Friday, 17 September 2010

San Sebastian and The Basque/British Connection...

The picture below was taken from the old fishing port area of Parte Vieja, tucked under the green slopes of Monte Urgull at the eastern end of the stunning – ‘La Bahia a la Conche’. A magnificent, golden, sandy beach, which forms the main sweep to the elegant, sun soaked promenade of Donastia-San Sebastian. The urbane jewel in the crown of Spain’s northeastern 'Basque' coastline and the capital of the province of Gipuzkoa.
For me, this is a very special city and more than deserving of its worldwide kudos and esteem. Sophisticated, vibrant and visually captivating, with some exceptionally beautiful sundown views from 'La Conche' beach to the Atlantic swells that beckon beyond the protection of Monte Urgull and Monte Igueldo - while the little ‘Isla de Santa Klara sometimes appears to link the two promontories together and enclose the bay completely. Every fine weather day, about an hour before sundown, people appear en masse to stroll the promenade and circuit the Monte Urgull, either as couples or large family groups, just chatting and exchanging news, while ambling peacefully under the suns warm and final favours.

In north east Spain and south west France, about 650,000 of the 2,123,000 people living in the Basque Autonomous Community speak the Basques language. The Basque language is quite unique and seemingly unrelated to any other language surrounding its core geographic region, including Castilian Spanish. Around the world there are an estimated 18 million Basques. A tough, proud and resolute society with an extensive history and cultures that are as fascinating as they are varied and ancient - pre dating Roman and Indo-European times.

According to the extensive studies of Stephen Oppenheimer, a British paediatrician and geneticist - British ancestry mainly traces back to the Palaeolithic Iberian people, now represented best by Basques, when they migrated northwards to Britain as hunter gatherers, once the ice shelf had receded in Britain after the end of the last ice age. It is therefore said that if you want to better understand the true ancestry of the British - ask a Spaniard, or more specifically.... a Basque.
During the 17th and 18th centuries it has been estimated that some 45% of the population of Chile were Basque immigrants, with their descendants becoming the major influence in Chile's subsequent economic and cultural development. Che Guevara, the Marxist revolutionary, physician and intellectual, may well have been of Basque as well as Irish descendancy. 'Guevara' is apparently the Castilianized form of the Basque: 'Gebara' which is the name of a village in the Basque province of Alava.

I had a great few days here meeting other travelers from Norway, France the US and Spain, deep inside the softly lit maze of streets within the old town fishing quarter of Parte Vieja, that make up 'Tapas Shangri-La'. Roaming freely with my appetite and my nose out on point, from one tempting Tapas bar to another, liberating my taste senses to whole new levels of discovery and culinary delight. It's a bit like a theme park for grown up foodies and at the same time, a proud and determined showcase that underlines why Spanish food culture and their varied dining/eatery experiences, have become so revered around the world. Deserved of the title: 'Foody Nirvana'. I miss it a lot.

Cautionary Note 1 !! - Pointing Etiquette & Conduct ! -- When sitting on a high stool at a crowded tapas bar, often hemmed in by other tourists and locals alike, the accepted method of communication - if you don't speak the language - is to 'point' at your chosen beverage or the plate of delicious looking food that has just appeared in front of a nearby diner. However - as the evening progresses and you become more loose with your pointing gesticulations’ - just make sure you remember to keep your eye on the finger at the end of your outstretched 'pointing arm', as it sweeps back and forth like the boom of a runaway crane, while your other hand is frantically trying to secure the attention of the harassed looking waitress down the other end of the bar.

One evening, I didn't - and managed to clear three full wine glasses, two beers, a steaming bowl of very yummy looking fisherman's stew and an open handbag....all into the laps of the cool and beautifully dressed Italian couple sitting right next to me. Oh dear. Instant commotion & chaos. It became immeasurably worse when some kind soul pointed out that the bowl of missing stew was now hiding in her handbag. God... didn't she scream!

Oh – and that box of perfectly chilled white Catalonian Corbieres (French!) wine with the plain labels, that our fantastic barman snuck out back for, around 3.00am that morning, after his boss had expired behind the sofa. Wow! Your still the man. And your secrets still safe with me. Providing you keep up the payments…..ho ho.

Click the 'PLAY' button to see Celina Zambon in concert performing Flamenco, while you read this post. You'll have to forgive me for the clash of south western 'Andalusian Flamenco' culture with this predominantly northern Spanish 'Basque' blog-ette....

Here are a couple of You Tube links to 'Basque Region' videos and so on: Great helicopter 'fly by' video short of San Sebastian and the nearby region.

If while visiting the region, you take the trouble to write down and try using a few basic Basque words and phrases - In Basque, Basques call themselves 'Euskaldunak' by the way - you will be received like a blood brother!

And here are a few essential Basque (Euskara) greetings & phrases I prepared earlier:

* Hello = Kaixo - "Kay-so"
* How are you? = Zer moduz? - "Sere modoose"
* Very well thankyou, & you? = Ongi, eskerrik asko, eta zu? - "Ongee, esk-ellick ass-ko, eh-ta soo?"
* Yes = Bai - "Bi"
* Please = Mesedez - "Mess-eh-dess"
* Thankyou = Eskerrick asko - "Esk-ellick ass-ko"
* Goodnight = Gabon - "Ga-bon"

*** Bye = Agur - "Ah-gorrr"  Note: This is one of those testing pronunciations where they kind of 'gargle/rattle the tongue' as they say the word. Bon chance then!

***Cautionary Note 2: ... for the more determined local lingo practitioners, when attempting to use and correctly pronounce the word... 'Agur' in a public place - read this........

There is often an impulsive desire to make an impression - as wine & beer practice peaks - to appear to be the coolest and most admired new foreigner in town that evening to all your imagined new Basque & worldly comrades, by casually saying 'Agur' - (Basque for Bye) - in front of all your mullered & now happily delinquent friends, as you decamp to the pavement outside --

Know this first, 'pretty please'... If after say 20 minutes of growing confusion & disillusionment, you find yourself now alone but still struggling to get your 'arrrggths' and your 'gorrrthhs' in perfect sinc together for the 137th time on this one, and the bar staff & locals you were going to impress are now collectively arms a folded and frowning darkly... at you!  Your tonsils feel sore, your tongue's gone numb and your erstwhile friends have now faded away to another bar..., while those two swarthy looking Guardia policemen that have appeared off the street, are now stalking over in your specific direction --- take my advice, don't try and say another 'Agur' .... just smile...crinkle your nose...wave goodbye ....and withdraw gracefully. You've probably had way too much Cava, and by now, your ex Basque bar friends couldn't care less if you speak Urdu, Welsh or Native American Schaghticoke - - they just wanna go get a Big Mac and crash.

* I'm sorry, but I don't understand you =  Barkatu, baina ez zaitut ulertzen - Just point to your pre written text. Much-o quicker-o. You can always shake your head of course - but this can sometimes be misinterpreted with dire results.

* Do you speak English/Spanish/French? = Badakizu ingelesez/gasteleraz/frantzesez? - Just point to your pre written text. Moocho easier-o. If you illicit a resounding "Non!" from this one - either bow politely and move next door, or be prepared to spend the rest of the evening pointing to your wanton desires while pulling increasingly unnatural facial expressions, to the eternal joy and amusement of all your fellow patrons.

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