Ochagavía

Plaza in Ochagavia

For lunch on the second day of our road trip, Marketa and I stopped in Ochagavía, the most prominent village in Navarra’s Salazar Valley. We walked alongside the river, admiring the traditional architecture and taking pictures like crazy. Then we found a reasonably priced sidrería (Cider-house) to eat at. Marketa ordered “cow’s face” as she called it – some sort of cheek meat, while I ordered traditional Basque meatballs, Basque pate, and cuajada for dessert.

Marketa saw some Kukuxumusu merchandise in a store window in the plaza, so in we went. I was ecstatic to find several animated movies from my childhood – in Basque! Red-faced but determined, I asked the lady behind the counter for Haran Sorginduaren Bila – also known as The Land Before Time. She was very sweet. “I see you like cartoons, just like me!” she said. As she was scanning the movie, though, she realized that it wasn’t just in Spanish, but in Basque! I told her that was why I was buying it, because I was studying Basque a little.

At that, she went out to the street and called in her friends. “This is an American girl, studying Euskera!” she announced. All of them were pretty impressed. “You’re doing what we could not,” they told me. “We’ve tried to learn a little bit, but we’re too old now, it’s too late, we’re the lost generation.”

“Our grandparents spoke Basque, our parents understood it. But then came the Franco years… It skipped us. But now the children are learning again! And even you, an American!”

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Zorionak Ainhoa!

Just like in ordinary life, sometimes you have to make tough decisions while abroad. I’d been looking forward to the upcoming International Student Farewell Dinner for weeks, just as I’d been looking forward to my friend Ainhoa’s birthday party. I’d submitted photos to the farewell slideshow, RSVPd on Facebook, and bought Ainhoa a birthday present. Then, the day before the dinner, I got a phone call from one of Ainhoa’s friends. The two events were going to be held the same day, the same time.

It wasn’t a fun decision to make, but I knew from the moment I got the phone call what I would decide. Ainhoa had been a great friend to me. Of all the locals I’d met, she’d made the most sincere effort to include me and show me her culture. I couldn’t miss her birthday, not even for a tear-filled slideshow where all the international students would probably sing along to “as we go on, we remember, we will still be, friends forever…” (and really, what else can happen at an event like that?)

So, I went to Ainhoa’s party. I was meant to meet with the girls who lived on my side of town so that we could take the bus to Txantrea together. I arrived at the designated place at the designated time. It was a cold night, and generally arriving right on time in Spain means you will be waiting 10-15 minutes, but I decided to play it safe because I was meeting with Basques (northern Spanish cultures are a bit less relaxed about time), and because it was a surprise birthday party. After several minutes, another girl who was waiting approached me and asked whether I was Miranda. We chatted and laughed at ourselves for arriving ‘early’ until Andrea came out of her apartment at last. By then we had missed two buses, and since they only come every 15 minutes, we were over an hour late to arrive in Txantrea.

On the way from the bus stop, we suddenly heard cowbells sounding through the otherwise quiet night. To my delight, a parade of Basque Joaldunak ran by! These are dancers who wear cones and ribbons on their heads, costumes of bandanas and wool skirts, and, best of all, two enormous cowbells strapped to their backsides. “Why are they here?” I asked. “To scare away evil spirits!” said Andrea. I laughed at that. “Okay. But why here, and right now?” She just smiled and shrugged.

We met up with the rest of the group and headed to a bar. As we approached, I once again heard the clanging of cowbells. The Joaldunak were taking a break and a beer inside! It was a tiny place, with Basque independence posters joining calls to socialism, vegan-ism, and the legalization of marijuana on its walls. I worked up my courage to ask one of the Joaldunak for a picture. He was so excited that I spoke a little bit of Basque, that soon he was teasing me and telling me I could play with his bells. Awkward in a way but way too much fun to resist!

After some time in the bar, we went back to a friend’s place. This was actually my first and only time in a private house in Spain! (Within Pamplona, it’s all apartments.)  We cooked sausages and croquettes to eat with bread and good Navarran cheese. Everyone wanted to play cards, but after a round or two of playing some Spanish game I never really got the hang of, they asked for an American card game. Okay, fine, but they didn’t have what we would call a ‘standard’ deck of cards – only a set of Mus cards, with less royalty than our decks and suits of coins, swords, cups, and wands, like in tarot.

Towards the end of the party, I gave Ainhoa the present I’d put together for her – some large print photos I had taken of her the day we went to the Cantabrian Sea. Ainhoa and her friends had a present for me as well! I had misunderstood a certain Basque political poster, often hung out of people’s windows in Pamplona and elsewhere, to simply mean, “The Basque Country is awesome!” They all thought this was very funny, and bought me one of these flags. Everyone signed it for me as well.

Zorionak, Ainhoa, eta Mesedez!

Happy Birthday, Ainhoa, and Thank You!

Irrintzi

In Bilbao, I went to a pintxo bar called Irrintzi. Like the names of many pintxo bars, to the newcomer to the Basque Country it looks like a mess of random letters, more like a random file name you typed out in a rush than a word with significance and meaning. Still, like most of them, it does actually have a meaning.

It’s basically a crazy, high pitched scream, serving the traditional purpose of calling throughout the mountains, like yodelling. Nowadays it’s often used by Basque as expressions of excitement, happiness, and emotion at fiestas and the like. Here’s a definition I particularly like, from buber.net – “The traditional Basque mountain cry, a ululation characterized by a rising pitch and concluded with a kind of demented laugh.”

Because real life has to add a darker and more complex tone to everything, Irrintzi has recently developed another meaning – it is the name of a new Basque terrorist group that works in France with the motto, “Euskal Herria ez dago salgai” – “The Basque Country is not for sale.”

To Pain with Love

“Amaia Gabantxo: In Basque, there was just a very simple line that used the verb “to fall in love.” But, you know, it seemed so clumsy because the Basque is so beautiful. It’s maitai mindu. If you split the word, if you look at the two words that form it, it just means “love pain.” So, to fall in love in Basque, is to pain with love, you see. So, you can never love without pain in Basque.”

http://www.nea.gov/av/avCMS/Elorriaga-podcast-transcript.html

Published in: on November 5, 2010 at 22:03  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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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.

Already Only a Month

It’s the last day of the solar summer. September is drawing to a close, and that means I’ve been on this exchange for nearly a month. It doesn’t feel like it. Depending on the time of the day, who I’m talking to, what I’m doing, it seems like I’ve been here forever, or like I’ve only just arrived. Never like I’ve been here for a month. And yet, I’ve now spent more time in Spain than in any other foreign country – longer than in Japan or Scotland. The time spent so far has been less action packed than a month of pure tourism, but not nearly as routine as life back home.

It’s funny now, to remember how I arrived in Spain after spending the night in the Manchester airport, how Allan and I wandered through Barcelona for two days as if in a dream, meeting up with Emily in Valencia for Tomatina and the beach, and then spending another long, sleepless night in route to Pamplona. I was happy to have Allan with me for the first few days here, as I moved into my apartment, walked around Pamplona for the first time, as a stranger, and even impulsively visited Puente la Reina based on a single photo in the train station. And then, Allan left, and suddenly I was totally alone, and far from home.

I took things one step at a time, with some challenges leaving me triumphant and others in a pathetic heap, but I got everything straightened out, in the end. I went through orientation, picked classes, matriculated, found my way around campus and groups for projects. I got a hair cut and learned where I could find this food and that and for what price. I learned how to use WIFI and the copy machine and the library and the bookstore. I’ve adjusted to Sundays and Siestas.

I made friends and we had curry parties and pancake parties and long nights drinking wine on apartment balconies. We travelled to San Sebastian and Vitoria and Bilbao. I met up with a girl from Couchsurfing.com and went to a Basque concert with her and her friends. I started learning Euskera. I went hiking in the Valley of Arpan, explored Alquezar and went canyoning in la Sierra de Guara with Club de Montana.

If I put it this way, yes, I suppose it has been one month. And yet one morning when I didn’t have class until 12, I lay in and when I woke up, it took me several long seconds to remember I was in Spain, because everything felt so normal and natural and safe and clean and good. I’ve found a new normal, made a new home here.

Not bad, for the first month.

Vitoria of the Bean Eaters

This weekend, I visited Vitoria (Gasteiz in Euskera), the capital of the Basque Country. Like other parts of the region I’ve visited thus far, Vitoria charmed me with its duality – the medieval alongside the strikingly modern, the way children laugh and play in the fountains as police block off plazas for protests, the way everything has two names – in Spanish, and in Basque. The residents of Vitoria can be called Vitorianos, or Gasteiztarras… or Babazorros, which means Bean Eaters. I like that.

Triumphant Arrival and First Observations

This part wasn’t in my years-old study abroad plan. Allan and I cleverly took the overnight bus from Valencia – this saved us a wad of Euros and allowed us to have more time sightseeing with Emily after Tomatina, but also robbed us of a night of sleep and left us in the bus station before five in the morning. Not the proper station, even – that didn’t open until 6:30, so we spent an hour and a half feeling quite homeless on the concrete stairwell that led from our hanger-like, underground platform to the exterior door above.

By the time the main station opened up, I was grateful to be small enough to squeeze under these bars, which try to prevent people from sleeping on the benches. 😛

It was still very dark, and we had nowhere to go until it was a reasonable hour to call my landlady. I’d sent her an email asking how early we could arrive, and she’d said anytime – but somehow I thought this would be a stretch. Anyway, it could have been worse. We didn’t have comfort or bathrooms, but we did have snacks, and security in the form of two guards strolling about the place at intervals.

The town had seemed quite large on the bus ride through, bigger, I admit, than I really expected. Once the proper station opened up, it, too, surprised me with its scale. But I felt super legitimate getting off at the same stop as the old women and the families, instead of continuing to San Sebastian with all the tourists.

We had some time, so I walked around the station a bit. There was a coin operated Mouth of Truth, which cracked me up, and a few more useful things – ATMs which dispensed rolls of coins, and a photo-printing machine. There was an advertisement playing on loop for the region of Navarra. It reminded me of a recent ad for Romania – somewhat over the top music, etc, but still it made me even more excited to be in this region, as did a look at a bulletin board listing day trip offerings to mountains and forests.

The day seems to start slowly here. As seven turned into eight and eight turned into eight thirty, the station was still all but deserted. The few people I have bumped into seem very nice so far. I moved my backpack out of the way of the man who was mopping the floors, and when he turned back around he said to me, “Gracias, eh? Lo he visto.” 🙂 There seem to be an above average number of middle aged and older ladies here, but maybe it’s just that time of the morning.

One more observation: Basque is real. I’ve already heard several people speaking it, and almost everything is written in Basque – not only government run things which may well have to be, but also posters, etc. It’s inspired me. I’m not only in Spain – I’m also in Basque Spain, and I have renewed hope that I may get to take a Basque language or culture course as an elective.

Published in: on August 27, 2010 at 11:48  Leave a Comment  
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