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:

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.

What I Don’t Yet Know and Still Want To Believe – Part 2

Part 2: But Seriously Y’all

What I don’t yet know and still want to believe…

That is, about the Basque Story. The Basque Conundrum. The Basque Conflict. The Basque Saga. The Basque History. The Basque Herstory. The Basque Problem. The Basque Solution. The Basque Enigma.

If Euskadi won it’s independence and became a sovereign nation, the people here would tear each other to pieces.

Without a common foe, its internal divisions would be exponentially amplified. No longer in the shadow of Spain or France, the once external demarcations of ‘us and them’ would implode and once symbiotic alliances would turn inward upon themselves. A mutual enemy,‘them,’ would have to be refashioned from those who were once some of ‘us’. Gone would be the diversity of values and stances, the very checks and balances that democracy depends upon.

There. I said it and I got it out of the way.
This is a fact that I don’t yet know but still want to believe.

In Part 1 of this series, my final meditation wondered about our divergent understandings of courtesy. In this context, I tend towards having mucha cara, ‘a lot of face’ and not letting on enough of what passes through the mind behind it.

I had to get that out of the way, The Mutual Enemy Problem, because it takes a conscious, concerted effort to emulate my new neighbors and just g’on ahead and let it tumble out. I also closed Part 1 alluding to my perspectives, this being the first of a few I’ll look at in this post (and in Part 3 to follow), regarding some serious subjects that could really piss people off.


If it weren't for all this deep red libation, high on quality and low on price… sharing the cup makes playing the devil’s advocate a bit easier, no lie. (Full disclosure: this is actually killer Chilean wine from some killer Chilean pals)

If it weren’t for all this deep red libation, high on quality and low on price… sharing the cup makes playing the devil’s advocate a bit easier, no lie. (Full disclosure: this is actually killer Chilean wine from some killer Chilean pals)

Correctness in Offending Political Senses of Humor

Before I go any further, I must clarify how I “Basque in the Reflected Glory” of all this tendency toward critique.

The title of this blog hit me one morning, after weeks of worrying about being too serious and being taken too seriously (or not seriously enough… merrily we go along, go along…. It hit me that if I was worrying about taking myself (and my writing) too seriously then the terrorists had already won.

This America!n’t happen, this America!na won’t let it. So, America!

“Basque-ing in the Reflected Glory” came out of observing the people, institutions and media of Euskadi, in daily self-reflection, raise clenched fists of success proclaiming:


And man, I couldn’t blame them. I still can’t. Surrounded by all this glory, I could just sit back and soak in all the reflected light of Grade-A, Top-Shelf Awesomeness that I get to be a part of. And then, there’s the innumerable times when I’m belly laughing alone because the hyperbole and hype is just so absurd while simultaneously so warranted, and oh so recognizable…

Greatness superimposed on Greatness, like when all the Power Rangers’ battle vehicles would combine to form the ultimate fighter bot.

Greatness superimposed on Greatness, like when all the Power Rangers’ battle vehicles would combine to form the ultimate fighter bot.

That ditty by Queen is playing in my head, you’d know it even if I wrote the last word of the title in Euskera (remember that the “tx” combo is pronounced like “ch”): “We Are The Txapeldunak”. Consider these lines in particular…

And bad mistakes
I’ve made a few.
I’ve had my share of sand kicked in my face
But I’ve come through.

I don’t yet know how to best give this situation the alternative view it deserves. Going along giggling, but only over the matters most trite sure wouldn’t be fair nor sane. The atrocities of Basque story bounce back at the same light-speed as any reflection of glory. The visage of ache and anxiety, humiliation, distress, and betrayal can still look at itself in the mirror and practice the jokes it’ll tell later.

The stand-up comedian, has an interesting position in a particular culture’s spectrum of the arts. Generally speaking, a creator who works in fiction, has a buffer against committing scandals of offensiveness that the comic does not. Their jokes we usually see as a more unfiltered extension of the humorist. We can forgive the author of fiction if they’ve humorously conveyed something too brutal to say live on-stage because they’ve set it back into an imagined frame of an imagined mind.

I’m no comedian. However, I still want to believe that my writing here can be: sufficiently serious in the pursuit of comprehension to risk offending people; respectful enough to swear off radical political correctness; loose and limber enough risk a slap on the hand to get that slap on the knee. A few hits on the tongue-in-cheek target are worth the chance of a miss that, in bad taste, bites down hard.

To Know Thyself is to Know Thine Enemy

So, to revisit the opening poke-in-the-eye polemic, I know I’m not crazy to still want to believe that an EuskalHotMessería would likely be the immediate (but not necessarily permanent) result of independentzia for Euskalherria. I’ll go as far as saying that they’d have a harder time, at least in the first decade or beyond, between themselves than they do between them and their respective Nation-States. With a shallower pool of Us and Them to choose from, we become our own enemy. Euskadi is presently particularly united, but since before the Carlist Wars and up to contemporary voting trends, a Basque consensus is an oxymoron. I would expect to see a sharpening of the already exaggerated divisions between provinces within the Basque Autonomous Community, not to mention the inevitable emergence of rifts between those who cannot or refuse to dissolve their cultural ties to Spain and France.

What I don’t yet know in particular and what leads me to suggest that this would be the case is that:

  1. Don’t nobody know what the economic ramifications would be for the region while Spain and France are still very much feeling (even if not officially registering/calculating) the economic crisis
  2. Don’t nobody know if a newly sovereign Basque Country could independently manage and maintain the their public sector and infrastructure.
  3. Don’t nobody know how trade and relations with Spain and France would be managed and maintained or if Spain and France would impose unofficial sanctions against a new Basque Country (or vice versa). ~and the one I really scratch my head about… as I imagine many would if questioned on the matter~
  4. Don’t nobody know how a rupture would affect these teams’ membership in the Spanish football league. And that, my friends, is a diplomatic emergency if I’ve ever known one.

You think the US has a problem with dependence on foreign oil? You have no idea. You can’t produce this golden elixir in Euskadi. Or oranges. Or almonds. Or even much wheat. All that comes up from the 'EhSpain' (that being the average Spanish-native's English pronunciation of their country) photo credit: 96dpi via photopin cc

You think the US has a problem with dependence on foreign oil? You have no idea. You can’t produce this golden elixir in Euskadi. Or oranges. Or almonds. Or even much wheat. All that comes up from the ‘EhSpain’ (that being the average Spanish-native’s English pronunciation of their country)
photo credit: 96dpi via photopin cc

These are most certainly questions to revisit. For the observer and denizen alike, the rest of 2014 will pan out as an interesting year in matters of statecraft in Europe. In Spain, the Community of Cataluyna plans to present the Catalan public with a ballot referendum this coming November 9th, an electoral survey of sorts, that could determine how much voter support there is for an ever quickening march towards self-determination. I haven’t been following the UK case as closely but it too implies a larger trend; Scotland will vote on a nearly identical measure this coming September 18th.

To be clear, I’m not saying that the Basque Country, Cataluyna or Scotland should or should not break off to form their own independent countries. I don’t yet know that it is necessary to come to any conclusions right now. I still want to believe that in politics, you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t – I don’t care if you’re trying to revive a coalition, respawn a movement or level-up your democracy on this continent, that one, or on the largest moon of Saturn.

My underdeveloped view on the matter is that I don’t yet know what to expect. I simply don’t hear enough about how said accomplishment would be handled once on the other side, once these ‘nations’ become ‘states’. I tend to see an immense amount of energy going towards making the shift happen, but I still want to believe that these cohorts have invested considerable planning for most foreseeable geo-political consequences.

By Scot! What these movements and their detractors (not to mention the undecided) symbolize is a new way of thought in governance and international relations. In store are shifts in organization,  macro- and micro- politics/diplomacy/economics… alas, a later post on these matters would be most prudent. photo credit: mikemac29 via photopin cc

By Scot! What these movements and their detractors (not to mention the undecided) symbolize is a new way of thought in governance and international relations. In store are shifts in organization, macro- and micro- politics/diplomacy/economics… alas, a later post on these matters would be most prudent.
photo credit: mikemac29 via photopin cc

 If You Can’t Keep It All Straight, Just Think Octopus

Put all that aside for now. I suggest stowing it in brain’s back pocket, a spot out-of-sight but still handy. Visualize doing so, as we’re about the expand the metaphor.

Imagine a political debate or conflict currently unfolding in your geographic or psychic vicinity. An issue being one that your personal stake in the outcome is moderate to minimal and yet the matter evokes in you both an intellectual interest and emotional ambiguity. As much as I’d like to, I can’t offer any examples because different strokes for different folks.

So you go to bed, laying there thinking about the issue you just imagined, running through a Rolodex of points and counterpoints, pros and cons of the issue. You doze off with these thoughts bouncing around as your noggin goes to work cleaning up synapses after a productive day.

Next morning, you wake up, and you’re an octopus.
You’re just fine out of water for some reason, but you’re definitely an octopus. Thing is, you wake up still only knowing how to move like a human and now you got all these extra appendages and a hundred new ways to stick to things and your brain stem fits the body of another creature and you go on with trying to live your life and think about extremist views without losing track of your extremities and continue to publish neat stuff that makes sense but you got ink spilling out all over the place and it seems really sensible then to change colors to match the seafloor and and then it’s like screw all y’alls, I’m hiding under this rock.


Shame on this apathetic octopussy. photo credit: Dani_vr via photopin cc

Shame on this apathetic octopussy.
photo credit: Dani_vr via photopin cc


Taking Things Seriously

Just as I don’t yet know how to handle all these tentacles, I can never decide, if I ought to make political statements or not. There’s a couple reasons for this.

Politics is an inherently uncomfortable discipline; some of the greatest thinkers stayed away from it altogether while others who barely think of much at all get wasted on apathy for good reason and none whatsoever.


Righteous fire, outrage and immediacy fading like a sticker that once said… something important… Azkuna Matata… it means don’t worry for the rest of your days…

Righteous fire, outrage and immediacy fading like a sticker that once said… something important… Azkuna Matata… it means don’t worry for the rest of your days…

And then, oh the vanity! A good chunk of us want to look good, look smart, look informed, look like we’re holding all the disparate pieces together. We want to look like we have all the answers while trying to look like we’re not even looking for them. We’re stirring the pot of shit and acting like it don’t stink. Vanity manages the reputations; she works filtering the scraggly, loose, hairy and unbecoming bits; she slaves away at curating the second self showcase on all that masses communique.

Political statements make me squirm, for I tire of these things so quickly when they fail to jump or slide or fly. And then suddenly they do jump and slide and fly, as you drink a cup of coffee in front of the building where a lawyer was arrested for dubious reasons less than 24 hours before; as your boyfriend’s aunt grieves her cousins and uncles behind bars for crimes of ‘politics’; as your Euskera teacher is fired because they were involved in the cause; as that degree they earned in prison got them in front of the class.

Politics for the outsider – the expat, the immigrant – is a slow mediation. For me, a closing in magnification leads to identification; that’s how we come to personal conclusions by reason and necessary emotional involvement; pant-staining residues of what a place makes of us.

I don’t yet know what I have the right to protest. I still want to believe that anybody who shows up to a march engages in a little bit of voyeurism. Frankly, I only agree with some of their discontentment and all of their mobilization. I go for the private bodies and public speech filling a common space, the private property stacked tall and elbows cramped. I still want to believe that my permission slip is being alive, and that agreeing with some but never all their demands is plenty.

Part of me wonders, not yet knowing: what opinions do I have a right to here, given that I’ve splashed into the depths of a day-to-day elsewhere and slithered away from the bubbling crockpot of scorching red-white-&-blue vitriol – it leaves the taste buds blistered with a suction grip. And still, the emotional distance and physical closeness of involving myself in these Iberian issues makes it much easier to portray with sound, symbol and presence my support for stances whose entirety and implications I don’t yet know.

I’m not a political scientist and I don’t profess to be. Nevertheless, I still want to believe that I must interact with a political world, one in which the borders drawn and imagine, could appear or disappear as early as next year.

In Part 3 to follow, I’ll BIRG and bitch a little more about the political as personal and the need to interact with these goings-on. Because I still want to believe that as a woman, I must address the discomfort + disorientation as well as delight that comes with navigating the quasi-matriarchy of Basque society.

To be confused… to be contained… to be continued…

(Source of the W. Blake quote – besides the obvious coiner Blake himself – is Paddy Woodworth’s ‘Acknowledgments’ in his book, The Basque Country: A Cultural History. Goooooooooood stuff. I’ll surely be quoting him often in the future.

What I Don’t Yet Know and Still Want To Believe – Part 1

Part 1: Let’s Not Take This S**t So Seriously

What I don’t yet know and still want to believe… That is, about the Basque Story. The Basque Conundrum. The Basque Conflict. The Basque Saga. The Basque History. The Basque Herstory. The Basque Problem. The Basque Solution. The Basque Enigma. Start with what you got they say. Alright. Here’s a list that is most certainly not exhaustive, and then a message to readers near and far…

I don’t yet know…

– which way to spell it, Euskara or Euskera, the Basque language comprised of 6 dialects

to what extent Castellano, or Spanish Spanish, is derived from Euskera and vice versa

– when I’m going to grow the ovaries to start seriously studying Euskera – what the Carlist Wars were all about

– where I am I really from, because as they say here, “los de Bilbao nacen donde les da la gana.” That is, “those from Bilbao are born wherever they damn well please.”

I don’t yet know…

– why there’s such an insistence upon the unseen power of the ancient, unchallenged reign of the Basque ‘matriarchy,’ when we all know that is baloney, which she would never let you eat anyway unless she herself bought it and made sure you finished because you have to eat well lastana

This 'talo con txistorra' is amatxu-approved

This ‘talo con txistorra’ is amatxu-approved

– what agricultural hardiness zone I’m in, because just like back home in San Louie, you can get all 4 seasons in week, be it January or August

– what baby eels actually taste like (angulas, even the word makes your mouth water), because they go for €400/kilo or $200/pound when they’re on sale

Original image without text photo credit: svet via photopin cc

Original image without text photo credit: svet via photopin cc

– my 8 last names, because you just gotta know your OCHO APELLIDOS VASCOS, ya dig? for example, my chico’s mother’s 8 Basque last names are Isasi, Extebarri, Larrea, Martitegi… I’ll get back to you on the rest. (I also haven’t yet seen this movie which they’re saying is killer, but as usual it has a terribly translated title in English, Spanish Affair… oh please)

– how many political parties there are in Euskadi (and were, including the past ones that are now illegal and the ones newly legalized) and what their platforms actually stand for (I imagine it’s on par with trying to explain to a friend here the differences between the dozens of branches of Protestantism and otherwise in the US when all they got in these parts is Catholics, Evangelicals and Jehovah’s Witnesses)

I don’t yet know…

– whether Navarra/Nafarroa is as Basque as Araba/Alava and if Araba/Alava is as Basque as Bizkaia/Vizcaya and if Bizkaia/Vizcaya is as Basque as Gipuzkoa/Guipúzkoa

– whether Navarra/Nafarroa is in fact more Basque than any of the three provinces officially part of the Spanish Autonomous Community of Basque Country

– whether Ipparalde/Pays Basque/French Basque Country  is as Basque as Hegoalde/País Vasco/Spanish Basque Country

I’m just being ignorant with these last three points or "aldes" (Euskera for part, side, or near to)

I’m just being ignorant with these last three points or “aldes” (Euskera for part, side, or near to)

– how it is possible (speaking more generally about Spain/Iberia) it is possible to publish, every single day of the year, a 25+ page periodical, Marca, that is almost exclusively about football and a great percentage of that being football in the Spanish leagues, and even of that a great portion devoted to two or three top ranking teams. It’s just flabbergasting.

I don’t yet know…

– where’s waldo

He’s in there somewhere, Aupa Athleeeetic! photo credit: jmendicute via photopin cc

He’s in there somewhere, Aupa Athleeeetic!
photo credit: jmendicute via photopin cc

…and I still want to believe…

– that Euskera is pretty much as difficult to learn as Japanese with the exception that it employs the Roman Alphabet. But meh, it still shouldn’t be that hard… (Source for these articles, two posts from the fantastic and highly recommended blog, About Basque Country)

…and I still want to believe…

– that there’s is less violence against women, violencia machista, here than elsewhere in Spain as I’ve observed psuedo-empirically… but this in no way diminishes what is a dim reality in all of Iberia

– that the Basques are somehow involved in the Solutrean hypothesis

– that that might mean I’m a little Basque too. But, for real. I pray it is so. Gotta get me one of those mitochondrial thing-a-mabobber DNA tests.

(and because these last two are highly contested in the scientific community, here’s a little fuel for the fire… ancient devotion to a female divinity…)

…and I still want to believe…

– That someone, somewhere still learned them some of that Old Religion… That there’s a little old lady and two more my age in every other village keeping the teachings and goddess lineage trickling on down… That I can find those women and their witchy ways still at work… and I’ll have the huevos to make that magick happen.

Dear Wise Women, can we be BFFa's 4EveR???

Dear Wise Women, can we be BFFa’s 4EveR???

And one final thing…

I don’t yet know…

– Who’s got better manners? Is it us (USAmericans, speaking for myself here but there are many others) who with warmth and pleasant charm, play the part of “oh just fine…” Yes, we’re just fine with faking it? Or is it them, with a propriety of honesty, albeit cold, pushy with an intonation extra emphatic? Theirs aren’t the theatrics of the disingenuous. One could call us on our cara (lit. ‘face’ but here ‘false’ or ‘fake’) as much as another could call them crass.

and I still want to believe…

– that there’s a happy medium between the two. Because if I can’t navigate the right and the true, I’m screwed.

Speaking of manners!

Dear Reader,
Let’s not take this s**t so seriously. And why exactly? Succinctly, because life is too fragile and too fast.

On the other hand, I’ve hesitated entirely too much in outlining the more serious and controversial issues surrounding the Basque Country.

In the installments of “What I Don’t Yet Know and Still Want to Believe” very soon to follow, I’ll start delving into the s**t that really pisses people off. Coming Very Soon… Part 2: But Seriously, Y’all and even a Part 3. I’ve got reading to do.

Until the next push of of the publish button,
C. Rhea

Agur Alcalde Azkuna

In the dimming light of la tarde, when seven o’clockish is still considered afternoon on this peninsula, the long-serving mayor of Bilbao, Iñaki Azkuna, passed away this past Thursday after several years of deterioration due to prostate cancer. Yesterday, his family, close friends and colleagues in the political sphere attended his funeral at the Basílica de Begoña. Tomorrow a public service will be held for the mayor at the much larger capacity Catedral de Santiago in the center of Casco Viejo, Bilbao’s Old Town.

Azkuna, originally from the inland town of Durango, began his career in Paris then back in Bilbao as a physician and professor of medicine, hospital director and later served the as Health Counsel of Basque Country’s regional government before his election as Mayor.

Can’t say that I personally know very much about this man. In my year of residency, Mayor Azkuna has been too ill to make many public appearances or more than a few interviews with the press. Had he been well we would have undoubtedly run into the guy on a Saturday evening pintxos round or in commute to class. What I do know about the late mayor is from bits of commoner conversation filling the empty space of his absence. The people of Bilbao, who are known for being damn proud of their city (which hasn’t always been the prettiest thing to look at), were damn proud of their Mayor Iñaki Azkuna.

A majority of Bilbaínos, I must qualify, were happy with the policies of Azkuna. Through the grapevine I’ve heard he could be a pain in the tookus to work for. Plenty of his policies negatively affected local businesses and residents. His refusal to remove portraits of Bilbao’s Franco-era leaders from City Hall rightly angered many critics. I could go on, as the controversies and polemics surrounding (un)popular figures should, but I’d rather streamline the discussion for now, and return at a later date to analyze Azkuna’s role in Bilbao’s for-better-or-for-worse urban renaissance.

Like any politician, Azkuna had his fair share of yes-men and -women as well as plenty of vocal detractors. It’s not difficult to comprehend why we would bask in the reflected glory of Iñaki Azkuna having been voted the World’s Best Mayor in 2013. Nor would anyone deny us a little BIRGing knowing that for years Bilbao has maintained the lowest municipal debt (despite the nearly decade-long chokehold of the economic crisis, no less) of any city in Spain, no accident of Azkuna’s. In the end, Iñaki Azkuna revealed the secrets to effective community leadership in his farewell, that all he achieved was thanks to serious teamwork, walking the city to survey firsthand needs of this city affectionately known as el ‘Botxo’ (from Euskera meaning the hole or pit), and finally, that he did it all with the help and collaboration of the people of Bilbao.

To end, an observation: ‘a woman, a man of the people,’ that title and trait so elusive in contemporary politicians, is earned when one can weather all the critique and hubris of public opinion, and still have the gumption to button up, grab an umbrella and head out for a stroll to see how the neighbors are holding up.

Agur Iñaki.

Cheers.  photo credit: Iker Merodio via photopin cc

photo credit: Iker Merodio via photopin cc

News links in English:
The Local -Spain
La Prensa

…and en Español:
Deia Blog

Bilboren grisak, Bilbao en gris, Bilbao in grey

Translation: Bilbao in grey reminds us of the transience carried off by time’s vortex; reminds us of the immortal that has had it’s start but will never have an end; reminds us of the eternal that has not yet began and will never finish. -Azorin

Translation: Bilbao in grey reminds us of the transience carried off by time’s vortex; reminds us of the immortal that has had it’s start but will never have an end; reminds us of the eternal that has not yet began and will never finish. –Azorín

Now that it isn’t raining, I can write about the rain.

Supposedly Hemingway couldn’t write about Michigan until he made it to Paris.

I just went there, probably angered the gods and hexed myself by glancing all too soon towards that E.H., Ernesto the Besto, the one my gent calls Heuminghwey y su puta madre. I assume my chico doesn’t slant this way but I do wonder if certain grudges have been held (not to mention some basking in the reflected glory of said author’s residency here by many in the same camp) because Mr. H called a spade a spade and a Spain a Spain, to the likely chagrin of a few Basques, particularly those in Pamplona, Navarra (Iruñea, Nafarroa in Euskera) where Uncle Ernie got bulled.

Thoughts regarding precipitation: after a year in, every thought will regard precipitation and every thought will reflect the precipitation.

Water that falls from heaven and loving it. But even the most pluviphilous of them all too get tired of it, blowing in askance from the the sheer valley bend and over the low side towards the sea. Precip imminence eventually isn’t a good enough reason to change your beach plans.

When it doesn’t rain, it’s probably viento sur, the Southern Wind, and what it’ll make you feel is strange. Hospitals and law enforcement report an upsurge of incidents on par with the Full Moon phenomenon. Wind of the South picks up all the misery and coffee breaks and political sausagery (chorizo, slang for theft, to be exact) from the rest of the peninsula. But that’s Murphy’s law carried to the power of unfounded conspiracy, because the wind may come from everywhere and go nowhere. Kinda like scheisty politicians. Mostly, the ration of fresh air caravans in with the breeze that carries tuna and krill and blue whale spirits from the northwest.

Good morning to all the flying things and the shuffling things and the 1-gallon plastic shopping bag blown aloft in a perfect arch, gliding over the 10 story building flats.

Another puzzlement of mine, when the rain comes in sideways: how the heck is that laundry supposed to dry and how do these launderers not lose their marbles? Clue #3 to demonstrate that I’m obviously not from here is because I can’t figure out for the life of me how they know the wind comes from the single source when it barges through the grid of streets the right slight north and the left slight south. That kind of wind fills eyelids with fiberglass and long brunette hairs and you bow your head with palms pressing at the forehead and begin to pray for rain, please knock this devilry back down.

There’s one kind of rain that is, depending on your mental health quotient that day, the absolute best or worst of all. Sirimiri is an onomatopoeia, like many terms in Euskera, and it requires humor to stick it out without your sanity spilling out. Sirimiri is the primordial mist of a hundred billion drops, each one only a handful of molecules, coming down so very lightly and forming a near tissue paper-like sheet of water. Sirimiri, rain that does not drip but soaks right on through.

Muscles memorize where the puddlings tend to gather. In various levels of consciousness art thou learnt in the best of lessons: watch your back. I wonder if crime is reduced simply by downpours. Too much hassle José.

The convicts and I’ve decided to buy decent boots and shoes from here on out so the seeping doesn’t get into the core, past tolerance’s electrified fence. That’s how the water gets to your head, through wet socks. Wool is conduit enough but cotton is the quick stick intravenous way to ruin your gatdamned mood, and your maldito dia as well.

Investments in footwear must be compensated somewhere; crappy umbrellas have been lifted from the the kinfolk, yes. But don’t you dare feel guilty about it or do something silly like go and buy an umbrella. Your turn to ride the pay-it-forward merry-go-round will end with your paraguas, for-waters, on the other side of the closing train doors.

Pete limberly hops over them puddles when necessary – when? – always as it’s absolutely necessary. Little macho coursing with adolescence, sure, whatever, but Petey sure hates his little booty to touch the chill and damp when he’s gotta do his thing.

Puddles like windexed coffee table glass, clean and static suspending underneath mudprints of boots and paws, giving away no reflection of the open midnight sky.

Damp schnauzer in a red rain jacket and her human wants know and outright asks, “hey you, why you have your dog out at this time in the dark and humid chill?” They are out there too, you think, but they just have to say something. Let the cup overflow, liquids seeking the low points.

Photo + (Family – You) = Still a Selfie

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Dividing the thing into 3 parts (you bet I’m oversimplifying it and you bet I oughta know better) 2 of those parts wanted something silent. 1 of those 2 declared it, yeah, sure, but didn’t follow through. Could never be expected to. Had every right and reason not to. Must and mustn’t. The Distant Right didn’t want it to happen at all, so they, at the Far Top and Center, ruled the thing illegal. Those other 2 parts out of 3, be they Middling Meddling and Forwardly Flailing, decided to detour, ignore it, do it anyway, recycling the concept of declarations and permissions, again, perhaps never originating there. They changed the dictionary for a thesaurus and took the streets. Such pages grow at altitudes and latitudes of neither plain nor plateau.

People of the wood.

Part 2, the Rumination towards Regulation (the Party Formally Known as Middling Meddlers), wanted silence, wanted a manifestation á la metaphorical, a thing of peace, unity, justice. Their words, not mine. They wanted peace with Part 3, or at least loved a mutual enemy. Part 3 over there on the Cortex Creative (conceived somewhere called Progress in the Dark Places, with a hand outstretched and searching), showed up as expected; showing up being that thing that they do in a top-down fashion, but once they’re there, well, consensus versus individual mandate is as scissors is to rock.

Iron people, stone people.

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This thing, neither silent nor boisterous, advanced just barely along the gutters and seemed hardly a march at the double center line. Parts 2 and 3 would turn around in place and climb a dumpster, a light pole, a set of shoulders. They would look, finagle the phone, freeze and steady themselves against the blur of evening through a lens. As the Boulevard of Autonomía dumped down around Recalde and then rose again at Concha Jeneralaren, Parts 2 and 3 peeked and stretched up on tippy toes, turned again and trickled forth.

People of the rivers meeting the sea.

Somewhere in the Basque story is a microcosm of all of us, the hereditarians of here and there and everywhere. Satellites have positioned and posted this family portrait from which you can’t untag. In the right light and near enough to stillness, the viewfinder frames the estuary but the blink of the lens stores a selfie. Agua dulce, agua salada; sweet water, water salted. Reconciliation by dissolving into ancestral brine. Drops of baptismal waters to confound old hatreds with babies of a hundred last names. Basque in this Reflected Glory of 100,000 souls seeing themselves for what they are and seeing yourself among them.

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