Little did I know that my first sighting of Basque people would be of naked women.
(Note: while the sheep were also naked, I cannot, in all certainty, say if they were also of Basque origin.)
Those visions of yore came back to mind during our exploration of the Basque region during our 2009 Spain Adventure—which by coincidence did include sightings of a few (mostly) naked women and an occasional sheep.
I spent much of my early professional career in the mountainous regions of Northern California and that is also where Basque sheepherders had tended their flocks with great care and loving attention; you know, where—stop me if you’ve heard this before—the men were men…and the sheep were nervous.
This was especially true in the northeast portion of the state where massive, pure stands of beautiful, quaking aspens grow above the high desert with brilliant green leaves and almost pure white bark. Ecologically, this area is considered as the western fringe of the great basin rangeland, with scenic qualities more typical of the Rockies than of California.
I remember marveling at the intricate designs carved into the tree trunks: even after many years of tree growth, you could not help but notice that many of the carvings were what might be considered “R” rated, with a few garnering a definite “X” rating; not to mention a few that PETA or the SPCA might have some heartburn over, if you get my drift.
Hey, it got pretty boring after months of desolation while herding sheep around in those remote mountains.
I am reasonably sure that the reason those aspens really did quake was less out of fear of those early sheepherders with their sharp knives but more so as a result of the effect of the wind blowing on the flat-stemmed wide leaves.
Whether the sheep were quaking is a different matter.
Until our recent excursion, I really had no idea that if it weren’t for the early Basques, the history of the New World could have been written much differently. I learned that it was many a Basque navigator that sailed on voyages from Spain that lead to discoveries well beyond the European shores.
Yet, even though the Basques—with a culture 50,000 years old—are said to inhabit Europe’s oldest nation, they do so without ever having been a county with its own borders. Their mother tongue of Euskera—the oldest European living language—is so unique its source is unknown.
The University of Nevada, Reno, has a Center for Basque Studies, should you wish to delve further into the topic.
A sample of the tree carvings can be found on their site (the link is in the upper right-hand corner): the fourth page of their photo catalog lists the following warning, but keep in mind, these were done before airbrushing had been invented.
“The following page contains images of a sexual nature that some people may find offensive.”
While I did marry a beautiful and feisty woman of Basque descent, I knew little of these fiercely proud people themselves, save for an occasional headline of another bombing in northern Spain.
As we prepared for our recent 2009 Great Spain Adventure, I did take particular interest in a news item about the apparent resurgence of the separatist group, ETA, “celebrating” their 50th anniversary with yet more bombs, but, luckily, nothing exploded during our three-week visit.
An indication of the personal pride the Basques have in their cultural identity is the local practice of painting over the Spanish names for local landmarks and road names, leaving only the Basque version and spelling.
The Basque area of northern Spain arguably has some of the best wines this side of the more well-known wine regions of France. What I was not prepared for was the locally produced cider. We happened to stumble into a huge cider festival one evening in the small town of Eibar, between Bilbao and San Sebastian.
I assume the stuff must be an “acquired taste.” I’ll stick to stumbling out of the wine bars, thank you very much.
The Basques essentially have their own national bike racing team, which you would have seen in the Tour de France under the name of Euskaltel Euskadi, with their bright orange team colors.
Good luck with their official website, that is, unless you can read Basque.
Here is a picture of the team standing above the same beach that reportedly has topless sunbathers (“reportedly” as in reported on this very website).
Still need convincing how cool these Basque people are?
I’ll bota a wager that nobody gets better use of goatskin and latex than these people.