Hitz eta Pitz

So far, ‘hitz eta pitz’ is the best idiomatic phrase in the light sprinkling of Basque I’ve learned. To break it down, hitz = word, eta = and, & pitz = to split, to grate, to shake, to drive crazy… As I take it, it’s just word after word, giving someone the third degree, the never-ending saga, going to down to the funny farm and taking you down with me. Also, reverentially referred to as la chapa: word that means what it tastes like and that’s chapped lips.

This past Wednesday, December 3rd was the International Day of the Basque Language. Day(s) late and dollar short, at least the Euro is still as strong as it is.

Yikes. I’ve been out there. Last post was in… October… and between now and then you bet there’s been plenty. Wrote 50,164 words for no one but me (NaNoWriMo, my first time around) and spent lots of time planning (unusual for me and perhaps, damning) a trip to Poland and Ukraine that never got taken, and investing in canine ophthalmology treatments. And sprinkled heartily around all of that, been getting me some education in the Basque language. Just the thing that’ll legitimize and get me back on track with the whole theme of Basque-ing in Reflected Glory. Fingers crossed.

Euskaraz bizi gara. We live in Basque. I’ve been busy adding case endings to the ends of nouns and the end of my rope. Surprising myself with what I can bring to class each day still knowing… like I have a working memory that’s still working but for a frozen salary and surrendered benefits. Alas, my Lingual Empathy returns and I again I’m truly feeling sorry for my English students. I mean, word order? Prepositional phrases? As a purveyor of the language arts, I’ve eaten my share of humble pie these last 2 months and sorted out where my pedagogy has surely left somethings wanting.

Una lengua esta viva

Back to getting schooled by the difficulty of a blunt beginning … when the irakaslea, la teacher, asked me about how hard it was to learn all of the conjugations in Español*, I kind of just shrugged it off in my short-term presence of mind (and flushingbeetredpleasestoplookingatme everyoneinthisclassrooomrightnow). But it was difficult and it was endless. I mean, how could one still feel the pangs of incessant effort once it’s culminated and adjusted to the ease and fluid manipulations of daily life’s second nature? It was a slow-drip of Peninsular dreaming that kept me carrying on with it for so many years. But now, since it’s an after thought, I shrug, the beginner’s mind is both painful and disorienting and still full of unprejudiced luck and willing openness. Which is cool, no lie.

So, why do it? I admit, the hitz eta pitz is mainly because I wanna get squirrely and learn how to be a Basque witch. For fun. For mental health and taming the tiger of task-switching (the mortal peril of the mind formerly known as multi-tasking) of this ADHD. For humility. And learning how to sort the pressing matters from the one’s that just have to wait for later, exempt from the label of procrastinasty.

For example, the informal second-person plural of you all, or ‘vosotros’ in Español. Never learned it in the States. In North, Central or South America, “Ahh naaaw you wont need that”. EXCEPT EVERY SINGLE DAY. In Spain, the rain is making y’all complain. Frig, ended up just putting a timorous “-ais?” on the end of every verb. So when I’m told not to worry about learning the extremely rare form of “informal ‘you” (hi*, yes, hi = meaning ‘you’ but only use with your beau and/or your truest bffffff), I get shiver of foreshadowing… But it goes away real quick, since everything else about this language takes up all my all my time and conscious attention, as Out. Of. Control. as it is. I hope to elaborate this at a later date.

All images in this post are from the 'Badu Bada' exhibit at the Alhondiga in April of 2014

All images in this post are from the ‘Badu Bada’ exhibit at the Alhondiga in Bilbao, April 2014

Fun fact: no cuss/curse words in Basque. None. You can say every last thing in this language in just about every setting; whether your audience is most the starch-collared headmistress or the most linguistically-spongy toddler, no need to fear the gasps of scandal.

Argi-argi… as much as this is clear… as for this much is clear? How do we even say that? SEE? It’s HAPPENING. There’s only so much bandwidth and I’m losing my own religion, out one ear while as I turn the other cheek. Wait, wha? I also have to wonder if the Euskera/Euskara (potato, potAto) seems to be sticking because I’m learning it in Spanish… another thought-tuber to plant and dig again later.

Argi = light. Meaning, clearly. Meaning, of course. Meaning, obv, duh, right.

Call me romántica*, but this is the discovery that really satisfies, the possibility to communicate but a darling side effect. Even if it’s enough to give a high 5. Eman bostekoa, “crash them 5’s”. I shit you not, that is the literal translation. I’m straight nerding out on this one.

I need a nap with a twofold end, and especially after the more taxing classes: to swallow the thickness of mental fatigue and properly digest the contents of the lesson.

It’s totally worth it, all of it, just to hear the tune of saying something completely new in the oldest way one knows how. Even if it’s just to comment on the weather, or how to get to the bakery from the ballet school, a giggle crawls out from the click and cordiality, community spirit comes out of accepting limits instead of what lacks. Learning a language is hard, but the brain knows better than we do, and figures itself out eventually. Immersion doesn’t hurt to get the tongue rolling. And we can get lucky enough to find ourselves in a mood that appreciates fleeting but oh so fulfilling success. Like when you’re able to yell at your kid who’s wandering too close to the street and sound like you’re summoning a high-level Pokemon in Japanese. Or something.

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Recipe for the Homesick: The Vegan Galician

This is 'patxaran' and that is something else entirely.

This is ‘patxaran‘ and that is something else entirely.

Ingredients:

1 part orujo de café

2 or 3 parts soy milk*

Several ice cubes

 

Preparation:

As you pour the ingredients into a glass chilled by nostalgia, meditate upon the fact that the ‘firewater’ known as orujo, Northern Iberia’s (namely Galicia‘s) version of moonshine, is distilled from the residues of grapes that have already been pressed for wine. Take a gentle whiff of the thrift and dying art of the homebrew hustle.

Forget the vodka, which is often confused with water. Your beverage will produce this naturally as the ice melts at the same rapid rate as our diplomatic relations with Russia.

Feel the homesickness condensate. Watch the drops form and fall, staining your faux Persian rug from Ikea.

Shrug. Imbibe. Abide.

*Note: Do not use the milk that introduces itself en español; instead, the kind that comes from the teat of the soybean.

Elx River, painting in progress, August 2014

Elx River, painting in progress, August 2014

Aside

Water Seeks Its Own (Lowest) Level

Account based on true events. But this is obviously not my address.

Witness/Defendant Testimony

Between September 1st and September 8th, three puddles of indeterminate source composition and authorship were discovered in the right-stairwell elevator of #7 Orchard Lane.

Initial puddle consisted of a transparent liquid, lacking an identifiable scent. Covered over 50% of the floor space. Rain that day could have been a cause.

The second instance of fluid without containment occurred a few days later, very small surface coverage accompanied a stench of extreme decomposition. Likely source: a ruptured trash bag.

The final unwanted water deposit appeared on the afternoon of September 8th. A medium-sized pool of slightly foul aroma was discovered. Within several hours, several pages of colored newsprint (a Los Testigos de Jehovah publication or similar info-advert) were laid over the wet spot.

The next morning, a note had appeared (Exhibit A), translation following:

Uncensored 'Acensor'

Uncensored ‘Acensor

 

NOTICE

We have a filthy neighbor that leaves pee in the elevator.

If anybody knows who it is, put their name down here so that we can all go piss on their door.

YOU MUST REALLY BE A PIG!!


 

Shortly after noon of the same day, I leave the house again. Rereading the note, I see the most recent addition. With a blue pen this time, in skinny text, just barely visible in the corner, someone else (amateur hour handwriting analysis, just an FYI on this Exhibit B) had written: 12*- F

OH. HELL. NO.

That’s us.

En serio?

I pondered the matter, discussed an appropriate response with Amatxu and the Cohabiter, and finally wrote the following on a yellow post it (that never ended up sticking so well to the mirror), translation following:

La persona que nos ha nominado tiene MUCHOS COJONES y nada de evidencia. También queremos una comunidad limpia y civil [sic]. Por favor, sé responsable.

Gracias,

L@s de 12*-F

The person who nominated us [as the culprits] has a LOT OF BALLS and little evidence. We also want a clean and civil community [building]. Please, be responsible.

Thanks,

Us from 12*-F

The next morning, an unknown agent(s) had removed both notes.

 


 

 

Note: My original error, civil should have been cívica.

Also, L@s – This is how feminists (of all genders, whaddya know!?) deal with gendered nouns and articles when their plurals default to the masculine… for example, él and ella, pronouns for one man and one woman, would go to ellos (‘them/they’), taking the masculine form. This default is a type of semantic markedness in linguistics and we use the ‘@’ (arroba!) when we’d really rather it didn’t exist. Like puddles and hostile accusations.

Being Brave Abroad: 24 Hour Funeral Home

A ‘false friend’ is a word that you think you can get away with. You think it’s a ‘cognate,’ and many exist, tying English to the Romance languages. Easy-peasy, Spanish can appear: gol shoots straight, goal, and revocar stays put, to revoke. Embarazada however, has reddened a few cheeks, being very much the word for ‘pregnant’. Not a cognate, it’s a false friend. A backstabber. Be careful. Papel is paper and papelería is a paper store – office and school supplies, actually, to de-mystify a store solely devoted to paper – a laboratorio equals laboratory. So far, so good.

A tanatorio is not a tanning destination. Management stocks sprays and beds of another sort. A tanatorio is a funeral home. Tanatorio Nuestra Sen’ora de Bego’na holds a constant vigil, although Bilbao is hardly a city that never sleeps. It’s open for each and every 24 hours of each and every day. I went, and this is what I saw.

Naves fill the half-scuffed poligono (your ‘true friend,’ polygon, swell gal) industrial subdivision of Bolueta. Naves are ‘ships’ in the most common usage, but these are warehouses used primarily for shipping and distribution. So not far off, and one brain’s memory and language centers thank the other brains in history for tricks like these. Following such clues, we find that the false friend isn’t so false afterall. The word tanatorio honors Thanatos, the personification of Death; he was often referred to in Greek mythology, but rarely appeared in person. Many sources considered Thanatos exclusive to “peaceful death” and for this reason, ‘good death’ falls under the term ‘euthanasia’. The son of Nyx, Night, and Erebos, Darkness, Hesiod writes of Thanatos and his brother Hypnos, Sleep:

“[Hypnos] roams peacefully over the earth and the sea’s broad back and is kindly to men; but the other has a heart of iron, and his spirit is a pitiless as bronze.”

At the rounded end of the block, not 100 meters from a locale named ‘Club Fever’, there’s a ship that travels heaven-bound and seatbelted aboard is the ghost some body just gave up. This nave shoots up and away from terra firma, leaving behind all the asphalt and painted aluminum, all the fading cellophane wrappers and soggy shoeboxes from Saturday’s gitano flea market mercadillo, all the racist graffiti (INMIGRANTES NO with a gun scope’s bullseye) and the anti-Fascists’ edits in red paint (basta ya Nazis, enough already). Thanatos’ dock is flanked on one side by the leaking green tangles of shrubbery always accompanying the Nervión River. On the other, the railroad slips by and an evangelical church stretches out in the shell of an old grocery store, windows boarded up, shutting out the world.

Fake flowers

Our charges for the evening in question, Aunts Ana and Claudina*, had come by a crawling train from Barcelona. Their arrival culminated the piecemeal sequence of events, rhythmic phone calls and copy/paste whatsapp messages, ticket purchases and suitcase zippings, that go into motion after every death in a diaspora family. They’d come for their sister Carolina*, and we went for them.

We all caught a cab no earlier than 11:15pm – late train, livestock on the tracks – and we sped along in the hush of oncoming spring rain. My in-laws-in-theory discussed the final weeks of Carolina’s illness and my boyfriend provided the old fashioned kind of status updates on all the 2nd cousins and some opinions twice removed. We arrived, paid and pulled suitcases across a dry parking lot and into the place I had so long wondered about.

I remember now that the place smelled of nothing. No cleaners and no perfumes, no air-conditioning and no potting soil, no roses and no moist styrofoam and no car exhaust and no stale breath. That lack must have spread out in high ceilings of the atrium. Distance meant something faded from animate life, recollections dispersed so they wouldn’t waft or bounce off one another and thus avoid memory’s strongest trigger, the nose. I remember now that the place reminded me of that hospital in Bangkok that too dripped with expense. A doctor studied my double eye infection there, walls awash with uplighting on green granite and a tiled floor of thick beige stone that spread before you in those dim after-hours. In those very same hours, squinting in the honest glare of an ivory floor and darkened windows made into mirrors, we entered to study the departed.

There’s so much white happening. It’s involved. Concentrated in doses of floor wax and glass cleaner, woven into the softness of lace and folded into the coarse tissues that I’ve heard pronounced “glee-NEss” and packed dutifully into purses for use in abused bars and temp toilets during 10 days of jaiak. The gift shop greets you upon entrance and exit, should anyone be lacking the proper utensils: navy ceramic urns, red and white wreathes like the chew toys of Kentucky derby winners and suburban McMansion yuletide decor, a shadow box rosary, silver and gold crosses on thin chains. Sharp in cleanliness, not distracting, hard lines interpreted as respectful in EuroChicSpeak. Maybe, I still can’t tell almost 2 years in.

The receptionist sat, only his scalp visible behind the front desk, consumed in what could have been work. He spoke in the equanimous tones of a hotelier. He stowed the luggage of our two 60-somethings, thrice consoling the frank and constant chatter of Claudina that her purse (a splitting, wrinkled paper shopping bag, one of those with stiff, twisted horseshoe handles) would remain both untouched and in reach of his peripheral vision at all times. She’s a strange one, I’ve been told. She doesn’t spend money, doesn’t go near the bars, I’ve been told. I posit that 30% of the real estate in this country is occupied by bars and cafes the size of walk-in closets. This is an economy completely underwritten by 6 oz beers for a euro and squat, milky espressos for one and a half. She doesn’t dare. Not even for decaf.

Ana, with her tender demeanor and four word sentences, peeped her doubt as Aunt Claudina wondered aloud in the elevator vestibule. Repeating and rewording the questions three and then four times, her nerves engaged with squat pots of palms and ferns and her disorientation focused on the chalky quartzite garden, a dry pond of toddler fist-sized stones.

“You think those are fake plants there?” = You think I can handle the wait for the elevator?

“I can’t believe those are real.” = I fear touching something that is still alive.

“How do you think they keep them looking so nice?” = What am I about to see? What am I about to feel?

Four pairs of sensible shoes squeaked as we crossed the weekly-waxed 2nd floor. Jewel cases at eye level outside each room bore a photo and noted all the first and last names’ of the deceased; four words deep like Juan José Ordoño Ferran and Mari Cristina Extebarrieta Nuñez. Portals stayed shut to the observation quarters, at once ominous for the outsider and reassuringly private for in the insider.

Portal, Flight -  Urduña, Bizkaia

Portal, Flight – Urduña, Bizkaia

We enter. Couches with thin cream cushions line the room. It’s false leather, easy to clean, but I’m still flabbergasted on a regular basis as to what maintenance expenses people are willing to risk for such class. Spread about are four full boxes of tissues, slightly better than what we got in elementary school for free and must’ve been made of recycled newspapers and telephone books. The good stuff really should’ve been saved for the elderly, too many of them under-presumptive of what they’ve earned. They view. I sit, yielding to the family members I’ve only met a half hour earlier.

It isn’t 20 seconds before I’m waved over by the nephew who has carried his grief with peace, my partner. Está bien, he says with an honest and gentle smile. I don’t expect what I see next.

It’s a portrait of a lady. I’m in an art museum. We are present for the photograph that is both taking place and already mounted and framed. In lieu of flowers, please respect the sandpaper taped to the floor. Do not lean in too far towards the piece. Donations in her honor can be made to any institution that cultivates the arts and the education of women. As a girl, if Carolina was caught reading instead of cleaning, her father would warn her that she’d end up unmarriageable.

It’s a diorama. I’m in a natural history museum. The wall comes up to the waist and then the transparent but crystalline divider between reality continues upward. The stark scene displays what’s left to fuss over when death arrives: light, shadow and salvation. A cold metal bar to lean upon as you study the bygone’s new natural habitat.

It’s a penalty box. The air-conditioning blasts. Easter lilies stand in for a hockey stick. Lace trim laid over her like padding for impacts. The dimensions allow for a wingspan’s width of a person; that’s usually their height. And the length when the body lays down.

We press our pointed fingers to the glass, still producing oil and locomotion, towards a crucifix stood up on a post like a coat hangar. Back-lighting, up-lighting bends, plays with the eye, obscuring the bargain buy giveaways of her casket and the immutability of stilled skin and hardened wrinkles.

Claudina shares her jagged suggestions where the hands should have been posed to hide the steroid-swollen belly and how the lace ought to have been bunched up at Carolina’s collarbones to save her from having to witness suffering’s leftovers, baggy chins. Slipping out of the box in my head – the one where I keep disdain and bilingual cliches to showoff my fluency (or hide my mimicry and voyeurism) – I do not speak, I only think: damn lady, it ain’t your funeral.

I’ve sat like I’m going to be courteous. I’ve observed with utmost precaution. And I’ve nothing to expect except my own compliance with the family’s wishes. Aunt Claudina erupts, “We need to get the hell out of here, I’m done. We’re done.” 4 minutes have elapsed since we entered the room. I swear.

This means 'ghost'.

…means ‘ghost’.

And without any suggestion – no, by declaration – we crawled out of the amazement bouncing off the not-quite-but-nearly-lime green walls. A basket of hard candy sat next to the guest book on the way out. We did not sign our names. The door shut firmly behind 4 souls, we were not to be Claudina’s loose ends.

Every button got pushed (nervousness) and every floor opened to us (further comment on the decor) on the elevator ride down. We collected the bags and headed out into a warm sirimiri where the next taxi waited, where the daytime crowds of old folks usually gather to smoke and catch up. For them, these kinds of reunions are more common than bingo night. Not as often as card games, though; those are much easier to come by.

Carolina would be cremated within 10 hours. And I would be on a plane…under the heavens, above the Atlantic.

 

 

* Some names have been changed to protect the living.

The Basque Renaissance Typeface

La letra vasca, Basque Lettering, seems as if it were stamped out of stone, modeled upon the flayed tops and bottoms of boulders that were sought out or intentionally shaped to stand on their ends… or found that way, like the hilltop dolmens found all over Euskadi, shaped by some anonymous ancestor. In fact, this typography, deliberately designed to be perceived as very old, likely became commonplace less than 100 years ago. Hence, I use the term Basque Renaissance Typeface, in reference to it’s popularization within a relatively recent social-historical context (albeit a very long history) which I will soon clarify.

From the Oxford English Dictionary:

Font: a complete set or assortment of a type of a particular face and size – almost…

Typeface: a set of printing type of a particular design – bullseye

lauburu euskera batua

“A united Euskadi will never be defeated.” Source: Monografica.org

I see a Gothic style, but warmed and friendlier. I see both the sharp – authoritarian and Romantic -and the smoothed – commonly accessible, plebeian, even pastoral. The serifs (i.e. ends and corners of letters that point or flit out, as opposed to cleanly cut in a sans-serif font like used in this blog) stand firm on the ground while collecting rainwater in heavenward basins. Or are they people? With hands outstretched from broad arms, short torsos held by thick thighs steady and planted? Like anthropomorphs, the lower limbs of R’s and K’s splay out and circle back in, executing the sharp, rapid-fire kicks of the dantza and echoing the fans of the lauburu, the ever-present Basque symbol of the Sun.

Dantza, traditional Basque dance, performed at the Basílica de Nuestra Señora de Begoña

Dantza, traditional Basque dance, performed at the Basílica de Nuestra Señora de Begoña

Hence, ‘it just feels old’… Limited may be my initial observations; I just ain’t up to speed on typography like any self-respecting ‘creative-type’ of my generation ought to be… and that Helvetica documentary is still on my ‘To Watch’ list… So, a certain ‘aesthetic intuition’ drives my reasoning here. And that, perhaps, is telling of what the Basque Renaissance Typeface was molded to evoke in the viewer – an intuited, mytho-historical perspective.

 


Like most research towards the goal of Basque-ing In Reflected Glory, web searches in English rarely come back with the same depth and diversity as Google-ando en español. I was surprised and overjoyed to discover this frank observation, found here:

Why is such an ugly font ubiquitous in Basque Country?

It is ugly.

It looks like Comic Sans had a less attractive older brother, with huge “look at me” serifs and a weird capstone on of [sic] A that looks like a wonky Stonehenge… My suspicion is that when Basques were repressed this was a safe way to show solidarity. Would that make sense?

This commentator finds the Basque Renaissance Typeface less than pleasing, and laudably he or she still got the gist of the situation in a single sentence. Whether you like it or loathe it, this Basque Lettering is, like Comic Sans, much too exhausting to the reader for use in extended text. But as a title, name, slogan or short announcement, great.

It’s best to pause and regroup for a second, to review the history required to understand the designs’ social and political implications. I unapologetically fear I must copy-paste a few observations from folks better acquainted with the subject at hand. I think the points made by Eduardo Herrera Fernández in his article, “La letra vasca. Etnicidad y cultura tipográfica,” in the design magazine, Monográfica, are best translated and interpreted as follows; but do bear with me, as this is considerably dense, academic writing.

“La cuestión sobre la existencia de un carácter tipográfico vasco tiene sus orígenes a principios del siglo XX, coincidiendo con el movimiento denominado Euzko Pizkundea («Renacimiento Vasco») desarrollado hasta la Guerra Civil española. Tras esta confrontación y sus consecuencias de silencio y represión, comenzará un periodo de reivindicación por la preservación y exaltación de la identidad nacional y de la conciencia lingüística del País Vasco. Es por ello que los agentes sociales y de la cultura contribuyeron, con sentido práctico, a certificar una aspiración colectiva de recuperación. Se desarrollaron un conjunto de actividades creativas basadas en formas de uso y de expresión cultural.”

The existence of a Basque typographic character has its origins in the beginning of the 20th century, coinciding with the movement known as “Eusko Pizkundea” (The Basque Renaissance) that developed up until the Spanish Civil War. After this violent confrontation and its consequences of silence and repression, the Basque Country begins a rehabilitative period of preservation and exaltation of the nationalist identity and linguistic conscience. It is for that reason that social and cultural agents contributed, pragmatically, to validate a collective aspiration of recuperation. An array of creative activities were developed with the intention of communal participation in and expression of Basque culture.

“No se trata de obras individuales efímeras en el tiempo, sino de obras populares y anónimas, cuyo estilo se transmite generacionalmente, en un proceso mimético.”

The Basque Typeface is… a communal work of art, anonymous rather than having one or more ephemeral authors, and whose style, through a memetic process, has been transmitted throughout generations.

From the Alhóndiga Bilbao exhibit, "badu, bada: Euskera in a Multilingual World"

From the Alhóndiga Bilbao exhibit, “badu, bada: Euskera in a Multilingual World”

What I thought looked like the stampings of stones as the writing implement (for example, the pen), actually came from stone as media (the paper). Herrera and other sources consider the modern inception (after the Carlist War ended in 1876) of the Basque Typeface to the re-adoption of the style of funerary carvings and motifs of 17th- and 18th-century burial stones (the oldest artifacts dating back to the 9th century).

The logical follow-up to that would be… so what’s the source of that style?

My aesthetic intuition (and the objectivity of many researchers) would call on the theory of sharing, mixing and transmitting of cultural elements (AKA memetics!): this alphabet came from elsewhere and so the shapes of the letters must have too, undoubtedly Roman.

With this in mind, consider: the Basque language, Euskera, was an exclusively oral language – save a few religious writings and mercantile records – until about this same time. And so, for the first time in history, the words of this culture were now routinely expressed in a visual form. Euskera now employed no longer just the power of the ear and mouth to convey the individual and collective Self, but also the eyes. Considering what we know now about the power of images and visual clues…

“…una grafía particular, que es reconocida y denominada popularmente como «letra vasca», donde se pueden constatar motivaciones de identidad con valores específicos, de carácter político, social y cultural, y su aplicación como recurso gráfico de proyección de toda una seña de identidad nacional y reivindicativa que ha generado su propia expresión. Este tipo de letra se ha convertido en la «marca» de un grupo social y del área territorial en la que vive, reforzando la identidad social mediante la confirmación romántica del origen.”

Encapsulated in the the Basque Typeface, writes Herrera, “one can find motives for the identification with specific set of values of a political, social and cultural character, and it’s dissemination as a graphic resource results in the very distillation of the nationalism of those identified with protest. This lettering has become the “brand” of a social group and the territory in which it lives, reinforcing a social identity through the confirmation of romanticized origins.”

 

So I’ve wondered…why don’t we see the Basque Renaissance script on few-to-no modern day posters, handouts or graffiti? Despite the proliferation of the typeface used by businesses, mark trails and printed on the odd ‘Euskal Herria’ t-shirt, why do the variety of places it’s seen seem to be dwindling? Why hasn’t the script been taken up as readily by the most Euskera-fluent generation in modern history?

Before researching this piece I thought, again nudged by the imprecise compass of aesthetic intuition: Nowadays, the Basque Renaissance Typeface must evoke a sense of political conservatism, as it must be considered the lovechild (really, an adopted child) of the social democratic party (read: centrist Catholic PNV, the Basque Nationalist Party, which today pales in comparison to other social conservatisms) that initially rallied a large cross-section of the Basque population to the nationalist cause, and continues holding the regional majority to this day. That fact remains much to the chagrin of the more leftist (and typically younger) groups that continue to garner a reasonable chunk of the remaining nationalist demographic. The typeface thus must appeal, wax nostalgic even, to those who were raised around the social axis of the PNV’s batzoki meeting houses and still frequent cafes with this lettering above the entrance. But those children, now grown, could have as much resentment towards that symbology as admiration and gratitude, for their now grandfathered-in sense of identity in something no longer a novelty as it was to their parents and parents’ parents.

Again, Herrera in Monografica:

“En un proceso de desarrollo político tan complejo como el que se vive actualmente en el País Vasco, este aspecto de atribución nacionalista de la letra manifiesta una politización de la escritura que falsea la realidad social cotidiana. Así, la letra vasca implica la justificación del valor de la resistencia rural frente al cosmopolitismo, del romanticismo frente a la racionalidad, de la reacción contra el progreso. Habiéndose conformado en un verdadero símbolo, hoy en día, el carácter tipográfico vasco supone una de las manifestaciones visuales más acérrimas de una reivindicación del conservadurismo y provincialismo más recalcitrante.”

In a process of political change as complicated as is currently developing in the Basque Country, this aspect – the attribution of nationalism to the Basque Lettering – manifests as a politicization of writing which falsifies the daily social reality lived here. In this way, the Basque Typeface implies a justification of a rural-minded resistance against cosmopolitan modernity, a romanticism of origins against rationalism, and a reactionary [ultraconservative] politik against the progressive. Having been solidified as a true symbol, today, the Basque typographic character can be considered one of the most relentless visual declarations to reclaim conservatism and an even more entrenched provincialism of discrimination.

The chaotic, violent narrative of repression and marginalization lived by the old-timers pushed the pendulum of history to swing again to the other side, lighting the rebirth of a culture backed by participation and free expression. They had their great expansion of autonomy and identity, and matched it with song, symbol, and story. And now, their children and grandchildren, with visceral but increasingly indirect stories of 4+ decades of fear are now fighting their own battles, leveraging their own peace and power with the increased capacities for action and redaction… this implies a new design. To match the age, a design that is dispersed, plural. To keep up with it, returning to the past and scouting a future, simultaneously.

Ultimately, they’re continuing the political work of their foremothers and fathers, and in doing so point out the shortsighted philosophies (and often sexist, racist and xenophobic prejudices) that refuse to coexist with the reality of 21st century and social progress. Their entire universe is post-Civil War and post-Franco and it leads them to distinct conclusions that have to have a distinctive visual representation.

Could this have something to do with the young person’s exposure to a wider variety of aesthetic choices? I would say that thanks to the Internet and social media, the dissemination of hippy/friki/heavy/jipster-dom is prompting a Basque Renaissance 2.0… and not necessarily in the polar opposite direction of the pastoral romanticism that the Letra Vasca enshrines. It’s altogether something else, having it both ways, the juxtaposition of progress and preservation, like the last couple decades of Basque architecture, shoved together. In peace and conviviality.

The typeface, often spotted carved in a relief, foreground letters projecting out from a deep brown oak woods with blond highlights, looks as though it was rubbed away at, worn down, and finally, sealed into permanency by the swelling of humidity and the drying of the sun… sometimes a light olive wood made dark, polished by the constant fumes of cooking and consuming the oil from the fruit of that same tree.

Olive trees do not grow where I live. They require much more sun and prefer much less rain. But, the territorial reaches of Euskera – and thus the territorial reaches of Euskal Herria – do include regions like Navarra that can produce this so-called liquid gold.

The non-Basqueness of olive oil and it’s pervasiveness in local cuisine speaks to the Basque-ness of cultural processes of differential definition and subsequently, appropriation = what came here from elsewhere is now ours too.

This is Basque-ing in Reflected Glory – reworking of models of the known social universe: ours is what we have re-purposed as our own.

The Basque Renaissance Typeface will, I suspect, continuously cycle through the redo’s and undo’s of ownership and authorship, and signal the precarity of a language only written down until just recently.

A good corn isn’t hard to find

We bought us this day our daily bread, like most days.
And then on the other days we just buy a loaf of slices,
brand named Bimbo, for some others days to come.

A good corn isn’t hard to find.
Nor is cornbread.
It is a plant of dark green, those leaves,
fabled to be an
ancient grass writ large in the New World
doubling the size of the known world
carried here and eaten
with zest and confidence
that the Basques waited
before applying such consideration
and enthusiasm
to the potato*[fnote].               the things
we believe and wait to
fear even as we eat blood sausages
filled with rice or cardoon
soaking in it’s swamp of
those things humble
tried and true, the pig
manageable under
the recognizable, an awareness (if you must know, awareness+comfort = tradition)
of a particular beast
and the products we
can assume from it.

Corn Spaghetti

A good corn is not
hard to find, unless you are looking for it in
the sweetener in your soda or
cereal
unless you like it GMO’d
because this is the
EuroUnion of regulatory emancipation from worry
and that ≠ what you’d
consider a mercantile straitjacket or a welfare fare-thee-well state
unless you really need
that squeak only found in cornstarch to
complete a DNA sequence or
to iron a shirt or to
placate a toddler with said dust, water and food dye goop
or to
take an exception to
the rule and find it
in the pasta section, made into
spaghetti or paying
4 dollars americanos
for a ‘medium’ sized bag
of ‘mexican’
tortilla chips

(here ‘tortillas’ being the stuff of eggs
in the form of cakes, often holding potatoes together
and what you might call
by a most detestable term, ‘frittata’
– still, you can’t argue with
common usage)

turkeytorti

There’s only one size bag.
So goes history
and corn abundant in
a flat fried bread here,
a ‘tortilla’ sure, locally known as ‘talo’
and paired often with
a thinner
chorizo known as chistorratxorizo, txistorra
Corn, welcome to not Kansas.
Spelling, welcome to not Spanish.


In his stellar and highly-recommended book, The Basque History of the World, Mark Kurlansky offers the follow observation: “An indication of the Basque regard for corn is the fact that rather than adopt a Castilian word, they gave the grain it’s own name in Euskera, arto.”

Arto, the Basque noun for ‘corn’, sounds just like harto, the Spanish adjective for ‘sick of/tired of something’.

A vestige, perhaps, of the high regard afforded to corn in the Basqueland, I often hear the same response when I compliment the particularly rich taste, color or texture of a meat, poultry, or egg: “Because the animal ate corn! And not just any old shit, it was fed corn!”

Corn is for me, now, a thing few and far between. I don’t have much of a chance to get sick of it. It does not take on 13 dozen different forms, somehow finding its way into everything from ice cream to balloons (factoid: cornstarch used to keep the inside from sticking to itself). And unless the thing sitting in front of you is actually cornbread, cornflakes, popcorn, corn on the cob, or canned corn, you’re probably not eating corn.

Kurlansky writes that, “even aftermost Europeans had given in and were eating potatoes, though still feeding corn only to pigs, the Basques were doing just the reverse. Basque do [read: did (in the past)] not seem to like any tubers. They feed turnips to pigs and seldom eat beets. In 1783, a Bayonne chemist wrote to Antoine-Augustin Parmentier, the French nutritionist who finally persuaded his country to eat potatoes, informing him that the Basques eat corn, not potatoes, and ‘no province produces healthier, more vigorous people.'”

Here, the corn-fed boys, and in my corner of the world, go to baseball camp and football practice. And those walking on 4 legs, to slaughter. Times change. Potato, potatoe. I can’t help but intuit that reversed trend with potatoes in the Basque country today. With no qualms whatsoever, they’re stuck on nearly every plate I’ve ordered out. However, I would say there still is a general look of mystification in the eyes of people learning that we grow and eat tubers like turnips and radish (and glares of disgust and abject terror when I extol the virtues of peanut butter).

Nowadays, little suspicion of the potato remains, especially considering the proliferation of the tortilla de patata. A dish so prized that many Basques considered it both a staple and a treat… and unsurprisingly (or not?) it fails to escape language and identity politics – elsewhere on the continent, this same egg-potato ‘cake’ is usually known as tortilla española.

In the past, “Europeans believed that the physical appearance of food indicated hidden properties…Walnuts enhanced intelligence because they resembled the brain. The potato, it was reasoned, caused leprosy,” notes Kurlansky.

The yolks of the eggs we buy from the little old countryfolk are an impenetrably deep mustard orange color, almost an ocher. You’re damn right those chickens eat corn. And those potatoes, from the southern Basque province of Alava-you bet-the best in Spain. The tortillas made from these two ingredients, can awaken the dead and overwhelm (in a good way) the living.

Salad Days

summer reeks of the collective saying, ‘so there’s that time of year, here again, i don’t want to get all this messed up, my life’.

i don’t fight they’re reasons and suggestions towards the complication of schedules.
I could bother to wonder if it’s the vestige of agriculture meeting modernity, in the vein of elementary school calendars and farmhandedness. I do for a second, I wonder at the extremity of it though.

I hear, ‘there’s vacations, holidays you know, and i don’t know how to hold my life together otherwise.’
this is what i am told, and i’m fine with it.

i want to start another blog that my protestant work ethic can’t read. that my Midwestern productivity committee cant access due to privacy firewall helicopter accountability controls. fruits of labor are still in production. weeds are being weeded. the pepper plant’s flowers haven’t fallen in the night.

all because it’s summer and there’s sun out and the hot makes us all fall down.

for lack of air conditioning. considering that we’d turn it on all but twice a year, if at all.

and to think that the world could burn any second, so we really ought to tempt our skin to burn under the waves and the tepid water of a salt white beach. piles of white to be set out on the table and tossed into salad. oil and vinegar, salad season: that’s supposed to help me feel like i’m taking a break from a lifestyle completely built around taking a break?

at least, at the very least, throw me an avocado and some ranch dressing. only if it doesn’t taste like watered-down mayonnaise and garlic powder. i’m grateful yes, for the advent of croutons in this country. resealable, prepackaged and damn, we’re already feeling ‘special’… probably not going to inflate the profit margins though, to film a TV commercial hawking tiny cubes of hard bread. ‘indulgent’ up to the point that tempts the soul into dragging ass – when you have to create you own salad dressing with the cutting dread of fucking up the ratios.

i made cream of mushroom soup from scratch last night, completely clueless about proportions and ingredients and time. turned into a kickass tuna casserole, the existence of which is both hilarious and practical considering the geographical context. but mixing the correct amounts of white wine vinegar, olive oil and sea salt evokes the most profound and all-consuming anxiety.

i made blue cheese dressing once, because the boy loves that kind of dairy product that can be smelled from the moment the elevator reaches our floor. loves that shit. making it was easier than having to decide how much of a given clear liquid should be poured on to how much of a given raw vegetable.

salads are friggin boring. im so glad i no longer have an eating disorder.

crucial is the balance of parts combined.

maybe it only feels like a disordered season because it’s full of healthy breaks.

Quote

Words form the …

“Words form the thread on which we sting our experiences.” – Aldous Huxley

I’m headed home – STLMOUSA – to experience other things in another place for the merry month of May.

Contemplative composting of these strings of words with surely continue, but alas, posting may not until I return to the Basque Country.  We shall see.

Perhaps between Imo’s pizza, toasted ravioli, and the best baseball + brothers + microbrews on Earth, I’ll reblog elsewhere… check out Biscay Dossier on Tumblr for some lighter fare.

Beti zurekin

Siempre contigo

With y’allways

I will miss ye.

I will miss ye.

Composting

As of late, this Biscay Dossier has sat waiting with its ankle bouncing as the ball of the foot touches, no, grips the ground.

The necessity of new posts nearby, nearer than the back of my mind, but deferred. Geroratu. Left for later. Atrasado. Less often than I’d like. The ligaments in the back of the hand cede to the those below the knees, boots on the ground, pouring work into other things.

Compost. That’s the term. The process and the product called for in the composition of soil and word. Procrastination in it’s loveliest form.

There’s plenty of leftovers because I’m a bit desiccated at this point. Shriveling up and crumbling, with the wind I blow away from the hubbub and incessant Basque-ness. I get out to the huerta.

They call these little ladies margaritas.

They call these little ladies margaritas.

La huerta is a word we just don’t seem to have within our disposal in English. Neither a ‘garden’ nor a ‘farm’, and ‘vegetable patch’ just doesn’t ring quite true for me either. Vegetable patch evokes the successful cultivation of carrots (why so difficult?). Vegetable patch, for me at least, evokes plastic dolls that pop out of the heads of cabbage and later must be recalled because they devoured little girls’ blond hair in the 90s and they ought to have been recalled even earlier than that because the damn things came out right around the same time as the movies Chuckie and Gremlins and I never trusted anything that could just pop out of the earth and start talking.

Anyway, la huerta. Not something we have in the States, though ours is to some degree a community garden, because the plot – okay, now there’s a working term, ‘plot’, vegetable plot, or perhaps farm plot because we have rabbits and a nameless resident cat even though neither of those came about by our doing – yes, so the plot is privately owned, mutually or shared among a collection of old village men, or at least they are now old men, having given their permission to a younger old man who just so happens to have the blessing of the powers that be to look both ways for trains and then cross the tracks.

Ura ona, good water.

Ura ona, good water.

In early April I thought, the grass has gone to seed and I ought to have gotten over there to weed a week ago. I hear the voice of my mother saying this to herself, echoing in me too and still, even she didn’t get as particular with the marking of intervals and regard for the exactitude and judgment of tasks timely based upon when weeds would go to seed or any other budding thing.

Things deferred because it’s never really clear when anything ought to begin. They tell you in the books and on the back of seed packets, what to do in one month or another season, as if we all friggin live in the same climate. Then again, nothing really could be more exact than ambiguity. Tomorrow ought to bring rain, and rain could mean waiting again or rain could mean we’ll all be in the shambles of the floods and the coming again; it will have everything to do with Jesus and nothing to do with man-made climate change.

He’s made it back, just last week, reborn from death and decay that evaporated into the sky. The guy of steam and Sun, the Son of God, he says to get going already and bury those red beans and plant the damn cucumbers through holes in the black plastic.

Sharpening the scythe.

Sharpening the scythe.

We share the plot with Txigui, pronounced “chee-wee”: OMG, I know, the name though. Txigui de cojones, as I like to say, ‘got’dam Txigui’ (literally, ‘balls Txigui’: yes, those balls). Goombah, village doof, an idiot in actions; the guy’s in paro, unemployed like so many, and built a rabbit hutch to eat and sell. So, I relent a bit.

Idiocy earned from ample thoughtlessness, a title everybody’s earned at least once. For instance, our only shade tree worth resting under, a loquat (níspero in Spanish) pruned within an inch of it’s death in December, but for a purpose I just discovered last week.

Loquat leaves decay as slowly as pine needles. A pile of loquat branches will hide a construction site’s share of plastic wire casing. Oh yeah, at least 6 garbage bags worth of insulator sheaths, numberless redwhitegreenblueblackandyellow plastic bits all mixed in with the rabbit dung and leaching goodness gracious and who knows what other fun into the food for the soil.

Grilled vegetation

Grilled vegetation

I could care less about that plastic getting into us; I’m a smoker, a drinker and a fan of cellophane wrapped goods with more shelf-life preservatives than actual foodstuff. My concern is for the mitosis of few-celled, the tiniest well-beings who donate their lives’ every calorie and second to unlock the contributions of sun, water and seeds.

I’m also slightly worried we could be legally implicated in Txigui’s dumbassery when he gets caught. The plastic problem in my compost will likely get fixed elsewhere, where the long arm of the law can reach, and I decide that too is best dealt with waiting it out. Before and after the harvest of copper, there’s always plastic. I find shards of a CD from 1990-something and the thin film that seals something like a container of sliced cheese or turkey lunch meat.

Pavo frío. Cold turkey. Cold cuts. Cocidos pero no embutidos. Cooked but not cured, like the jamón of everybody’s dreams. Cured ham, hanging out, waiting for later.

Grapevine shanty

Grapevine shanty

Last week I thought, the heat is coming down from on high, but only for a week at a time. June will have to be full of days where the skin is sheltered from the lowered, beating sky, warmth pulsing through an atmosphere of highest sights not so distant, penetrating and unrelenting. The compost is wet and drying up at a fraction of the speed that I think I have. Compost instructs. In the center of the pile, hot for teacher.

And I felt like a full-fledged adult the other day, taking care of the tilling and cooking soil, this little swath of dirt and turf and it’s well-caught little place in the sun of foreverafternoonlandia, leveling beds of rectangles next to the stream that has slept 10 generations and the stepping stones that need a kick back into place every fourth visit or so.

Yesterday I thought, today is not a garden day. Yesterday could have been if the rain had good and dried up a bit more from the morning, but there wasn’t enough sun in the afternoon to do that barometric deed. No luck, no chance.

Until further noticing.
Delayed until it catches the eye.
Creation put off.

This June, I think now, will be full of the mad hurry that slows me wildly once I get there, once I step foot in the overgrown otherworld and survey the prospects of what really is possible between gulps and chews. That is, what i can reasonably expect to accomplish after and before the need to eat and before and after the bottles emptied of water apt for human sipping.

When weeding and wedding oneself to the wait-til-later works, it looks like leaving plenty a flower for the bugs and the birds to enjoy. I know well enough to merely tinker in the less crucial mechanisms of the Living Machine. Nearly to seed, I’m more than done fighting the weed.

blueschairfloresrio