Sunday, March 05, 2006

País Vasco

Last weekend (please note I am only a week behind now!) we went on an excursion to País Vasco, which I think we refer to as the Basque Country in English. It is a nacionalidad, which basically means that it is a state (in Spain they are called autonomies) with special political status because it historically has its own language and culture and such. I can't actually figure out what special privileges it gets, but it at least has a different name. (Galicia and Cataluña are also nacionalidades.) Anyway, in el País Vasco a lot of people speak vasco, or euskera, and it is taught in schools along with castellano (which is the official language of Spain - regular Spanish). Euskera is not a romance language, like all the other languages in Spain, and its origins are pretty much unknown. I hear it is basically impossible to learn unless you grow up learning it in school. Also, it used to be kind of like a rural language that had tons of different dialects, so when the current constitution was instated in 1978, they came up with a unified form of the language that they would teach in schools, but needless to say that causes some problems. Anyway, the point of all that is that not a whole lot of people actually speak euskera (less than 25% of the Basque population as of 1995). Nonetheless, all the signs are in euskera and government stuff is done in both it and Spanish, so it is weird to travel there, because all of the sudden it's like you're in another country, except that the people can speak Spanish if they are so inclined. Oh, and Basque chefs are famous for innovation and generally good food. So that's the background, now here is what we actually did...

On the drive there, we ran into some snow. There are some mountains north of Madrid where this tends to happen. Two years ago, this excursion got cancelled because of snow, so while those of us from the South were excited to see all the snow, we were a tad worried too. Also, it was COLD! I took this picture at some café thing we stopped at. See the boy in the left corner wearing a black jacket? That's Jaime, and the snow on his back is because, yes, he did lie down on the ground and make a snow angel. ha.

Our first stop was in Torres del Rio, which is actually in Navarra, I think, and is one of the important stops on the Road to Santiago, which is a really long trail thingy that leads to Santiago de Compostela in northwest Spain. People do religious pilgrimages along it. (Santiago = Saint James, the patron saint of Spain, who is known alternately as a pilgrim, and as "Santiago Matamoros" - Saint James the killer of moors. Even now the battlecry of Spanish armies is "Santiago y cierra España" which translates literally to "Saint James and close Spain" but apparently refers to something like closing Spain against invaders.) Anyway, the church that we saw there, in the picture, is called la Iglesia del Santo Sepulcro and it is octagonal, which is strange since most cathedrals are shaped like a cross. There is a lot of Muslim influence in the arquitecture; this is so common in Spain that there is actually a word for it: mudéjar, which refers to the influence of Muslims living in Christian territory. Anyway, for those of you who have read The DaVinci Code, I have been told that this church is talked about a lot in it. My friend who had read it recently was über psyched that we were going there.

We spent the night in Pamplona, which is famous for the running of the bulls, which takes place in August or something - no I did not see even a single bull while I was there. In fact, it is kind of unremarkable, in my opinion. Oh, Hemingway also spent some time in Pamplona. It is also in Navarra, not País Vasco, kind of making the title of this post seem irrelevant... but they do speak euskera there, because it is close to País Vasco. We spent about a gajillion years in the Cathedral in Pamplona, which apparently is extremely important (more so than all the other cathedrals we have seen) for reasons that I failed to comprehend. This picture was my favorite from Pamplona, just because it is pretty.

My favorite city by far of this excursion was San Sebastián, which is right on the Cantabrian Sea (on the northern border). It actually is in País Vasco, and apparently is the intellectual/cultural center of the state. It is absolutely gorgeous, and we were there during Carnaval (which is during the same time as Mardi Gras, leading up to Ash Wednesday, and takes place in various parts of Spain). It is kind of a weird cross between Mardi Gras and Halloween; there was a parade where different school and community groups did like themed dance routines, and all the young people who weren't in the parade dressed up too, like in Halloween costumes. It was interesting at least. In the picture above is a group of kids from the parade, whose theme seemed to be stopping smoking. This one cracked me up - talk about a public service announcement!

This picture is of the Cathedral in San Sebastián, which we did not go in or talk about (for once) but was quite impressive, despite the fact that I have less appreciation for Cathedrals in general than I probably should. Don't ask me what style it is or I may be forced to hurt you.

We stayed in an absolutely fabulous hotel in San Sebastián, right by the beach. The rooms were HUGE and we had a great view from the balconies, as you can see from this photo.

This is a picture I took at night in San Sebastián of a really pretty building, which I think had something to do with the government and kinda looked like a palace, and in the background up on the hill is a statue of Jesus called la Sagrada Corazón (Sacred Heart).

This is a picture of a road sign in San Sebastián, which is in Euskera on the left and Castillian Spanish on the right. You can't read it very well, but you can kind of tell how different the words are.

We also made the obligatory trip to the Guggenheim in Bilbao. Made primarily of titanium, some kind of light-colored rock, and glass, it was designed by American arquitect Frank Gehry to kind of fit the town, which is very industrial (and fairly ugly) and used to be home to lots of ship-building. It is funded by the Guggenheim foundation, which has modern art museums all over the world, and is more famous for the building than the art it houses. It has become a symbol of Bilbao and País Vasco, though it is controversial because it was designed by a foreigner and made of mostly foreign materials, and some say it has very little to do with the actual people of the area. I personally don't care that much for the building, but I will admit that it is stunning. You can see in the picture that there is a refecting pool around it, which adds to the effect of the building. It also is made to change in different lights (the sun reflects off the titanium) and with the weather, as well (rain darkens the color of the stone). There was a rather interesting display called "Hablando con los Manos" (Talking with Hands) while we were there. It was a collection of pictures by different artists, all having something to do with hands. Some were strictly of hands (Mother Theresa's hands, the Dalai Lama's hand) and others had more to do with what the people in the pictures were doing with their hands. Anyway, it was very interesting.

Finally, we went to the town of Guernika. This was the historic seat of the Basque government, and they had a tree that symbolized their democracy or something, and they used it as a meeting place. Anyway, during the Spanish Civil War, the Germans needed someplace to practice their bombing skills, so Franco sent them to Guernika. They bombed the town (proving their skills, I suppose), ruined the tree, and made a deep symbolic wound. This is what Picasso titled his really famous painting after. In the picture you can see what is left of the tree, preserved as a reminder of the damage that was done, but that the defeat was not permanent, and democracy lives again in País Vasco and the rest of Spain.

Finally, we went to a FABULOUS restaurant. I mean, it was great. We all ate a TON, so this was supposed to be the "we are really full after this great meal" picture, but they look happy instead of full. ::sigh:: Nobody ever follows my instructions!


At 4:17 PM, Anonymous Johnny-poo 2000 said...

Why don´t you ever talk about the people in our group kendy-poo

At 4:09 AM, Blogger Annie said...

Did someone beat you up? In one of your earlier pictures, it definately looks like you have a black eye. Do i need to come over there and kick some ass? just let me know...
BTW, thumbs up on the helping others thing and all that...will we see this helpful side when you return, or will your violent tendancies reamerge?


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