Sunday, June 08, 2003

Genuine Basqueness

Today, I came back from San Sebastian to Bilbao, with a lengthy stop in Ondarroa on the way. The coastal geography is stunning, with steep hills and mountains backing directly onto the sea, with fishing towns mostly in the valleys. I chose Ondarroa because there is another bridge designed by Santiago Calatrava over the river Artibai. Again I was underwhelmed. Calatrava's most famous bridge is in Seville. Perhaps I need to go there and look at it. There was an absolutely ancient looking stone arch a little further upstream which, quite frankly, struck me as the most interesting bridge in the town.

Ondarroa was described as a "centre of Basque nationalism" in my guidebook, and it did indeed seem this way. Lots of slogans painted on the walls. I can't understand either Spanish or Basque, but I got the point. They were decrying the brutality and tactics of torture of the guardia civil (But not that of ETA), and demanding independence. The many bars of the town were filled with posters showing a map of the Basque country a different colour to the rest of Spain.

And, as has invariably been the case on this trip, the people were tremendously friendly and welcoming. I went into several bars, had some lunch, drank a little red wine, and it was almost like I was one of the locals. (The Basques, like people in the rest of Spain, seem to spend much of the day drinking a little red wine). In one of the bars, I watched a strange Basque sports program on the television, featuring what looked like an under-15s woodchopping competition, and a weird contest involving picking up large, heavy cubic objects to head height and then dropping them on what looked like a giant bean bag. The winner seemed to be the person who could lift the cubic object as many times as possible. However, there appeared to also be a later round in which the cubic object was bigger. (In fact, it had "230K" written on the side of it, so that may have been its weight).

Anyway, Guernica tomorrow.

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