Basques in Rocca Grimalda: Cards, Blending Cultures, and a Sword Dance Museum!

At 6:30 Kezka all piled into a big bus with supplies of snacks, games and pillows, ready for the 17 hour journey to Rocca Grimalda, Italy. I ended up towards the back of the bus where there was a little table with seats facing each other. This apparently was the gaming section of the bus, and we traded card games for a few hours. The main game that I learned was pronounced “Moose” that involved two teams of players, four different and sometimes conflicting goals, saying “moose” (or however it is actually spelled!) and secret signals involving sticking out your tounge.

I taught them how to play Shithead and Kent, which both went over quite well. Throughout the ride we were serenaded from the front of the bus with a fake italian folk song that some of the dancers had found and were planning on singing to the Italians. “PUM-BA-PUM-BA-PUM-BA-PA!” went the front of the bus! “KENT! MOOSE! CLAP-CLAP-CLAP” went the back of the bus! I say Clap-Clap, since I, in my wisdom, had taught the team how to do the mouth-clapping thing the previous day in practice. As in second grade, this was a hit, and occasionally the entire group would erupt in toned clapping throughout the trip. After far too much time, several stops for sandwiches and coffee, and sleeping in the isles and under the seats of the bus, we arrived in Rocca Grimalda and stumbled into the hotel.

Instead of being wise and taking a nap, I went to a nearby pool and went swimming with some of the other guys. We even found a hot tub! We returned to the hotel to play pingpong (I lost, out of practice) and foosball (I won, somehow I’ve gained mad table football skills over the years) and prepare to go out again.

We started by going to visit an old castle where we were greeted with wine, coffee, bread, and various sweet treats along with a tour of the castle (complete with feasting rooms and torture chambers) and some music and dance. We made friends with some of the italians who were there and ran around a bit in the snow. There was a lovely fire to warm up by in the central courtyard and we all felt much recovered after an hour or so.

After exploring for a bit we headed out from the castle to a grappe distillery where we got to sample the drink in different stages of aging and with different things added. The general consensus: *makes scrunchy up face and watery eyes* It was powerful stuff, particularly before being aged, when it became decent to drink. Seeing the process was really interesting though and it was nice to be around Italians. This is because when they and the Basques are together people talk very slowly in pure Spanish, which is infinitely easier to understand 🙂 I’m still working on Basque…someday! We then headed to the hall for dinner where we had a bunch of fun with the nose game again! After dinner the Carnival kicked off in dramatic form as we danced in circles around a ritual burning at the stake!

There was French and Italian social dancing for a few hours which was amazing, and I realized how much I have missed doing social dance! Then the Basques took over and we got some Basque social dance as well which was great! There was lots of eating and dancing and partying and we even managed to play the Cup Clapping game! Afterwards we went home and a large number of the dancers played a game called Party & Co.

This was basically a whole bunch of hilarious ice-breaking games that ended up with people in various states of undress, spelling out words on the floor or even making human pyramids (who has good pictures of that? help!) One of the teams had the punishment of running out barefoot in the snow, which they valiantly completed!

The next day was the real carnival and we all got into costume and piled into the bus to visit the carnival/sword dance museum in town!

“What’s that?” you ask, “did you say Sword Dance Museum?” Yes folks, you heard me correctly! The universe has led me yet again, by a strange series of events, to exactly where I should be. The museum had costumes from carnivals all over Europe and a separate exhibit on different Italian sword dances. Most (all that I hadn’t seen) were not hilt and point sword dances, but it was still a pretty amazing moment!

We did a few dances alternating with the Italian traditions and then went to get some food. On the way to the restaurant we were ambushed by a snowbank and had to take some pictures. We eventually made it to the restaurant and were feasted in high style! Italians and Basques are maybe two of the only groups that can match each other’s love of eating. Well, I guess I can fit right in there too…Along with these “American Cowboys?”

After we were full we went to the main town to do some more dancing and to terrorize the Italian children! Unfortunately, this was the part of my trip when my camera died and I had to switch over to my iPhone. Rather frustrating and I have now given up on stupid thing entirely. Time for a new camera I guess. Grrr. This is how I felt about that:

Yes, that was my costume. I was playing the smith and my job was to go around and grab peoples feet to try to hammer on a horseshoe. It was lots of fun and I put shoes on a variety of people including grandmothers, shop owners, and even a few carabinieri! There was lots of dancing by Kezka as well as the Italian dancers. At about four in the afternoon we went back to the hotel and got all packed up and ready to go. Most of the dancers went back to Eibar, but I was heading to Croatia so I ended up going to Torino with a some Basques who are studying there. I would tell you now, but that’s a story for another day! Hopefully tomorrow…


About Jeremy Carter-Gordon

My blog of a year studying point-and-hilt sword dancing on a Watson Fellowship. Enjoy reading, tell me your thoughts and leave me a comment, or visit my website at
This entry was posted in Basque Country, Italy, Sword Dance, Travel and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Basques in Rocca Grimalda: Cards, Blending Cultures, and a Sword Dance Museum!

  1. minstrelm3 says:

    Hi, Jeremy – Please consider being in touch with me when you have time. I teach Drama in a K-12 school. In my 6th and 7th grade classes, all students get some time using short foam noodle pieces to learn some Sword for Theater skills (how to be safe; convincing fakery; partner choreography). Some graduate to stiff paper or wooden swords for scenes they invent. It seems like a great opener for getting them into sword-dancing, too. Our fiddle teacher has an 8th grade group each spring do some dancing that leads to forming a wooden stick star. I’d like four seasons (early autumn, late autumn, winter, spring) of sword dance festivals that I could teach. My school would welcome having me take 14 students in costume around the campus to perform a few times, every quarter of the school year. If you have suggestions, I am open to ideas. If you are looking for a place to present your research, when you come back, let’s talk about that, too.

    • Hi, thanks for reading! That sounds like great fun for the students. I assume that the fiddle teacher is teaching some form of English longsword? I like your idea of having four seasons of sword dance festivals and I would be interested in figuring something out. It might be more fun to do festivals that in reality take place in the four regular seasons, perhaps Italian for late sumer (early fall) basque for fall, English or Spanish for winter and german or belgian for spring. Whereabouts are you located? Feel free to email me at adancingfool (at) gmail (dot) com

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s