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The Basque Country



     Henry Levin of Columbia University asks:
     Have you seen this new book, The World of the Basques by Mark Kurlansky? It is written well, but I wonder if Kurlansky has taken liberties. The author clearly has a fascination with the Basques, and the book is an interesting compilation of history, discussion of language, customs, recipes, and a salute to Basque feistiness and independence. Kurlansky wrote an excellent history of the codfish. Of course the seafaring Basques had an important role in popularizing the dried, salted cod in Southern Europe.
     In the Spring of 1975 I visited Mondragon, Guipuzcoa. This was the twilight of Franco's rule. I was studying the Basque cooperatives and stayed at a Hostal in town. At first the people were distinctly cool and formal with me. But, when I began to go to the bars with them after work for the 10 cent glasses of chiquiteos (wine) or beers--never staying at one bar for longer than a half hour and moving on to visit with friends at another--- they warmed up. By the end of the Spring, I was known as the Americano con boina Inglesa or my nickname, Hank. They plied me with food and invited me to their homes on too many occasions, raising my weight by several pounds. I recall that the cost of a room and two delicious meals a day with wine was $ 56 a week. I became fascinated with the Basque ingenuity. How could they be such a stubborn people in protecting ancient customs and yet so open to new ideas and technologies? My comment: In Madrid, the Basques has the reputation of being gluttons. At the same time, they led in banking, as the Romans said "auri sacra fames." Eighteenth-century foreigners travelers commented on the prosperity of the Basque provinces, in sharp contrast with the provinces to the south. The violence which is breaking out again is the work of a relatively few young hoodlums, condemned by the vast majority of Basques. They provide better TV news than Hank's convivial friends.
     I wonder if Ignacio Palacios Huerta, a beloved Basque WAISer, thinks?

Ronald Hilton - 12/1/99


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