Monday, June 15, 2009

the basque

It is hard, if not impossible, to describe the Basque after only two days in San Sebastian. First, the time and the circumstances of meeting the Basque is too short and too few. Second, who is to say who is Basque and who is Spanish. Walking along the La Concha on a Sunday night, the Basque alongside the Basque take their traditional stroll on the promenade. The Spanish walk erect staring straight ahead, proud and stately. The Basque, not quite so well dressed or conscious of their appearance, walk as if they have a purpose.

Yesterday, we drove along the coast to Zarauta, a Basque town. The lack of commercial development stood in stark contrast to San Sebastian. The Basque, it seems, work for a living at the normal occupations of fishing, manufacturing, and the services. The beach front in Zarauta reflects this. Apartments line the beachfront.

How prevalent is the Basque language. There are, it is estimated, just over a million people in Spain and France who speak Basque. The Basque do not like to say, "Buenos dias," but instead say "Hola," or some Basque phrase I have not picked up. At a restaurant in Zarauta, I asked a waiter for mustard, "moustard" in Spanish. He did not know what I referred to. Finally, when I described it as like ketchup, but yellow, he exclaimed, "moustaza." The language is unlike any other known language. Written, it contains many z's, x's, and k's.

The only reference I saw to the ETA campaign for separatism was a banner hanging over a public building condemning violence by the ETA.

How long can the Basque keep their culture surrounded by the larger and economically stronger Spanish? Who knows, but the Cantabrian mountains keep many of the Basque towns in isolation and keep out the Spanish culture. The Basque, who are proud people, will go on.

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