Hiking near Castro Urdiales, March 11. Not a lot of cool pictures, but I met some cool people, most of them students from all over the world. Love it.“I had to explain the difference between terrorism and Basque.”
This week, I went to the University of Deusto’s first-ever Colloquium on World Languages. For three hours Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday morning, students and faculty put together presentations on topics ranging from Chinese characters (FASCINATING) to Bilingualism and National Identity (FASCINATING). I skipped exercising so that I could attend.
But during a round table discussion, a Basque student explained that when he visits his grandparents who live outside Basque Country, he must explain to strangers where he comes from. He said many simply don’t understand Basque culture and don’t understand that not all Basques are terrorists like the ETA. Certainly it’s easy to think Basques are terrorists after hearing about the ETA, after reading a blogger who keeps mentioning the ETA because she’s so interested in it.
Here’s a little Basque 101:
Basque refers to the language and the indigenous people of this part of Europe, mostly in Spain and extending a bit into France. No one knows where the Basque language came from, and most non-Basques will tell you it’s impossible to learn. It is; the grammar is insane. But you should still try to learn it.
During Francisco Franco’s reign (1939-1975), he outlawed all things Basque. (The ETA actually began during Franco’s reign, working for Basque separatism.)
Now, Basque is one of the most well-preserved indigenous cultures in the world, but even most people in Basque Country don’t know the language and aren’t Basque. I asked the two Basque students at the round table if globalization ever caused them to worry about the survival of Basque culture, given that it isn’t a global power and doesn’t have a global language. They said they did worry.
The school children still learn Basque and speak Basque, and I hear them singing in Basque everyday during lunch.
But I still wonder if any indigenous culture, if any way of life, thinking or speaking, that isn’t somewhat modern will survive for very long. Ethnically, we mix; I’ve heard that redheads won’t even make it past 2100 C.E. (I don’t know if this is true, but they have been rejected from sperm banks.)
But it’s almost as if we don’t care. We don’t care about learning indigenous languages or learning about the culture of indigenous populations because we don’t see what’s in it for us right away. Why would we need to know that? We don’t. We actually only need to know one language. But there’s something to be said for not letting old ways of life become obsolete; we can learn anything from anyone’s perspective.
People might now be thinking of ancient Greek and ancient Rome, which is important for westerners, but what about ancient India or ancient Egypt or ancient China?
But what about the lesser known cultures, like Basque?
What’s there to learn about? All I ever read about is the ETA…
This student, who seemed to feel judged for being Basque, might be suffering complications from Spain’s 20th and 21st century history or perhaps Basques are simply not liked; I haven’t been here long enough to figure it out.
But a universal lesson can be learned here: We hear or see or read one story and make far too many assumptions. It’s easy to take one story and use it to classify a person, place or thing, because our brains are wired to simplify things, and it’s especially easy to do so to another person when we don’t particularly love them.
If we don’t know what to think about Basques, we’ll react strongly to any information about them that we find trustworthy. “The ETA? Good, now I don’t have to worry about Basques anymore; I already know about them.” “That girl did what? Good, now I don’t have to worry about inviting her to hang out with us anymore; she must be awful.” “Kony 2012? Good, now I’m an expert on Africa’s problems, ready to change my fb prof pic, like an activist.”
The issues can range from small scale to large scale. But we should just think about how we react to things with a little more care, especially if it causes another person to feel isolated. We can only know about someone if we know where they come from, if we talk to a few Basques and do a little research first.
But who wants to do research? What’s in it for us?
Biarritz, March 3. The South of France but still Basque Country. NICE town with a chocolate museum and lots of beach. The bear is made out of chocolate.“There’s no place like home.”
Perhaps we say this because once we leave home, making one of our own is difficult. We don’t have enough money to afford homey living space and decorations (unless we lived in Neihardt – that was homey), building solid friendships takes time and wherever we are is likely transitory until we settle into a job we love in a place we love.
As I reach the halfway point of my studies over here, I’ve begun evaluating my time here and my feelings toward Bilbao.
Bilbao is much different than the rest of Spain, and I had mostly expected the rest of Spain until I decided I liked the University of Deusto best. It’s nice here – green and artsy, with wonderful food and hiking. Bilbao is a great place to be.
But as I think of other places I want to go, which frankly consists of everywhere but especially of places where I considered studying abroad and still want to go to, I wonder why I’m here. Why am I in Bilbao? I remember the year-and-a-half decision-making process. I remember the stress and then the ultimate feeling that Bilbao was the right place. But I wonder why I picked Bilbao because it’s clearly not my home.
I’m not done traveling, and I’ve always known that; therefore, I set myself up to never feel like Bilbao was home. I set myself up for an education vacation and now realize that I’m not as attached to living here as much as I’d now like to be. Because I was only ever going to be here for four and a half months.
I don’t go home at the end of the day. I go to the place where I’m staying overnight.
I know I would feel differently had I chosen the year program, if I had taken the Basque culture class, if decorations were on my bedroom walls, if my desk chair weren’t a folding chair, if I could make my own food, if I knew the great people in my life were going to stay there.
In the end, the more time we spend in a place, the better. The more we invest in a place, the better. The better for us and the better for whatever we’re doing.
But a year wasn’t practical for four-year graduation. I would have missed my journalism classes. I would have missed my friends, with whom I only have a limited time anyway. I would have missed home, but I might not have wondered why.
To stay in one place is to learn to love it and all the possibilities of life.
San Sebastian, March 2: The pintxo capital of the world. Great food. Nice beach. We’ve decided to go back when it’s warmer.And so begins March…
About two weeks ago, this (“Black March”) began showing up around town, joining:
which has been printed on these steps since I got here. (“Wikileaks: We want to know.”)
Naturally, I woke up this morning and asked myself if anything dark would happen this month. Today, I learned that a strike is in talks for March 29th, the day nearly everyone is leaving for spring vacation. (Many people are angry over the recent labor reform, which makes firing employees without severance payments easier for companies that have had too many employees since the recession began affecting business.) OK, so not so dark.
But we’ve been learning a lot about the ETA over here, the Basque nationalist terrorist organization. The Spanish government keeps talking about quelling the group, which promised to be violence-free last year. My host mom believes they’ll stick to this promise; she says the hubbub right now from Mariano Rajoy is all about political self-promotion. But back in its heyday, ETA members murdered, bombed, kidnapped, etc., people with authority whom they didn’t like, including a professor here at Deusto (where the group actually formed back in the 1950s in the business college).
On a bright note, it’s looked like this for DAYS now.
This image may not be significant to you, but it’s NEVER sunny in Bilbao. I’ve been running about four miles along the river everyday just to celebrate. Spring is here to stay.
Rome, Feb. 17. Simply a wonderful, beautiful, inspiring place, unfortunately summed up in 10 photos a day.
Hiking near Bermeo and Bakio, Feb. 12.Exploring art around the world in Spain
Recently, I visited the Guggenheim and also made it to the movie theater to see “The Artist,” a lauded modern silent film made back in the U.S. Both of these things had a lot in common. At the Guggenheim, I only surveyed the first floor, wanting to explore each exhibit closely. The first floor has a lot of architecture on display, work by Richard Serra called “The Matter of Time.” Serra wanted to explore the way space can be created within space. He erected different shaped walls, some that cause an echo, some that don’t, in an effort to change the way a person perceived the space they walk in perceptually. Walking through some of the maze-like designs, a person can feel disoriented; I know I did.
The maze looks like this.
“The Artist” experiments with a different kind of architecture, one based in sounds. What we expect hear, we don’t and rarely see subtitles for. The film is one that tests our ability to follow a story visually, by making assumptions about what the characters are saying, which is likely interpreted through body language and our ability to relate to what we see. Tension builds via music and actors’ dramatic physical interpretations.
Both art forms take reality and distort our perception of it by (physically) encompassing us in stories that defy our everyday experience of it. Essentially, they’re works of art that are successful for what isn’t there. In Serra’s snakes and ellipses, what’s fascinating isn’t the walls, but the shape they create for us to experience. In Michel Hazanavicius’s “The Artist,” what’s fascinating is the ability to tell a story without the manmade words we depend on so much and are often limited by (although sometimes saved by).
They’re forms of art that are not thought about much. In a video at the Guggenheim, Serra talks about how he never got into practical architecture, because he wanted to keep it only as art for himself. “The Artist” is critical of today’s Hollywood financial crisis, forgetting about film as art and focusing on film as business. But when art becomes business, it often disappears quickly. Or when the times change, the style changes. It’s nice to see someone still interested in keeping one of the earliest forms of cinematic art around (you could argue that ancient pictures inscribed into stone were film-like, but I would argue that they were picture book-like, but what is really the difference? It’s all literature.)
I still highly recommend both the Guggenheim and “The Artist,” but all art, really.
Logroño, Feb. 11: Wine-tasting, pinxto-hopping and fiesta in the streets. Video coming soon. Also, I hate wine (even though I used to like it), but other people said it was good. It’s from Bodegas Olarra.