At one point one of the dancers on Kezka told me that I shouldn’t think that life in Basque country was always just festivals and parties. For me, however, it seems that that my trip is! Going to see sword dancing means that most of the time I am just going to parties and the like. Not a bad life. Anyway, this post is going to be about the first of two non-sword dance festivals that I went to in the first trip to Basque country (I leave for Spain and am now back!)
The day after the festival in Arrate I went a few dancers to a festival in the town of Zarautz, on the coast, a few hours away. They picked me up at the university at 8:30 in the morning. We drove first to Elgoibar to the dance school, where I dropped of my banjo for the day and then took a train a little ways to where we were picked up by another dancer. We then headed on an absurdly beautiful drive along the coast to Zarautz, to a little city by the sea with beautiful beaches. Before getting to the actual festival we stopped outside the city to get some food (very fried!) and get me suited up. I learned about a sort of cool tradition. Though the food cost about twelve Euros, everyone put in twenty, the excess of which was collected by one person who was then in charge of buying drinks and snacks for everyone else for the rest of the day. I like it. Anyway, back to the suiting up; on the train earlier that morning we had seen many people dressed up in traditional basque outfits. My hosts had decided that it was important that I also get dressed up, so i got the traditional hat and handkerchief. Yes, I look a little goofy, it’s ok. Also, yes that is a DERT shirt from Preston; many of the shirts I took with me are sword dance themed, and as I am gifted more by the teams that I visit I hope to make them all that way! Once we had finished eating and I had “suited up” we hit the boardwalk that runs along the beachfront. It was a bit of a wild scene, with thousands of Basques in traditional outfits. I was told that actually the younger girls’ outfits were not quite traditional, as almost all of them didn’t wear the headscarf that is part of it, in order to “show of their hair!”
We walked until we came to a restaurant where we sat down and had some drinks. We discussed how Basques are somewhat obsessed with food. “We walk and talk about food, then we go have some food, and while we are eating we talk about the food that we are going to have next!” said one of the girls. Apparently they even talk about how much they talk about food!
We walked a little more and passed an ice cream shop (of course we stopped and ate some!) and the rather amusing sight of some girls doing a street performance of the Beatles reenacted by marionettes! It was actually rather well done, with the different marionettes moving in different ways and playing rather well in time to the music!
The next stop was a semi-vacant lot where some stages had been erected and lots of people were standing around talking, drinking and littering. It is one of the intesting things that I have found here is that placing your bottle or wrapper on the ground seems to be basically expected. During celebrations the streets just become full of these items! Very strange coming from the United States! We finally make it to a large square where thousands of people are dancing to a band on the stage. This is where I decide to stay, again having the realization that I am so much happier around dancing! Though my camera ran out of batteries halfway through I managed to take some videos.
After that ended I joined in the dancing and learned some new stuff. I end up meeting the same old ladies as yesterday which suprised me at first, but then I realized that it is not really that unexpected, seeing as all the other dancers had been bumping into people all day. The whole place is sort of one small village; yesterday (in real time) I met an american whose daughter-in-law is basque who approached me randomly saying “I heard through the basque grapevine that you are an american studying dance!” He then discribed the chain of six or seven people who had telephoned that info over to him.
Anyway, we were a bit tired by then and still had the rehearsal that night so we left to go off to the practice in Eligobar. We got some more food and went to the dance school where some of the other dancers were already waiting. I played banjo while they were getting changed and then joined in the class. It feels good to do stretches and warm-ups again, I was doing them during the better part of the school year, but not since. It is hard to figure out a routine while traveling all the time. The dancing itself totally kicked my ass! The simpler steps are easy enough, but they quickly move into complicated patterns that they have been building since they were seven or so. I was relieved when that part (which turned out to be everyone learning the solo dances) was done and we could move on to the stick dances, which for the most part had less complicated footwork. There was one stick pattern that I really want to turn into a super-awesome morris dance, and asked them about that. Basically the answer is “Sure! But we will steal your dances too!” I aided and abetted this endeavor by teaching them four lane end, which was quite amusing in a combination of Spanish, English and Gesture (along with the dancers talking in Basque!) When they had learned it (fairly quickly too!) rehersal was declared over, and I was swarmed with demands for banjo. I played a new song that I had been working on and a few old time tunes before everyone packed up and we went home to sleep.
Stereotypes Basques have about Americans: We are enthusiastic and it is because it is easier to be enthusiastic in English. We are friendly. We sleep a lot.
On to the next day of festivals! (skipping over a sword dance in Beasain, I’ll come back don’t worry!) Two days later I drove at 10:00 with some of the dancers from Elgoibar up the coast to San Sebastian (Donostia in Basque). “What for?” you may ask. A regatta. Now, this may be normal to all you rowers out there, but I had never been to a regatta before, and if you recall my time in Venice, this was my second in a week! It was by the beach with a giant Jesus looking over it. I had been given a purple shirt by one of the music and dance groups I had seen yesterday (sorry for out of orderness!) Which meant that I was supporting the team from San Pedro.
We walked along the harbor watching the boats prepare and the throngs of people in their teams color shirt. I see a very old man on a scooter, an unusual sight, just before we stop into a bar (surprise!) for pinchos, similar to tapas. The pinchos bars in San Sebastian are famous for their variety and sure enough, the entire countertop was covered with different mouth-watering bites of all sorts of yummy looking things! We ate there and then headed back out again to walk along the ocean. Fairly soon the race began, which was actually not that exciting as the boats were really far away and you couldn’t really see that much. The real excitement came when we made our way over to the docks where the racing boats were landing after the races. We arrived just as the women’s race had ended and got to see the girls who had won celebrating.
We stuck around for for a while and it soon became clear that this was the place to be! One by one, the supporters of different teams came pouring into the landing with flags, air horns, and other instruments of destruction in support of their teams.
The harbor itself was also quite the mess of boats as they all entered into the little landing. There was music and dancing and spectators making rude gestures at other colors. A fun time was had by all!
One of the interesting things in Basque country that I think I have mentioned briefly before is the politicalization of so many events. During the celebrations (My team won!!) the flags were waved, but many had basque flags or banners calling for the return of basque political prisoners tied on underneath. The most dramatic demonstration of this was when the winners were being interviewed and dozens of people were always on hand to hold such banners behind them so that they would appear on TV. Not waving at the camera, just getting the message out. It is interesting to see so many people so united on this front, and constantly reminded of it. Protests and political action in the US tends to be tucked away and contained to special events that we call “protests,” or “rallies,” or “demonstrations.” Here it seems to be lived.
We bid farewell to one of the dancers then and headed off to the French side of Basque country! Crossing the border was a funny feeling, as all of the signs turned to french. While in Spanish Basque country most things are bilingual, France is French and that’s just about it. The feeling is more french and less Basque. We made it to the town of Biarritz, a town that grew famous in the ’20s and 30’s for its casino, beaches and Art Deco. We had dinner in the weekend house of another dancer, in a beautiful apartment overlooking the water and then went for a walk along the shore ourselves! The coast had these amazing rock formations which were just gorgeous! The waves would come in and crash up and through the rocks, hollowing out some, and leaving great shapes! Oh, and we also passed a house where Stravinsky lived for a while! Awesome! (maybe it is easy to be enthusiastic in English…?)
We made our way to a theater in the famous casino where we saw the first of two shows that night. This one was a folk show that took a whole bunch of different basque dances and songs and through them together in a sort of minimalistic Revels. It was really cool to watch (hobby horses, what?) and had some great moments, but over all it was a little bit bland and lacking in real power. Not that that stopped me from totally eating it up! At intermission we went and got granitas, and after the show was over we ran directly over to another dance performance. This one was not quite my usual, but it was a really brilliant show. It was all modern dance done to clasical music, and the whole thing was very moving. We had to try to get standby tickets, which was successful, and after intermission I convinced my companion to sneak down into empty seats in the 4th row. My theater-going training that was instilled in my youth has worked well for me. We ended the evening with (what else?) a late-night snack of panini and fruit tart on the car ride home. Before we left however, we got to see the famous sunsets of the casino by the sea.
That’s all for now, but here is a little ditty so you can see what I am up to in my spare time when i am not (watching/)dancing!