Los Vascos no han visto Pocahontas

There is no grammatical gender in Basque, but they do seperate two categories of nouns, which each have their own cases. Aitor initially explained these two categories as being for ‘people’ and ‘places’ – but obviously that leaves out a lot of nouns. Later, he summarized the difference as being between ‘living beings’ and ‘everything else’, which satisfied us until we came to an exercise involving the word tree. A tree is sort of a place, thought some of the students – you can build a house in a tree, for example. Others of us thought trees might count as living things – they’re organic, after all. Aitor seemed almost puzzled by the question. “Trees aren’t living things!” he said, before realizing the ambiguity of his own definition a second later.

So, trees go in the second category, along with inanimate objects (including places). People and animals are in a seperate category. I scrawled a note on the bottom of my paper, to help me remember – “Los Vascos no han visto Pocahontas” – “The Basques haven’t seen Pocahontas.”

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Boletus Erythropus

My mushroom is the red one on the left.

We went mushroom hunting in Selva de Irati. Somehow I ended up with one of our findings – a red mushroom bigger than my fist. I was equal parts intrigued and cautious, but the guide was confident. Dark brown cap, red pores, and when you cut or bruise it, ‘azulea’ – ‘it turns blue’. He knows this mushroom well and eats it often – I should just fry it up and make an omelette with it. It’ll be good, he promises.

But Ida says she ate a similar mushroom once, in Finland, and threw up all night on a boat in the middle of a lake. But maybe, she suggests, she just didn’t cook it thoroughly enough. Thanks, Ida.

The Mad Chef

I brought the mushroom home and combed Google for a second opinion. Google seemed to think that my mushroom was Boletus Erythropus, which looks somewhat like the Boletus Satanas (Yes, Satan’s Bolete). Erythropus, however, is safe to eat… They think. Apparently it’s important to cook it well, but there’s disagreements as to whether all kinds are safe for everyone, even when cooked. Still, the worst case scenario seemed to be upset stomachs, so, after due consideration, I decided to go for it.

Azuleando - Turning Blue

I washed the mushroom really well, then took a big knife to it and started liberally removing anything I wasn’t absolutely sure I wanted to put in my mouth. The entire stem went into the trash can, as did the majority of the cup, since I didn’t think people ate the pores, and other pieces looked a bit dirty. I was left with a few big chunks that looked fit to eat, and I chopped these into tiny pieces that would be easy to cook through. The flesh of the mushroom really did change from white to blue seconds after being touched by my knife. Bizarre.

My mushroom omelette.

I sauteed the mushroom with a lot of very hot oil and a clove of garlic, then threw in an egg to make a sort of American Omelette. The result was quite tasty, even though I ate it slowly, watching out for a stomach-ache. I did get a little one, in fact, but I think I psyched myself into that one. 🙂

The mushroom itself was quite tasty, and there was definitely a little extra something that I wouldn’t have gotten with champignones. I think my Finnish penpal, Liisa, would be proud of how far I’ve come from the days that I was too American to eat anything that didn’t come, plastic wrapped and vacuum-sealed, from the store. It really seems miraculous that I was able to find this mushroom in the forest, pull it out of the earth, take it home, clean off the dirt and the worms, cook it, and eat it – talk about direct from nature!

Published in: on October 26, 2010 at 13:53  Leave a Comment  
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Ni Gure Tximeleta Txikia Naiz

The beauty of learning languages from the ground up, grammatically, as I am doing with Basque, is that you make sudden leaps forward. For the first two weeks, when people asked me what I had learned, I couldn’t do much more than smile sheepishly and explain that I’d only been to a few classes. The first week we’d only learned case endings, with a single word – mutil, boy – to fill out the paradigm. The second week, we learned some vocabulary, mostly animals and basic adjectives, and I could at least put a few words together. Nothing useful, but I could say “two big goats”, or ‘the young girl’, but I didn’t know a single verb, so I still couldn’t put a sentence together. This initial frustration is why, I think, popular modern teaching methods try to jump right into useful phrases and silly songs, but I think the best thing to do is to be patient, and push through, because afterward things start moving really quickly.

Apple Butterfly, from a Basque Blog. http://iratioihane.blogspot.com

Last week, we learned family terms, and, more crucially, our first verbs. To be, in present tense, and reflexive verbs, in past tense. It’s only a start, but it lets us make sentences. A surprising number of them. I can say, for example, that “two big goats have washed themselves” – “ahuntz handi bi garbitu dira”, or “the young girl is my sister” – “neska gaztea nire ahizpa da.” I can even say that “the sons and daughters of my aunts and uncles are my cousins” – “nire osaba-izeben semea-alabak nire lehengusua-lehengusinak dira”, or, as I realized quite happily, sing the DDR song “I-I-I, I’m you’re little butterfly!” – “Ni Ni Ni, Ni gure tximeleta txikia naiz!”

Basque has different words for a brother, depending on whether it’s the brother of a girl, or of a boy. Same thing for sister. My sister is my ahizpa, but my cousin Trevor’s sister is his arreba. Whereas Spanish will just double the masculine noun to make a collective noun encompassing both males and females (padres for padre – father and madre – mother), Basque smashes them both together, creating semea-alabak for children, and the unwieldy lehengusua-lehengusinak for cousins. Sometimes, simply out of a finite number of linguistic possibilites, Basque grammar winds up closer to English than Spanish – nouns in genitive, for example, appear before the word they modify, like English and unlike Spanish, so our teacher keeps explaining that you have to swap them to understand that amaren aita means mother’s father, when to me it’s quite clear!

Published in: on September 29, 2010 at 20:13  Leave a Comment  
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Open for Construction

On our trip to Vitoria, Lea, Cynthia, Rita and I saw an old cathedral and decided to ask about a tour. We were a bit puzzled when we had to preregister for a planned tour several hours later, instead of just walking in, but the reason became clear upon our return – and it was worth the wait.

Hard Hats

The Cathedral of Santa Maria, or La Catedral Vieja as it’s called within Vitoria, is the site of a long-term excavation and restoration process. They’re doing most of it by the book, carefully and slowly with expert attention, but instead of simply hiding the building away for years while they do so, as is standard practice, they’ve continued to conduct tours! About once a day, they take a small group of tourists and take them into the cathedral from below, up through the nave on the scaffolding, and even into the tight space between ceiling and roof. You even get a special Cathedral of Santa Maria hard hat to wear during the tour!

Right now is a good time to visit, as they’ve recently wrapped up the excavations and archaeology, having hit the solid rock beneath the foundation, and are now starting to close things up and reconstruct – leaving half finished floors that look like they’ve been taken right out of a cut-away illustration in a childrens book. Other sections are mostly completed, giving you an idea of what the rest of it will look like when it’s finished. Unfortunately, pictures are not permitted within most of the cathedral, but no picture could capture the feeling of standing on the scaffolding and looking all around you, above and below, intro the transepts – a place in the cathedral where humans were never meant to stand – and, after another year of work – may never stand again.

Workers put the finishing touches on an almost restored section.

Published in: on September 24, 2010 at 18:59  Leave a Comment  
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Guggenheim Bilbao

'Puppy'

I’m not a big fan of modern art. I like some of it better than others, and yes, I try to distance myself and understand that most of these artists know how to paint perfectly well, that they’re not really just a bunch of guys splashing paint around, fooling the critics with a false sense of profundity, and laughing all the way to the bank, but still, it’s not usually my sort of thing.

It really doesn’t matter what you think of the art, though – when you go to Bilbao, you have to go to the Guggenheim. The city and its museum are almost synonymous with each other. Before I ever dreamed of studying in Spain, the name Bilbao brought to my mind a vague image of Puppy, the dog made of flowers which guards the museum’s doors. So it was never really an option not to go, and it was cheap enough, for students.

I have to say that, just like the rest of Bilbao, I was pleasantly surprised by the museum. There were some rooms in the complex that I walked through quickly, utterly unimpressed. One entire floor was a special exhibit of ‘gluts’, which basically just looked like piles of trash to me, however much I sympathised with the artist’s purported message and tried to look at them through that light.

Some "Gluts" (not my photo)

“It’s a time of glut. Greed is rampant. I’m just exposing it, trying to wake people up. I simply want to present people with their ruins […] I think of the Gluts as souvenirs without nostalgia.” – Robert Rauschenberg

Other rooms were full of paintings that, to me, lacked any sort of feeling, balance, or aesthetic merit. But someone else may see meaning in them, and that’s what ultimately matters.

What did I like? A lot, actually. I’m partial to modern sculptures because there’s something so physical and tactile about it – just the idea of 3D physical materials and space being twisted into the shape in someone’s imagination is something fascinating.

Walking through "The Matter of Time"

The first exhibit that drew me in as I entered was “The Matter of Time”, which may be Bilbao’s most famous exhibit after “Puppy”. It’s comprised of huge masses of iron and other materials, twisted into shapes such as spirals and waves. You can walk in, through, and around the sculptures, which are meant to distort and represent people’s experience of time. My friend Jorge says he feels like it takes longer to walk out of the spirals than it takes to reach their centers. As for myself, I found it oddly relaxing and timeless to walk around inside of them, with the soft and undulating patterns made by the natural corrugation of the metals running alongside me.

"The Matter of Time", seen from above.

I also loved the Anish Kapoor exhibit, which took up an entire floor. Anish Kapoor is an Indian-British sculptor, and experiments with a huge number of materials and techniques in his work. One segment of his exhibit was filled with mirrors – I loved walking around there, although I wasn’t sure I pulled any deeper meaning from it than I would from a similar room at the carnival! Several other rooms were home to his experiments with colour as a physical thing which exists in three dimensions. He approached this from different angles, with one room housing sculptures made purely from powdery pigment, the result vaguely resembling bright cones of spice and incense. In another room, an enormous, slightly concave wall was painted bright yellow, which almost overwhelmed me as I approached it and played tricks with my understanding of the space.

"Shooting into the Corner" (not my picture)

In two of his works, Kapoor played with deep red wax (think, lipstick) – slowly spreading it across the floor in a circle in one room, and, in another, shooting canisters of it out of a cannon and into the corner. I felt as I had in the mirror room – that whether or not I could discern the work’s deeper meaning, it was wonderful to look at. I almost couldn’t take my eyes off the cannon exhibit, with the deep rich colour, the delicious textures, and the pseudo-sexual imagery so obvious even I picked up on it.

My favourite pieces by Kapoor, and maybe in the whole museum, were in a series he did exploring the ideas of darkness, the infinite, and addition by subtraction. One sculpture was a stone he had hollowed out and painted a deep black-blue inside – from most angles it looked as though there was a two dimensional plaque hung on the surface of the stone, instead of rectangular hole leading to the hollowed out center. There were also three huge concave disks, hung on the wall and painted with the same dark blue-black. It was dizzying, beautiful, and frightening to stand close to them and gaze into their centers, as if you were looking very far away, out into the universe, or into an inky pool of infinite nothingness.

On a simpler, more aesthetic level, I also enjoyed all of the outdoor exhibits – the giant spider, the balloon-like, reflective Tulips, the tower of spherical mirrors, and of course, the famous  and adorable “Puppy”!


Tulips, by Jeff Koons

Published in: on September 22, 2010 at 20:02  Leave a Comment  
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Basque through Spanish, Spanish through Basque

They say that whoever doesn’t speak a second language, does not truly know his first language. Can we take this further? Will learning a third language, Euskera, through Spanish help me to better understand my second language?

Don't I look studious?

I’m two classes in now. Tonight we learned a handful of vocabulary words but mostly just charged ahead with cases, learning what happens to them when you throw in adjectives and more. And I was learning almost as much about Spanish as I was about Euskera – that it was more difficult for my classmates to break the sentences into clear semantic ‘chunks’, because word order is more flexible in Spanish, that they feel more comfortable pretending the definite and indefinite articles are embedded in the case ending, rather than just ceasing to exist in Basque. I’d never really thought about the ambiguity of saying ‘un coche’ in Spanish before, until I got a Basque question wrong because I went for what would translate to English as ‘a car’, instead of ‘one car’.

I kind of think that, when I go back to Mizzou, they should just hand me a linguistics minor for getting through this class, no questions asked. 🙂 With every language that I study, I become more amazed at the diversity of humanity’s linguistic landscape, more conscious of what a small part of our potential is used in a specific language, more ready for whatever the next language will have to throw at me. In some ways, Euskera is the holy grail for linguistics geeks – it’s so famous for its difficulty, its strangeness, its isolation. If, at the end of the class, I can read a sign or two, maybe say a sentence or two, it’ll be a bonus, a side effect. But what I’m there to do is experience the language, witness it in all of its unique glory.

Bilbao – Bigger, Better, Brighter

To think I’d heard such nasty things about Bilbao. In our geography of Spain unit Junior Year, we’d been told nothing more of it than that it was Basque, northern, industrial. Lacking in charm. Even Ana, my landlady, had said, “Go to the Guggenheim. The Guggenheim is beautiful. But don’t bother with the rest of it. Bilbao’s not a pretty city. It’s not so nice.” Perhaps I’d simply had low expectations – I loved it.

From the Old Town, with the winding alleys and pintxos bars I’ve already come to expect from Basque Spain, all the way to the famous Guggenheim, I wasn’t disappointed by an inch of the Bilbao I explored. I suppose it could be said that I was only really ‘impressed’ by Bilbao’s riverside market (the largest covered market in Europe), the pintxos at Bar Irrintzi (amazing), and, yes, the world famous Guggenheim Museum, but the spaces in between held their own charm. Our walk through the center of town took us past dozens of cheerful parks and row after row of elegant buildings, and our stroll alongside the Nervión river revealed fascinating, if puzzling, designs of office buildings, bridges, and modern art statues. A shameless mountain geek, I also loved the way the city is nestled down between two mountain ranges, earning it the nickname El Botxo – “the hole”.

I found Bilbao’s reputation to be quite ill-deserved – it was on the whole bigger, better, and brighter than I had been led to expect, and well worth a day or two of wandering. But if the great majority of the day trippers go straight to the Guggenheim without passing GO, well, that just means more pintxos for me!

Published in: on September 17, 2010 at 22:11  Comments (1)  
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Bilbao’s Mercado de la Ribera

The Mercado from the outside.

Just steps from Bilbao’s old town, you can visit El Mercado de la Ribera, which claims to be the world’s largest covered market. It’s hard to find independent confirmation of this claim, but the Guinness Book of World Records did list it in 1990 as the biggest covered food market in Europe, at 10,000 square meters. Cynthia and I went in for a stroll during our day in Bilbao, but Lea didn’t quite have the stomach for it…

The market is divided into three floors, each with its own theme. To summarize, the basement is for seafood, the main floor meat and pastries, and the upper story fruits, vegetables, and flowers – quite nice, really, as you don’t have to enjoy the aroma of octopus while you pick out your apples or tomatoes!


This is euphemistically called a 'bull's egg' - huevo de toro. Yes, it's what you think it is.

Its a lot to take in for an American – I’m used to being quite separated from the bloody reality of animal products. A quick walk on the main floor brought me past a dozen things I’d never seen in America – entire pigs’ heads, brains and tongues, freshly skinned rabbits, even bull testicles. One butcher was graphically hacking open a sheep’s carcass even as we went passed!

Fish says: 😛

"Mira, mira, para un recuerdo!"

The basement was less frightening but stronger smelling – it had all the fragrance of low tide on a hot day. Still, I know it makes me a horrible person, but sometimes fish just look so funny/cute when dead, with their rolling googly eyes and their tongues sticking out! Cynthia and I stopped to take a picture of one group of them, and a boy working at the market became pretty enthusiastic about getting into our photo. “Look, look,” he said, “For a souvenir!”

Published in: on September 17, 2010 at 16:08  Leave a Comment  
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Elements of Pamplona

Since I’ve been here at Pamplona, my experience has sort of splintered into five areas, based on my interests and situation. These are basically the five ‘lives’ I want to lead here, the things I want to explore. Of course, I won’t be fully immersed in any of them if I split up my time, but life is short and I want to taste as many things as possible. 🙂 These are not exactly equal to each other – they vary in terms of my motivation, the time and energy I will put into them, etc, but they’re all things I look forward to experiencing this semester.

1.) The Spanish Experience

Well, I don’t think I could get out of this one if I wanted to – it’s basically my default experience here. And it’s awesome. I’m taking all but one of my classes in Spanish, living with a Spanish woman, and making a few Spanish friends too, so I’m hoping to improve my knowledge of the language and the culture (both with a capital and a lowercase c). I love my province, Navarra, but I’m also very interested in exploring as much as I can of the rest of Spain – I’ve already been to Barcelona, Valencia, and Bilbao, and am going at a bare minimum to Madrid before I leave. Galicia is also on my almost certainly list. I’m also definitely eating as much Spanish food as I can!

Example: Every minute, every day.

2.) The Basque Experience

Yes, Pamplona is most certainly in Spain. But it’s also in Euskal Herria, or, the (greater) Basque Country. Fully half of the people I’ve met who have grown up here speak the language, Euskera, and the political situation is a constantly changing, dynamic thing reflected by graffiti, posters, and protests on the street here. I’m also close enough to Euskadi, or, the (autonomous region of the) Basque Country, that I’m able to explore it as well as I explore Navarra. So far, I’ve visited the three capitals – Bilbao, San Sebastian, and Vittoria – and loved them. With any luck, I’ll rent a car with some friends to head back and see some of the smaller towns. And anyone with a drop of linguistic leaning blood can’t help but be fascinated by Euskera itself.

Example: I signed up for a weekly Euskera course – I couldn’t resist!

3.) The Academic Experience

Yes, it sort of hit me by surprise, too. I may be studying abroad, but I’m still going to need to study – as much or more as I do back home. My classes aren’t just Spanish language, either – I’m studying visual culture, literature and its impact on the modern world, film and literature, linguistics, and the aforementioned Euskera, all in Spanish, with Spanish students. Of course, I can’t claim to love every second of this experience, but it’s a valuable one and fascinating if I let it be. So much of art history, for example, is the same as back home (imagine that) that differences really stand out and shine.

Example: Sitting in a huge classroom and trying to understand abstract lectures about Romanticism, while being unsure whether the processor just said concession, connection, or conception.

4.) The Pyrenean Experience

I love mountains – both for their scenic qualities and the possibilities for fun and exciting activities. Pamplona itself is surrounded by low mountains, and the Pyrenees themselves are just a short trip away. It´s very exciting for a little Missouri girl, and I want to make the most of it!

Example: I plan to go on many of the Club de Montaña excursions, mostly hiking, but this weekend an intense two days of canyon exploration, repelling, etc!

5.) The Erasmus Experience

This one is somewhat controversial among people studying abroad. Some love it and embrace it as a full half of their exchange experience – others feel that mixing too much with the Erasmus students from all over the world will take away from their immersion in the native culture. To be honest, I have mixed feelings about it myself, as I’ve already experienced the craziness and wonder of an international community at Mizzou. I also know that spending time with the Erasmus students means more speaking in English and less practice with my Spanish. But ultimately, I think its an exercise in futility and self-isolation to try to avoid it on principle. Besides, the Erasmus students are my friends, they keep me sane, they’re fun, and, since we’re all (let’s face it) just tourists on speed anyway, its nice to have traveling companions. 🙂

Example: Last night a group of us (from Germany, Portugal, Lithuania, Peru, Austria, Finland, Spain, and Taiwan) had a pancake party together. Not exactly traditionally Spanish… but part of the experience, just the same.

Euskera – The Beginning

A linguist of the middle ages, describing Euskera as one of “the fourteen languages that Latin didn’t destroy”, that the Basques “say they understand one another, but I don’t believe it.”

For years, the language only had one word – Euskaldun – meaning both a person of Basque Ethnicity, and a person who spoke Euskera, as if the two could not exist separately.

There is even a legend that the devil went to the Basque Country and spent seven years trying to learn the language, but failed to progress beyond ‘bai’ (yes), and ‘ez’ (no).

——————–

Well. I’ve spent two hours trying to learn the language, my first class, and I’ve already gotten farther than Satan. Yee-haw!

Euskera. Words that start with tx and tz. 28 cases. Agglutinative grammar. 10 words for shepherd. Base 20 counting system. No living relatives.

… this could be more difficult than Finnish. ^^

Published in: on September 14, 2010 at 20:33  Leave a Comment