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.

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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