A Tale of Two Basque Cities

My first visit to Euskal Herria was a year spent in Donosti, trying to learn Euskara Batua and Spanish.  Since then, however, as my dad’s family lives in Bizkaia, my visits have taken me more to Bilbo.

I got a chance to visit both again last week, and both are wonderful cities to visit.  I spent a day in Bilbo, wandering the streets especially of the Casco Viejo, but also along the Nervion from the Teatro Arriaga to the Guggenheim.  Bilbo has definitely changed dramatically over the last few decades.  Once an industrial city, Bilbo has worked hard to clean up the river, the streets, and reinvent itself as a tourist destination.  Of course, the Guggenheim is the pearl in that renovation, though it continues with new apartment buildings, a new metro system, a light rail system, and, just announced, a new stadium for Athletic Bilbao.  The charm, however, remains in the Casco Viejo, with the Siete Calles and all of the shops and bars that line the streets.  It is a maze of winding streets, and I found myself going in circles more than once.  Even though it is the biggest city of Euskal Herria, it is still very walkable.  I parked in the center of the city and walked to the Casco Viejo, back to the Guggenheim along the river walk of the Nervion, and back to the Teatro Arriaga to meet a friend within a half a day.  When I was there, it was very hot, so that damped the experience just a little, but still, it was a great visit to a wonderful, and increasingly beautiful, city.

Later in the week, I spent a couple of days in Donosti, visiting the Donosti International Physics Center.  So, during the days, I was working with the great people at the DIPC.  However, in the evenings, I was able to meet with some old friends from my days in Seattle, Gonzalo and Aitor, and we spent our time wandering Donosti.  My first impression was that, despite all the great improvements Bilbo has made, there is something magical about Donosti, something incomparable.  We wandered along La Concha, just taking in the atmosphere of the place, including a great band that had just set up on the walk.  After a beer, we ended up in La Parte Vieja, which has an incredible number of bars and thus “marcha”.  The second night, we further wandered to Gros.  When I lived there, Gros was the beach that was the most polluted and only surfers tended to go there.  Since then, it has been cleaned up and is now one of the more expensive areas of Donosti.  Of course, there aren’t the tremendous changes that Bilbo has experienced (though, the area around the Cathedral has been made a pedestrian friendly center since the time I was there).  I left via Mount Igueldo, as I had never been up there before, and the vistas are definitely stunning.

To me, these two cities are two sides of a coin.  Donosti is steeped in majesty, a resort by the sea that has been host to royalty.  It’s beauty is timeless.  It represents the grandeur of Euskal Herria.  Bilbo, on the other hand, is a city that is redefining itself and, as such, represents the metamorphosis that is occurring in the entire country.  A city that was once a steel powerhouse is reinventing itself to be modern business center and a tourist destination rivaling Donosti.  It thus has a foot in both the industrial past and the technological future.  Euskal Herria is not one or the other, it is both of these cities and all that they represent.  (The Basque countryside is also an integral aspect of the Basque experience.)  A trip to Euskal Herria would be incomplete without a visit to both of these glorious cities.

Though, I have to admit, for me, there is something special about Donosti.

Tatu lauburuak

Seth Jordan and Dax Arguello have both sent photos of their new tattoos, both of which prominently feature the lauburu.  Seth’s tattoo, of a big lauburu on his forearm, was done at Tattoo Revolution in Meridian, Idaho.  Dax’s, features a lauburu centered in a bigger design, was done at Guru Tattoo in San Jose, California.  Large versions of these photos can be found in the Tattoo Gallery.  Thanks for sharing guys!

PHP woes

As you probably have noticed by now, some of my pages aren’t quite working right, with PHP pages asking if you want to download them.  That is because of a change in server configuration I wasn’t aware of and now my files aren’t parsed quite right.  I’m working on getting that fixed and hope to do so as soon as possible.

Whiskey Daredevils, Berri Txarrak and Bilbao

I just saw this on Google Alerts and thought it was great.  Whiskey Daredevils, a band out of Cleveland, I think, just toured Europe and their last show was opening for Berri Txarrak in Bilbao.  They posted about their last show in Bilbao, which was a while ago in May, on the Cleveland Scene website and their experiences with the crowd and opening for what is a huge band in the Basque Country.  This is a great read!  Sounds like they had a blast, but at the same time the expectations were so big that the guy who did the post, Greg Miller (who I think is the lead singer), describes how he had butterflies for the first time in years and how pumped everyone was.  Like I said, well worth the read.  Not much specifically about the Basque Country, but it is does describe the experiences of a smaller US band touring in Europe and Euskal Herria, which is pretty neat.  And their music is pretty cool too.

Being Basque

Last month, my family and I were up in Idaho to visit grandparents.  While visiting amuma and aitxitxa (now affectionately known as “txitxi”), a couple of dad’s buddies got together at the Txoko Ona, their Basque center in Homedale, to eat and play cards.  They’d planned it a bit, but it wasn’t an overly involved production, just 4 or 5 guys, one making lamb stew and bbq’ing lamb ribs, another making bread, getting together and living life just like they might have in the old country.  They let me tag along, and while they were playing Mus, chatting away in Euskara, I couldn’t help thinking to myself that this is what being Basque really is about.  These guys don’t have to do anything to show their Basqueness, they just are Basque.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the big events, especially the ones that pull people from all over as I then get a chance to see old acquaintances and the like, people I wouldn’t get to see otherwise.  And it’s great to see the dancing, the sports, and the rest as such a profound expression of culture.  Later that month Homedale had it’s own Basque picnic, which drew in a respectable crowd, and I got to have my chorizo and kalimotxo, and see some old friends.

But, there is also something very special just seeing these guys do their thing.  Not trying to be Basque, but just being Basque by being themselves.  As the sheepherder generations leave us, we will be missing something crucial in the fabric of the Basque community.  One can only hope that the outward expressions of Basque culture that the collective “we” work so hard in keeping alive can draw new blood from the Basque Country to keep the foundation solid.

Calling all Ocamicas…

Miguel Ocamica, the son of Ramon, a good friend of my dad’s who was one of the chorizo crew I posted about a while back, is trying to gather the Ocamicas of the world together.  The goal is to establish a family tree of some sort between all the Ocamicas of the world.  To facilitate this, they have created a group on Facebook, Apellido Ocamica.  If you are a Ocamica or know of one, please pass on this news so that the history of the Ocamica family name can be known.

Euskal Kazeta — Basque News

To Basques in the US, Nancy Zubiri is well known.  Author of A Travel Guide to Basque America, there is probably no one who knows better both the current landscape of Basque America or how that landscape came to be.  Thus, it is very fitting that Nancy has just launched a new project, an online news magazine of all things Basque, Euskal Kazeta.  Featuring articles and stories about the Basques in the Caribbean, pilotaris in Bakersfield, and Aita Tillous, Euskal Kazeta exploits Nancy’s knowledge and network to bring fascinating stories, both past and present, from all corners of the Basque experience.  The site is well designed and allows visitors to leave their thoughts on what they read.  Euskal Kazeta is a great addition to cyberEuskadi, the Basque presence on the web.

Dietary customs of Boise’s Basques

You can tell the story of who people are by what they eat — stated Colleen Asumendi Fillmore, PhD, RD, LD

All who know the Basques know that food is an immensely important aspect of their culture.  Colleen Asumendi Fillmore knows this better than most, having studied the dietary culture of the Basques of Boise.  Her work has culminated in a book, Basques of Boise: Adult Dietary Culture and Tradition, and a website, nutribasque.

From the website:

This website explores the nutrient standards and dietary culture of the Boise Basque. Who are the Boise Basque? Ninety percent or more of the Boise Basque community is from the Basque province of Bizkaia. The majority comes from a 20-mile stretch of coastline between Bermeo and Ondarroa in the northern part of Spain. This area encompasses the fishing village of Lekeitio, a Basque metropolis of Bilbao, and the historic Basque capital of Gernika, all in Bizkaia (Zubiri, 1998).

The United States is a country with a myriad of diverse ethnic groups with many adaptations in food habits, thus constantly changing our health and wellness. Most RDs (registered dietitian) agree that food habits relating to tradition, customs, behavior, culture and environment must continue to be studied to achieve advances in public health.

Reluctant Modernization by Andreas Hess

I just got this notice of a new book on Basque culture and was asked to spread the word.

Reluctant Modernization: Plebeian Culture and Moral Economy in the Basque Country

by Andreas Hess

Publisher: Peter Lang, Oxford
ISBN number: 978-3-03911-908-0

Three institutions that are of particular importance to Basque history and culture form the main subject of this book: the baserria (the Basque farmstead), the cofradia (the fraternity of fishermen) and the txoko (gastronomic society). In this study the three institutions are seen as windows; once we look through these windows, we get an opportunity to see the larger picture – namely the structural components of a rich plebeian culture and moral economy. While the investigation of baserri culture provides insights into Basque rural life and the radical changes that occurred with industrialization, the cofradia allows the reader to see the connection that the Basque Country has with the sea. The third institution, the txoko or sociedad gastronomica, represents a more recent and urban phenomenon and reflects an effort to come to terms with urbanization and the anonymous forms of modern life. The book closes with some reflections on cultures that have been somewhat reluctant to modernize.

Andreas Hess examines the ritualized contexts in which a culture shapes people’s basic definitions of lifestyle, identity and social allegiance. What sets apart this work is the combination of an almost ethnographic description of the Basque cultural institutions … and the proposal for a paradigm change in the study of current Basque issues by grounding the analysis squarely on political economy. The results go well beyond the Basque case. — Professor Joseba Zulaika, Center for Basque Studies, University of Nevada

The Author: Andreas Hess teaches sociology at University College Dublin. His main publications include the authored books American Social and Political Thought: A Concise Introduction (2000) and Concepts of Social Stratification: European and American Models (2001); and the edited books American Social and Political Thought: A Reader (2003) and (with Christian Fleck and E. Stina Lyon) Intellectuals and their Publics: Perspectives from the Social Sciences (2009).

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