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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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:

successkidbasque

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.

Initial contact

Dear there, from here, it’s a pleasure.

This would be the message that breaks the seal.

I am a permanent visitor here, a grateful resident, a transplant, a new local. Still, I find all these words, along with ‘expatriate’ and ‘immigrant’ problematic; I am too new to this place to know where I stand for sure. I always will be. I carry Missouri and misery with me; the remedy for which is to Basque in Reflected Glory (BIRGing explained) as much as my conscience will allow. I expect that my sentiments will often spill forth as unrefined and ignorantly privileged, but I’ll do my damnedest.

I am a product of the middle west, the middle class, of middle America. What follows is a dossier (three syllables, rhymes with ‘Ray’) of perspectives and participations in a place that resembles, in grit and grumbling and grace, Middle Earth. At least to mine eyes, and the middle brow sights they’ve seen.