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
– 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
– 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
– 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
– 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
…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
…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.
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!
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,
Springing forward sucks. Daylight savings sucks. This is known.
Unless it falls within the realm of His Majesty King Johnny Chaz I. Everybody’s favorite vestige of Spanish Fascism is the selective (un)recognition of longitude lines. As it isn’t a slab of poured concrete, this time zone shared with Berlin doesn’t comply with La Ley de Memoria Histórica (post-Franco law condemning the regime and it’s remaining artifacts); then again, plenty of facha granite stands to this day. What a great and noble land of incongruence in judicial interpretation. By golly, it feels like home.
What do you expect, you know, when Greenwich (that Mean-est of Times) isn’t even pronounced “green” + “which”.
It’s closer to a “grin + itch”.
Contemplating Edward Gorey’s drawing, “Being Brave Abroad,” an itch and a grin prompted a split-minute decision (i tried talking myself out of it, like usual) and got me out the door. An extra hour of daylight.
Destination: Peñascal (Spanish for ‘rocky crag’ while the Basque name Iturrigori means ‘red spring’)
Method: Getting on the number seventy-something and taking it to the very end.
My bus driver has got to be a nice guy. Yeah, he’s got the look: chases chonis (affectionate name for Jersey Shore-esque ladies, but in Euskadi we spell that txoni, aight?), lifts weights and tans in a box, probably maybe all accomplished on the same city block. But he’s definitely got the look of being a nice guy.
Start: Mina del Morro, the Santutxu brink that could fall into the river, if it weren’t for the deep roots of the eucalyptus grove (any unbroken stand of trees in an urban setting is AKA feral cat piss depository, and I can’t get it out of my tennis shoes).
Two ends of the tract, save the best for last, good hoods of a working class.
Three generations of women at the park sit facing the monkey bars and my attention goes to my ankles exposed and I’m fine.
Because, girl power.
In the thin valley sliced by centuries of rain, the Peñascal sidewalk presses against a high wall, where the terracing starts staking claim up the hill. A break in the solid concrete there’s a black chihuahua doglet.
I couldn’t tell if he was puppy. Passed him, backed up (and in that simple decision and follow-through, interestingly enough, made me feel less like an outsider and more like a documenter, someone with the right and reason to be in that neighborhood… my bravery in confronting this mighty tiny thing suggests that if I start with the dogs and their jean jackets and bejeweled raincoats, surely I can end up taking shots of bipeds), and readied my camera to peek.
His screech-howl confirmed he was not a baby dog.
In this neighborhood I expected to find gitanos and the usual marginalized state of affairs. I think to myself about how I do so enjoy the stuck-on buildings of sharp gradients, as if they were slums and slums being the first word that came to mind and my privilege won’t stop reminding me that it’s very much alive and well. The real problem with that thought is that I am not seeing what I’m in; instead, I’m imagining an elsewhere, a cloudy fold-out spread from National Geographic, vaguely São Paulo. I’ve never seen either of these places before and prejudice is boring.
Worn out debate interrupted by a valid contribution…
At the foot of the way to Pagasarri.
Waiting for the bus again at the Plaza de Errekaldi there’s a man, middle-aged and blond, with rectangular and rounded-edge light orange lenses. On the ground facing up, his longboard’s belly graphic is impeccable and recently bought, a milky turquoise and electric lavender galaxy. My best guess is that guy walked out of a cave where his flux capacitor-powered DeLorean had just landed.
Then, in the span of 3/100th of a second, I decide to move away from this dude, out from under the bus stop shelter.
I do not need to consciously recognize that this is what I’ve learned to do. As a woman.
I do not apologize to him silently. As a feminist.
I do not explain my actions to myself. As a pragmatist.
I do not wonder about seeming impolite. As a realist.
Fuck the possibility of becoming unsettled.
The low-lying center of Bilbao is on the middle of the route. In an Ensanche still with Sunday emptiness, Louis Vuitton shop windows crystallize two bags on the crooks of two arms of two ladies standing in knee high grass 50 meters in front of a giraffe. Photoshopping that has nothing to do with image manipulation.
A beige-because-it’s-not-yet-pastel-season wearing double date of coiffed retirees say agreeable and conclusive things to each other on the corner in front of the Immigration office. This is the uncluttered neighborhood.
Way back now,
sitting out the afternoon,
a flat brightness
spots of thick paint
dissolved political parties,
one offering, “una vía nueva de la izquierda”
a new way left.
I left around 17:20 and
found a new way around 18:45.
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.
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.
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.