, El Gran Bilbao / Following the River, the Great Bilbao

8×02 Las Tierras Frías, Álava: Valles Occidentales / The Cold Lands, the Western Valleys of Araba

8×03 De La Llanada A La Montaña: Álava, Valles Orientales / From the Plains to the Mountains: The Eastern Valleys of Araba

9×01 La Navarra verde / Nafarroa the Green

9×02 La Navarra Del Norte / Nafarroa of the North

9×03 La Isla Interior, El Goierri y Sus Cimas / The Interior Island, The Goierri and its Peaks

10×01 Bilbao, la ciudad / Bilbao, the City

10×02 Baiona y Lapurdi / Baiona and Lapurdi

10×03 Viaje a la tierra de los vascos / Trip to the Lands of the Basques

Basque Fact of the Week: Handball

If you go to any town in the Basque Country, you will find a plaza surrounded by a church, a bar, and a fronton. The fronton, and pelota, are a cornerstone of Basque society. Perhaps one of the most famous exports of the Basque Country is jai alai, the fastest ball game played in the world, which has been played along the eastern seaboard of the United States, Mexico, and The Philippines. But, if you go to the Basque Country, you’ll be hard pressed to find a jai alai match. Rather, pelota mano, or handball, is much more popular right now, and has a much longer history.

  • Ball games such as pelota are common all around the world, and it is hard to distinguish the independent origins of Basque variants. As Resurrección Mª de Azcue wrote: “It is true that, just as there is no sea, not even the Caspian, whose waters do not mix with those of another sea, there is also no vernacular language, custom or autochthonous tradition that can boast of not having been influenced by others.” However, whatever the origin, pelota has become integral to the Basque identity.
  • One of the first mentions of pelota comes from Pelote Basque, published in 1944 by A. Jáuregui, who quotes from the 16th century work of Vainsot: “For many years the ball game has been practiced only with the palm of the hands; as this exercise injures the hands when practiced continuously and brutally, the handball players of today increasingly protect themselves with gloves and double gloves.” Indeed, Manuel Larramendi, writing in the early 1700s, remarked on the hardness of the ball, saying “They break nails and fingers, open their hands, stain their arms and still dislocate them, and with these misfortunes and dripping blood … the game is over.”
  • A number of remedies were proposed for healing the hands of these players. These included good nutrition and rest, but also more extreme measures like smashing the hand with a hammer, leeches and snails, and cutting the hand to bleed it. Injuries to handball players led to “hand or nail disease,” considered a mysterious disease of the Basques which only recently was connected to hematoma resulting from venous ruptures in the fingers and hand.
  • Pre-Columbian Aztecs and Mayans used latex, derived from rubber trees, to make balls. It wasn’t until the end of the 18th century, after the French brought latex from the Americas to Europe, that Basques replaced the cores of the ball with latex. Before that, they used the intestines of cats.
  • This change in the composition of the ball also forced a change in the game itself. Before, players would stand facing each other, separated by a net, but the new balls had a much greater bounce. Players soon adapted and began hitting the ball against a wall, and the modern form of pelota mano was born.
  • Today, handball is watched across the Basque Country on television sets in bars and homes. One reason that handball is so ubiquitous is that it isn’t quite as fast paced as jai alai or pala, which are harder to capture on TV (those variants also require longer courts, which are also harder to show on TV). While tending the Herriko Taberna in Munitibar, my uncle always had handball on the TV.

Primary source: Letamendia Loinaz, Ander. Pelota vasca. Enciclopedia Auñamendi, 2020. Available at: http://aunamendi.eusko-ikaskuntza.eus/es/pelota-vasca/ar-102458/

Learning Euskara: Some Online Resources

My friend Benoit Etcheverry Macazaga posted on his Facebook page a link to Mintza Lasai, a citizen effort that started in November 2011 with the goal of revitalizing Basque in BAB: Bayonne-Anglet-Biarritz. In particular, they have a few resources on Euskara including a practical dictionary in Euskara, French, Spanish, and English as well as a chart of some important words and concepts. These are only a few of the items they have. They also have guides for specific topics, including family, food, school, and music. The best thing? They are all free to download as PDFs that you can then print! These are mostly aimed at French speakers, but they may still prove valuable to others who are trying to learn a bit more Euskara.

If you know of other similar resources, please share!

Buber’s Basque Story: Part 9

It was late when Maite finally boarded the train from Bilbao to Gernika. Her research project was starting to take more and more time, time that she couldn’t then spend with her ailing parents. Every extra hour she spent in the lab led to a ton of extra guilt she carried on her shoulders. During moments like these, she was almost certain that she would turn down the offer to go to the United States.

At the same time, her project was actually getting exciting. It had taken her a long time to master the basics, particularly since she couldn’t stay as long as some of the other students who lived closer. And there was the constant frustration of trying something that didn’t work or making seemingly stupid mistakes that caused her to have to start some task over. Her advisor was patient with her, and had never berated her for her slow progress (unlike some of the other professors she had heard about) but she couldn’t help feeling that she was constantly letting her advisor down. She sighed. She felt like she was letting pretty much everyone in her life down.

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!

Her thoughts drifted to Kepa and she let a small smile cross her lips. She had known Kepa for so long and, ever since they were teenagers, there had been some amount of mutual attraction, but the poor boy had never acted on it, had never even expressed any interest in her beyond a platonic friendship. She wondered if he even admitted to himself that he was interested in her. “At least,” she thought to herself, “I made my feelings clear.”

The train rumbled down the ancient track, taking so much longer than it had any reason to. She often thought about driving to school, but then parking was always such a pain in Bilbao. Anyways, there was always more work to do, and she pulled a couple of papers out of her backpack to read for the duration.

She shoved the papers back in her backpack as the train ambled up to the train station. She departed and started walking home. Her path took her down by the market and the bars were still open. Crowds of people were sitting in the open-air patios, cañas and glasses of kalimotxo in hand. She saw a group she remembered from her one year in high school in Gernika, but they didn’t seem to see her so she kept walking. While some part of her yearned to bump into a friend and have a drink, she also knew she needed to get to bed as she had an early start in the morning. Her advisor had asked for a report on her progress that she hadn’t even started yet.

She got to the apartment building that housed the apartment she shared with her parents. Letting herself in, she climbed the dark stairs and quietly opened the door to apartment 3D. As she expected, her parents were already in bed. She tiptoed to the kitchen to make herself a snack before bed. On the table, she found a freshly made tortilla — with chorizo, her favorite! — a bottle of wine, and a small glass. She smiled as she sat down to eat.

Fighting Basques: The Laxalts, a Basque Family Serving the United States, 1941-1945

This article originally appeared in Spanish at El Diario.

Foto oficial del 7º Batallón del 20º Regimiento de Ingenieros, en Camp American University, Washington, DC, antes de su despliegue en febrero de 1918, en el que se encontraba Jean Pierre Laxalt Etchart (Compañía C / Compañía 21) (http://www.20thengineers.com/images/ww1-7bn-before.jpg).
Official photo of the 7th Battalion of the 20th Engineer Regiment, at Camp American University, Washington, DC, before its deployment in February 1918, in which Jean Pierre Laxalt Etchart can be found (Company C/Company 21) (http://www.20thengineers.com/images/ww1-7bn-before.jpg).

At 36 years old, the Zuberoan Jean Pierre Laxalt Etchart found himself in Ardentes, in central France — about 650 kilometers from his hometown of Aloze — immersed in the Great War of 1914 that would devastate part of the country. The difference from his peers regarding his participation in the conflict was that Jean Pierre was recruited by the United States Army, a country in which he had lived since 1902. He returned to defend France in March 1918, for the first time (and last) time since his departure, 16 years earlier. He was one of the “Fighting Foresters” of the Engineer Regiment — the largest regiment that ever existed in the US Army. During the same period of time, in one of those fearsome trench on the fronts, was the French Army soldier Jean Michel (Alpetche) Bassus, born in 1894 in Buenos Aires, Argentina, of parents from Nafarroa Beherea, and whose life would intertwine unpredictably with those of the Laxalts in the not too distant future.

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

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

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

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

After his demobilization, Jean Pierre resumed his life as a sheep herder in Nevada. His brothers, Pierre and Dominique Laxalt Etchart, who came to the United States in 1904 and 1906, respectively, had previously and successfully accompanied him in his work for a few years starting in 1910. Both had been born in Liginaga; Pierre, in 1878, and Dominique in 1886. In 1914, Pierre “Pete” Laxalt Etchart married Marie “Mary” Ucarriet, born in 1892 in Aldude, Nafarroa Beherea, and arrived in the United States with her parents in 1912. They had four children: Gabriel “Gabe” Peter (1915-1979), Adelle Marie (1917-2003), Robert John (1920-1972) and Lucille Catherine (1921-1980). Three of them, Gabriel, Robert and Lucille took an active part in World War II (WWII).

Fotografía de Robert John Laxalt a los 18 años, tomada del anuario de su instituto, Lassen High School, Susanville (California) en 1938.
Photograph of Robert John Laxalt at age 18, taken from his high school yearbook, Lassen High School, Susanville, California in 1938.

Gabriel and Robert enlisted in the Air Force in 1941. Gabriel Laxalt Ucarriet did so eight months before the attack on Pearl Harbor, while Robert Laxalt Ucarriet volunteered two days after the Japanese attack. Gabriel was assigned to the maintenance personnel of the air fleet, and served at the end of the war in the 534th Air Service Group, being licensed with the rank of sergeant in 1945. Robert was assigned to the Icelandic Base Command, established by the US Army on July 7, 1941 for the defense of the island and as a strategic point between Europe and North America. There he remained throughout the conflict.

Lucille Laxalt (segunda por la derecha) en la ceremonia que da por finalizada los primeros tres meses de prueba en la escuela de enfermería (The San Francisco Examiner, 21 de diciembre de 1941).
Lucille Laxalt (second from right) at a ceremony that marked the end of the first three months in nursing school (The San Francisco Examiner, December 21, 1941).

In August 1941, Lucille Laxalt Ucarriet enrolled at the Children’s Hospital in San Francisco, California, to train as a nurse. While in nursing school, Lucille was admitted to the US Cadet Nurse Corps on July 1, 1943, the date of its creation by the US Congress. They aimed to train nurses for the armed forces and government and civilian hospitals. More than 124,000 nurses who enrolled in this federal program graduated during the course of the war to fill the severe shortage of nurses, both at home and abroad. The government again required the active participation of women, but not on the same terms of equality as men. As of today, the women of the Cadet Nurse Corps are the only ones of all the uniformed service men and women that served in WWII that have yet to be recognized as war veterans by the US government.

Fotografía de la familia Laxalt-Alpetche después de la SGM; Sentados, de izquierda a derecha: Peter, Paul, John, y Robert; De pie: Marie, Dominique Laxalt, Therèse Alpetche, y Suzanne. (Cortesía de University of Nevada Libraries Online Digital Collections, University of Nevada, Reno).
Photograph of the Laxalt-Alpetche family after WWII; Seated, from left to right: Peter, Paul, John, and Robert; Standing: Marie, Dominique Laxalt, Therèse Alpetche, and Suzanne. (Courtesy of the University of Nevada Libraries Online Digital Collections, University of Nevada, Reno).

In December 1920, a young woman of 29 years old from Nafarroa Beherea, Therèse Alpetche Bassus, arrived at the Port of New York from Bordeaux, France, where her family managed the Hotel Amerika and one of the first travel agencies between Europe and the Americas. Therèse “Theresa,” born in 1891 in Baigorri, Nafarroa Beherea, was destined for San Francisco. It was in this city, at the Hotel España, owned by a Basque family, where her brother Jean Michel resided, who, after the end of the Great War, had arrived in October 1919, following in the footsteps of his brother Maurice, a resident of USA since 1914. Jean Michel was dying from the effects of a poison gas attack used during the war. Therèse’s goal was to return to France with her brother. Unfortunately, Jean Michel died in 1921 and was buried in Reno, Nevada, where his sister erected a monolith in his memory. Therèse decided to stay in the country, marrying Dominique Laxalt Etchart shortly after. They had six children: Paul Dominique (1922-2018), Robert Peter “Bob” (1923-2001), Suzanne Marie (Sister Mary Robert of the Order of the Holy Family; 1925-2019), John Maurice (1926-2011), Marie Aurelie (1928-2019) and Peter Dominique “Mick” (1931-2010).

Like their cousins, three of the Laxalt-Alpetche brothers also contributed to the war effort. Paul Dominique Laxalt Alpetche was drafted in 1942 and, for three long years — 18 months these abroad — he served in the Army Medical Corps (a non-combatant unit), until his discharge with the rank of sergeant. It was during the Battle of Leyte, in the Philippines, where he took care of a young Basque-Nevadan officer, Leon Etchemendy Trounday (a hero of the Aleutians), who was seriously wounded. “Too much blood, too many wounded, and soldiers dying,” Paul would write, decades later, in his memoirs (1). Paul was later elected Lieutenant Governor of Nevada (1962-1964), Governor of Nevada (1967-1971), and finally US Senator for the State of Nevada (1974-1987). Paul became the first Basque senator in American history. He was the right hand and close friend of President Ronald Reagan. Paul was buried with military honors at Arlington National Cemetery, Virginia.

Paul Dominique Laxalt está escribiendo una carta en su pupitre de los barracones del ejército, alrededor de 1942-1943. (Cortesía de University of Nevada Libraries Online Digital Collections, University of Nevada, Reno).
Paul Dominique Laxalt is writing a letter at his desk in the army barracks, around 1942-1943. (Courtesy of University of Nevada Libraries Online Digital Collections, University of Nevada, Reno).

His brother Robert Laxalt Alpetche interrupted his studies to enlist in the army. However, he was not accepted due to a slight heart murmur. Through family political connections, Robert finally landed a job with the State Department Diplomatic Service in Washington DC. He was assigned as a code officer to the Diplomatic Legation and sent to the Belgian Congo in 1944. He served in a jungle outpost in the context of a secret spy war between the Allies (the Office of Strategic Services, the current CIA) and the Germans for control of a mine in Katanga province that produced a little-known (at the time) mineral called uranium — the essential ingredient of the atomic bomb (2). Robert fell ill with malaria and was sent home in March 1945. He was 21 years old. In 1951, Robert accompanied his father to his birthplace for the first time after 47 years as a sheep herder in Nevada and Northern California. Based on his father’s story, he wrote Sweet Promised Land (1957), his second novel, and one of his best-known books. Robert founded the University of Nevada Press in 1961 and was its director until 1983. Together with William A. Douglass and Jon Bilbao they founded the Basque Studies Program at the University of Nevada in 1967. Robert was a prolific writer of fiction and nonfiction. He became the “voice of the Basques” in the American West (3).

Fotografía de John Maurice Laxalt mientras cursaba estudios de abogacía en 1947 en la Universidad de Nevada, Reno.
Photograph of John Maurice Laxalt while studying law in 1947 at the University of Nevada, Reno.

Near the end of the war, John Maurice Laxalt Alpetche was drafted by the Navy, serving on board the munitions ship USS Mount Katmai in the Western Pacific. He graduated with a second-class administrative degree in July 1946. He left his law firm to participate in his brother Paul’s election campaigns, later settling in Washington DC.

Paul’s death in 2018 at the age of 96, and that of Suzanne Marie (Sister Mary Robert), in October of the next year at the age of 94, marked the end of the first Basque generation of the Laxalts born in the USA. The Laxalt-Ucarriets, although they died relatively young, left behind a legacy of overcoming and defending freedoms that today we try to preserve at all costs. The Laxalt-Alpetches, perhaps the most visible face of this extraordinary Basque-American family, are possibly the paradigm of a history of successful emigration, of struggle for survival, and of the social, economic and political conquest of a family in one generation. They made the American Wild West, and especially Nevada, their home, a value that the Laxalts continue to treasure to this day with great zeal.

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

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

(1) Laxalt, Paul. (2000). Nevada’s Paul Laxalt. To Memoir. Reno, Nevada: Jack Bacon & Co.
(2) Robert Laxalt wrote in 1998 about his adventures in the Belgian Congo during the WWII, under the title, A Private War: An American Code Officer in the Belgian Congo. (Reno: University of Nevada Press).
(3) Rio, David. (2007). Robert Laxalt: The voice of the Basques in American literature. Reno: Center for Basque Studies, University of Nevada, Reno.

Basque Fact of the Week: John Adams’s Basque Adventure

It was 1779 and John Adams and his sons were on their way to Paris with the goal of establishing a commercial treaty with Great Britain and ending the Revolutionary War. On the way, however, their ship was battered by storms and they limped their way into Spain. After some debate and discussion, Adams and his retinue decided to take the land route to Paris, which took them through Bilbao and the heart of the Basque Country. What he learned about the Basque people and their government found its way into his A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America. In turn, Bilbao has commemorated his visit with a bust in the city.

Gilbert Stuart, John Adams, American, 1755 – 1828, c. 1800/1815, oil on canvas, Gift of Mrs. Robert Homans. From Wikipedia.
  • During his time in Bilbao, Adams was entertained by the Gardoqui family. This family proved immensely helpful during the course of the war, clandestinely funneling supplies to the Americans through a network of business fronts.
  • Adams was appalled, for the most part, by the living conditions of the Spanish people. Of one lodging, he wrote “There was no Chimney. … The Smoke filled every Part of the Kitchen, Stable … The Mules, Hogs, fowls, and human Inhabitants live however all together … The floor had never been washed nor swept for an hundred Years – Smoak, soot, Dirt, every where.” He was particularly put off by the position of the Church and clergy: “I see nothing but Signs of Poverty and Misery, among the People. A fertile Country, not half cultivated, People ragged and dirty, and the Houses universally nothing but Mire, Smoke, Fleas and Lice. Nothing appears rich but the Churches, nobody fat, but the Clergy.”
  • When he finally made it to Bilbao, he was intrigued by the form of government he found. In his Defence of the Constitutions, he wrote: “In a research like this, after those people in Europe who have had the skill, courage, and fortune, to preserve a voice in the government, Biscay, in Spain, ought by no means to be omitted. While their neighbours have long since resigned all their pretensions into the hands of kings and priests, this extraordinary people have preserved their ancient language, genius, laws, government, and manners, without innovation, longer than any other nation of Europe.”
  • He went on: “It is a republic; and one of the privileges they have most insisted on, is not to have a king.” Adams attributes the “flourishing commerce” to “their liberty.” He praises the “large and commodious houses and barns of the farmer; the lands are well cultivated; and there is a wealthy, happy yeomanry.
  • While Adams praises the liberty and industriousness of the Basques, he also has strong words about their supposed democracy, noting that “officers… are elected by the citizens, but they must by law be elected… out of a few noble families, unstained, both by the side of father and mother, by any mixture with Moors, Jews, new converts, penitentiaries of the inquisition, &c. They must be natives and residents, worth a thousand ducats … Thus we see the people themselves have established by law a contracted aristocracy, under the appearance of a liberal democracy. Americans, beware!

Primary source: The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States, Vol IV by Charles Francis Adams.

Buber’s Basque Story: Part 8

A few days later, Maite found herself sitting in her thermodynamics class. She hated the idea of taking summer classes. Since moving to Gernika with her parents, she had already missed out on so many things with her friends, and commuting to Bilbao to take classes certainly didn’t help her social life, but she wanted to finish her degree as fast as possible. She already felt guilty about continuing with school instead of finding a “real” job to help support her parents; she didn’t want to drag it out longer than necessary.

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!

Her parents had run the local Herriko Taberna for as long as she could remember and had almost literally worked themselves to death. Her ama would wake up at some ungodly hour to clean the bar and restaurant and begin cooking the day’s meals. Maite could remember the smells of the warm bread and the hot coffee as she got up, usually several hours after her ama. Once in a while, the less pleasant smells of cooking octopus made it to her pillow in the apartment adjacent the restaurant, which usually caused her to bury her head under the blankets.

Her aita also typically slept in, but only because he had been up so late the night before, serving drinks until the last of the bar’s patrons left in the wee hours of the night. She always had fallen asleep to the sounds of pilota blaring from the bar’s television, the patrons — including her aita — yelling as their favored player missed a point or cheering as the match ended with their man winning. Once a week, it was her aita’s job to head to Gernika to buy supplies for the restaurant and, during the summers when there was no school, Maite would join him. She had always been in awe of how everyone knew her aita and how he seemed to know everyone. As they walked the streets going from one shop to another, it seemed like hundreds of people would yell out a “kaixo!” or “eup!” She always thought that her aita must have been the most important man in the world. Or at least the Basque Country.

However, the restaurant business slowly took its toll on their health, and her parents had to retire. Seeing as how the medical services where they lived weren’t great, they decided to move to Gernika. They had saved enough over the many years of running the Herriko Taberna that they could afford an apartment not far from the plaza. Her parents would often wander down to the plaza where they could bump into all of her aita’s old acquaintances. 

Maite was seventeen when they moved, nearing the end of high school, and it was a hard transition for her. She had to leave her cuadrilla, the friends she had known since childhood, behind, and there wasn’t time to make new friends as she figured out her plans for the uni. Once she started her university studies, there was even less time for her old friends. She tried to make it back as often as she could, to see the old cuadrilla and do a night or two of gau pasa, but it was becoming more and more difficult. As she neared her university graduation, while excited by the prospects for her career, she lamented the longer distance that had grown between her and her friends. She feared the same might happen with her parents, especially if she decided to accept the offer to go to graduate school in the United States.

Basque Fact of the Week: Basque First Names

I’ve delved into my genealogy a bit, scouring the priests’ books that document births, deaths, and marriages in each little town. Going back centuries, the names are all too familiar: Pedro, Jose, Domingo, Juan for the men; Josefa, Maria, Manuela, Magdalena for the women. Once in a while, there will be a Bartolome, or an Agustina, but what they all have in common is their Spanish origin. However, if you go to the Basque Country today, you’ll find a much wider variety of names with a much more exotic sound, names like Aritz, Endika, Iratxe, Eneritz, Egoitz. The history of simply naming people in Basque has a long and complicated history.

List of names from NABO, base image from Wikimedia.
  • The dominance of Catholicism in the Basque Country, on both sides of the border, meant that it was inconceivable to give children names that weren’t from a Saint. Further, these names were in the dominant language, Pedro on the Spanish side and Pierre on the French side.
  • It wasn’t until the late 1800s, and in particular with Sabino Arana Goiri’s attempt to create Basque versions of the Saints’ names (Iñaki, Joseba, Josune, Koldobika, Kepa) and the rising nationalist sentiment, that Basque names became popular. The Church strongly opposed the use of such names, as they weren’t in the official languages. When Franco became dictator, he furthered such policies, to the point of erasing Basque names from cemeteries. It wasn’t until the 1970s, just before Franco died, that some historical Basque names like Oier, Gartxot, Tibalt, and Oneka were allowed.
  • Not much is known about Basque names before Christianity entered the picture or before contact with the Romans, but inscriptions in Aquitanian give some hints. Some names are directly related to kinship, such as Cison (Basque gizon “man”), Andere (Basque and(e)re “lady, woman”), Nescato (Basque neskato “girl”). Another set related to animals — Harsi (Basque (h)artz “bear”), Osson, Oxson “wolf” — or other “natural” inspiration: Bihoxus (Basque bi(h)otz “heart”; Arixo (Basque (h)aritz “oak, tree”), Artehe (Basque art(h)e “oak”).
  • Similar trends continued into the Middle Ages, but with much greater documentation. Thus, we know of names such as Affostar (native of Affos), Ame (mother), Anderezu (young lady), Andregoto (Mrs. Goto), Apalla (humble), Arzeiz (son of the bear), Beila (crow), Beltza (the Black), Beraza (the Soft), Eita (father), Gaisto (bad), Hobe (the best), Harze (bear), Launso (young man), Monnio (hill), Nequeti (tired), Ochanda (the she-wolf), Ona (the good one), Oria (the yellow one), Ozoa (the wolf, otsoa), Salduna (knight), Samurco (little tender), Seibelze (black vulture), Velasco (little raven).
  • The Middle Ages also provide us with a long list of nicknames in Basque. These include Beltza “The Black”; Zuria “The White”; Azeari “The Fox”; Begichipia “Little Eye, Little Eyes”; Begi-ederra “Beautiful Eye”; Mari Ederra “Mari the Beautiful”; Martino Chipia “Martino the Little One”; Ochanda “The Big She-Wolf”; Salduna “Knight”; Seibelze “Black Vulture”; Pedro Sendoa “Pedro el Robust”; Gaisto “Bad”; Obego “The Best”.
  • One last interesting note. One Basque name has become popular world-wide: Javier. It’s popularity is due to Saint Francis of Xavier, Xavier being where he was born. Xavier itself comes from the Basque words etxe and berri, meaning new house.

This Basque Fact of the Week inspired by a question from Ray Baehr. Thanks Ray!

Primary sources: Auñamendi Entziklopedia. Nombre. Available at: http://aunamendi.eusko-ikaskuntza.eus/es/nombre/ar-98475/; Auñamendi Entziklopedia. Antroponimia. Available at: http://aunamendi.eusko-ikaskuntza.eus/es/antroponimia/ar-1301/

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