The Basque country

5. Oktober 2016 § Hinterlasse einen Kommentar

I’m writing from what will probably be my second-to-last 80 languages trip. My count is at 67 language regions traversed or at least touched peripherally. Unexpectedly, I already got in touch with the Basque language and culture in the Southwest of France. In St. Jean-de-Luz, I first noticed the tell-tale Basque architectural style, with beams, window frames and shutters painted dark red, and a peculiar large-chalet type of house becoming more conspicuous as the TGV from Bordeaux approached the Spanish border. 

Then came the signs, with their X’s and TZ’s (coeur de ville = hiri bohotza; herriko merkatua = municipal market), and the ethnic shop windows (la fabrication du béret), and on Saturday morning at the market, there was an improvised-looking singalong going on – I quickly identified the songs as Basque, they were such a long way off French (Euskal Herriko Mendiak, went one title). It turned out that it was an amateur choir that was performing, as every first Saturday in the month. They like to cheerfully maintain a tradition that they (if they are of a certain generation) barely lived in their adult lives. But one lady assured me that her (now adult) children spoke some Basque, and the grandchildren would be sent to the Basque-French bilingual school. The market itself celebrates „les saveurs du pays Basque“; anything really to counteract French centralism and the relentless focus on Paris – I’m the last to mind. And it’s good for cross-border tourism.

Arriving at San Sebastian the next day feels like coming home a bit. Ever since I  discovered the city around La Concha, the semi-circular beach, in 1978, it has been sheltering a story that’s biographically important to me, and an atmosphere that has not been squashed since the onslaught of ETA and the Spanish central forces. I had hitchhiked across France and got stuck across the border. I went to the Fiesta del San Fermin in Pamplona, leaving my backpack behind in S.S., but I failed to meet up with some ephemerous travel companions and got promptly robbed (at night, at knife point). I took a bus back to S.S.on a shoestring, with a police report in my pocket, but was without any cash and cheques. In the whole of the Basque country, mayhem broke out on that weekened when the police started shooting at some ETA-friendly protesters in the full Pamplona bull-fight arena. The general strike lasted three days, an endless span of time I spent in S.Sebastian waiting for the banks to re-open. I lived on bread and water bought with postage stamps and the kindness of strangers.

I vividly remember poking my head out on the fourth-floor balcony of a shabby pension, when a passing patrol down in the street took a pot shot at me with rubber bullets. They hit the shutter just beside my face. Today, the city is peaceful and appears prosperous. The atmosphere pre-dinner with hundreds of flaneurs in the old quarter and the tapas/pintxos aficionados is still the same. It truly is one of the „cidades maravilhosas“ of the world.  I’m so glad I came back to show this marvel to my beloved.  And obviously, there is lots of food for thought in the displays of the museums and the symbolisms in the streets and on the walls (even if there are now very few graffiti).

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