Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Basque-ing in Northern Spain

We reached Basque country some time ago but it has been tricky posting blogs without a good internet connection. San Sebastian was the recommended mid-point and we even stayed in Pension Amaiur, the recommended pension. We couldn’t have asked for a nicer spot. The reception there was just wonderful and the whole place was cute and colourful. It was also much better located than we usually are so we were right in the thick of things.

Rick recommended lots of great tapas bars so we thought we’d try a tapas crawl again. Wow, what fun THAT turned out to be! Even with the family age spread, we all had a great time. There were four or five recommended tapas bars but our favourite was the first one: Goya something. Okay, so maybe that wasn’t the whole name but it has been a week or so now and my brain is a bit fuzzy. The wine was good that night too as I recall.

The Basques are a unique lot. They have somehow managed to maintain their individuality even through the Franco years. I have to wonder at the tenacity of the people living on the Iberian peninsula. Here they were, ruled by a nasty old dictator for some fifty years or so and not one, but two of their fiercely independent minded local peoples still managed to keep it all together; the Catalonians in Barcelona area and the Basques in the Northeast corner. Interesting they are both on the eastern end.

At any rate, the Basques kind of fired my imagination because their language has been around for almost 7000 years! It is the oldest European language still spoken. Wow. They also were around trading with the people in the British Isles way back when and were known for their excellent seafaring skills. Perhaps they even made it to North America? If they did, they didn’t stay long because there is no evidence of them there.

Another interesting Basque tidbit is that their capital is Guernica. This may not strike you as curious but for those of us who have been Picasso’d to death in the past few months, Guernica stands out. Picasso painted a now famous painting called “Guernica” for the 1937 Expo in Paris. The painting recalled the horror inflicted on the Basques by Hitler and Mussolini. They were trying out a new idea they had for killing people. It was called carpet bombing. They basically flattened the entire city. Odd given the Second World War hadn’t even started but Spain was in the middle of their civil war and Franco was demonstrating his ability to terrify and cripple on his way to becoming top dog. He was buddies with Hitler and Mussolini. They all shared a similar ideology. The strategy of the hour seemed to be to create as much fear as possible in order to get what you wanted. For Franco, it worked well.

This, of course, leads me to another interesting tidbit shared by Rick. Apparently, Franco wanted to get on the Hitler bandwagon after Hitler occupied France. He met with Hitler in a little town called Hendaye, also near Guernica. Fortunately for Spain, Franco was quite full of himself and presented as a boastful, pompous peacock. Hitler dismissed him as a nobody and Spain wasn’t invited to the WWII party. The alternative endings to that little story make me shudder.

We toured many of the delightful little French Basque villages, including Biarritz, a resorty beach town. Rhys and Julia had fun with the waves there but we all agreed with Rick that Saint Jean de Luz was a prettier little spot. Our day on the Spanish side was filled with a visit to the Guggenheim Modern Art Gallery along with a stop at Guernica.

The Guggenheim was a very cool building but after the mind-blowing science fiction architecture at Valencia, it couldn’t quite reach mind-blowing status. My favourite exhibit at the Guggenheim was the “Degenerate Art Collection” ostracized by Hitler. There was something very satisfying and humourous about being able to enjoy this art.

Guernica, you’ll all be pleased to know, is no longer bombed flat. It has been rebuilt. The best part is the Basque people still use the same ritual to elect their figurehead leader that they have used forever. There is a special tree behind the government building in Guernica where the new leader is sworn in. The tree has had to be replaced over time as 7000 years is beyond the life of one tree, but supposedly, the tree today shares the same seed lineage as the original. And how cool is this? The tree miraculously survived the carpet bombing! Survivors gathered under it afterwards. It just kind of makes you want to cheer for them. Go Basques, Go!

1 comments: said...

Hi All....GREAT having the 3 way Skype today....sorry your connection faded out. Loved the story of Rick Steves and look forward to your blog about it! I leave tomorrow for the P.E.O. convention...back Sunday night... Glad you are now movie stars... What fun! Love Mom