Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Finally...Spain and Children

Once upon a time a girl left Iowa to see the world; this time to the north of Spain; Euskal Herria. The first time she left, she had been 18 and ready for adventure. The second time she knew a secret she had not known the first time; there was a whole world out there she knew nothing about, and had never even imagined. Enter the San Sebastian chapter of life; one, short, too short, semester abroad in the loveliest place I have ever seen. 

Twenty-some years later, I was able to share Donosti (the Basque name for San Sebastian) with my children. I have waited for years and years! It is mountain and ocean, grandiose plazas, luxury hotels, beaches and tiny, 6-floor walk-up apartments (some things we do not forget), shared with three Basque women and one New Yorker. It is cooking meals for five every night and hollering down to the gas truck on delivery day; "Senor! 6th floor, por favor!" 

It is, above all, representative of a Spain that literally lives in the streets almost all of the time. Night and day there are bars open with people going in and out of them, discussing everything from politics to the price of pasta to the weather, eating a bite (a pintxo, no "tapas" here), usually standing up, having a tiny beer or a half glass of wine, and moving on to the next one. I miss this street life, vibrant even in tiny villages and towns. I miss the Basque culture, in which I steeped and stewed for five fabulous months. (It rains a lot).

Those are hams hanging from the ceiling; in every bar. And the wide, delicious variety of pintxos meant that even my vegetarian daughter had a choice of items everywhere we went. There is just the smallest amount of Basque vocabulary left in my head, enough to warm the locals to my requests. This bar tender said "yes!" to a photo with good grace in the middle of a busy pre-lunch hour. 

Another couple offered to take a picture of the whole family; I find the people here some of the friendliest anywhere...almost as good as in the Midwest. Everywhere you look, there will be someone giving a tourist directions, with big arm gestures and a million explanations. If you look really lost, you might find your arm tucked under theirs as they walk you to the place you pointed to on the map or tried to pronounce.

It really is not far away, but logistically, there was always a reason for abstaining from one more thing on my "to see" list. If you do not wish to drive and tempt fate with a French license plate (the Basque would notoriously set fire to cars daring to approach their territory in a French car at one point in time), not to mention traffic, limited parking and long lines, there is an easier way; the TOPO, or tiny train from Hendaye to Donosti, a 30-minute ride. I was finally able to gather all items needed to make this little trip happen, at least for the five of us. The older kids...will have to return with me or on their own another time. We drove the two and a half hours down the coast, parked in a secure parking lot with video surveillance now, for a whole 7 Euros for the day, and hopped on the TOPO two minutes later. 

The streets of "La Parte Vieja" where the pintxos are the best and it is all happening, unless you are looking for the A-crowd in the chic part of town. Even many of them will be here too. Note; the tables on the right; OUTSIDE of the bars.

The square outside of the station in Donosti:

Along the docks of the old port; we sat and watched half a dozen people dive from the edge into the bay; right in front of the "NO DIVING" sign. The rebellious spirit of the Basque people is alive and well.

I studied Basque at La Universidad del Pais Vasco with one of the kindest, well-educated professors I have ever known. There were five Americans, and that was the whole class. We learned the language, geography, the struggle, the poetry and the music of Euskal Herria, or Basque Country. Singing is a serious part of being Basque. It was one of the ways the people could express their discontent, hopes and ambitions for their country. We visited churches, museums, towns, and attempted to learn this very particular, non-Indo-European language that sounded like nothing any of us had ever heard before. The love of my life lived a train ride away in France and visited often. It was the best semester of my life as a student anywhere.

Here is the main beach/boardwalk of Donosti; La Concha, I have memories of walking home from the Parte Vieja, late, late at night with friends, filled with wonder at the moon beams shining on the beach...

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