English-language version of Luistxo Fernandez's blog
Ice Age Columbus is a documentary fictionalizing certain theory: that the first settlers of the Americas didn't cross to the continent thru the Beringia connection (land bridge between Siberia and Alaska) but rather directly from Western Europe, following the edge of the ice shelf that covered the North Atlantic (without discounting the Beringian-Asian settlement, this just came afterwards). Some scientists defending this theory appear in the documentary, but it's mostly a recreation with actors (in the BBC they broadcasted it as Stone Age Columbus).
For me, as a Basque, is somehow thrilling (and chauvinistic, perhaps) to think about the idea... The Franco-Cantabrian refuge of the ice age in Western Europe was centered in this country of ours. The humans of the Solutrean carving culture depicted in the movie, painters of caves like Ekain, were living in this very countryside that is our home. And in the documentary, the adventurous tribe depicted gets out to the Atlantic from more or less the Basque Country (the northern tip of it, bordering the Landes region of France).
However, this idea has not many supporters, and the documentary does not check the counter-theories. It presents two things as if they were proven facts:
1. that Solutrean tools identical to the European ones appeared in Virginia (USA) 17,000 years ago (5 millennia before the arrival of other people from Siberia).
2. that traits of ancient European DNA are part of the Amerindian genetic inheritance (mixed with the Asian stock)
Yet, if you consult the Wikipedia, those two points are far from being accepted by the scientific community. Balancing what I have seen and read, it looks improbable to me, this idea of the Inuit-like Basques crossing the Atlantic 17,000 years ago. But it would have been fun and awesome if it were true, wouldn't it?
I've recently watched Stephen Fry's Planet Word, a documentary series of the BBC, which I downloaded from BitTorrent. The wonders of that distintive human trait, language, basis of our culture, civilisation...
It is a very watchable series, well produced and narrated with Fry's usual charm and enthusiasm (he is the writer of the series as well). I found some parts really fascinating as the bit about the girl with Tourette's syndrome who cannot stop from saying expletives, or the musings about poetry and pop-rock lyrics with the author of the script of 4 weddings and a funeral.
However, some scientific aspects of the issue are treated somehow lightly, I guess. And the choice of travels made by Fry to interview and meet people speaking different languages seemed to me to be not too well rehearsed. For instance, I feel honored that Fry talked about Basque, and visited us, my city, Donostia, to be precise. 10 minutes of episode 2 are dedicated to our isolate language, and how it survives despite its minority status. However, the choice of interview to illustrate that point was awful: they spent the day (it seems) in Donostia with a famous Basque cook, Juan Mari Arzak and his daughter, and just spoke with little sense about the relationship between Basque gastronomy, our love for food, and the Basque language and our love for it. That makes no sense at all, and besides, Arzak is a man with very little fluency in Basque, and the mix of Basque, Spanish and French that he produces while speaking with Fry is horrible.
Elena Arzak, Stephen Fry (wiith propaganda of Donostia 2016) and Juan Mari Arzak
The producers could have sent someone more apt to do some research and find more appropiate people in Donostia. For instance, linguist Itziar Laka or the people working at the BCBL center; insightful investigation about language acquistion, bilingualism and the brain's linguistic secrets, which they could have used in other episodes. As for speakers, lots of people, anonymous or distinguished in some filed or other, could have provided a much better chat to Mr. Fry. If the matter was to connect it with food, they could have got better advice and met Hilario Arbelaitz at the Zuberoa restaurant, for instance.
I also felt that some other visits to speakers of some languages were somehow similarly wasted, as with the Turkana in Kenya. Irish also appears, though I'm not sure if it was depicted accurately or erroneously.
Anyway, BBC and Stephen Fry, the effort is appreciated, thanks for putting us Basques in this brilliant television product.
"To Say Goodbye" is the project of a feature-length animated documentary set against the brutal backdrop of the Spanish Civil War. Its creators, Matt Richards and Izaskun Arandia, are trying to crowdfund it through Kickstarter. Please take a minute to read this post and more on that page, before you meditate a possible contribution. You will appear in the credits, and depending on how much you pledge to contributes, there are goodies for you,
The documentary will tell the little-known story of the 4,000 or so Basque children evacuated on the Habana ship from the port of Santurtzi near Bilbao to Portsmouth in England in May 1937. The Spanish Civil War had one of its most cruel fronts on the Basque region those days. A campaign in the spring of 1937 pushed the fascist forces ahead, and Basque civilian were terrorised. Unable to escape from the fronts and the range of bombing raids, thousands of families sent their children abroad, in ships that conveniently marked sailed to Belgium, Russia or England from Basque ports.
25th May 1937, around 4,000 Basque children arrive at Southampton aboard the liner Habana
It was supposed to be for a couple of summer months. At the end, it was years, and just for those who could return. Many didn't. In Russia, particularly, youths fought the 2nd World War and many died. Other didn't make to see their families again. Some stayed for ever in their foster countries. Of those gone to England, 250 of them would never return and never see their parents again, and they remained in England for the rest of their lives. Now, the surviving ones, are about 90 years of age.
My family lived through that terror too. They suffered directly the bombing of Durango, and knew about Gernika. They thought that the fall of Bilbao would mean a mass-scale massacre of civilians. So, grandfather decided to save their children. My father Luis and uncle Miguel were inscribed in a embarkment destined to Russia. That ship never sailed: fortunatedly (for me, I guess), fascist took Bilbao quickly, and it was not, relatively speaking, a bloodshed. Spanish Civil War raged on for a couple of years, but the war in the Basque Country ended, just repression ensued. Dad and family returned to their hometown Elgeta: but they weren't welcomed there, a man from Falange (the Spanish fascist movement) called Elkoro (from the town of Bergara) denied their home to my grandfather, who was a Republican. They went to another town, endured hardships and hunger, but they remade their lifes. And here we are.
My father, who thankfully lost his scheduled ship, with two of his grandchildren, my son and daughter.
So, ETA ended its war. The ergative energy worked. Even Tony Blair had something prepared for the occasion, though he couldn't come to town. Fresh air in the city. A sense of relief for almost everybody, that's what I feel among the Basques. Lots of interesting analysis and posts have been written over the last days, and one feature in common among those that are most interesting (imho) is that they've been written from a personal point of view. I have some examples in Spanish at hand, if you can read the language: Juan Carlos Etxeberria, Mitxel Ezkiaga and Ander Iza. (3 journalists).
I feel like I could also write from that perspective, 'cause this also has affected my life (I'm 44). But I'm not in the mood. There will be pieces from our lives that won't be written.
Will I or my two children see an independent Basque Country some day? I want that to happen. The defeat of ETA was a prerequisite for that, I believe.
Some newspapers, this friday. A photo that had to be taken long ago, by a fine Basque photographer, Juan González Andrés, El Humilde Fotero del Pánico.
Tomorrow, just some steps from my home in Donostia, there will be an International Conference to try to solve the Basque Conflict, well, don't know exactly the title. It will be held in the Aiete palace, this nice building in white in the photo. That was a residency for Generalisimo Franco during the spanish fascist dictatorship. One year ago it turned into a House of Peace, and it also sports a very creative subterranean extension, which is the cultural center of the neighborhood (nice work by the architects in Isuuru).
The Conference will gather big names: Kofi Annan, former PMs of Ireland and Norway Bertie Ahern and Gro Harlem Brundtland, Gerry Adams, former french Defence and Interior minister Pierre Joxe, and Gerry Adams as well. There was speculation that Tony Blair would come, but they say he couldn't, yet a close aide of him, Jonathan Powell, will be present.
Basque parties will meet with them, and it's expected that a common document or statement will arise from the Conference, hopefully signed for all. That document has already been baked, as they say, but the scenery is also important, I guess. Point 1 of that declaration, sources say, is already clear: ask ETA to cease all activity for once and ever.
I am hopeful with the situation in the Basque Country. Seems that ETA is going to vanish finally. That's important. It should have happened many years ago. It's late, but let's rejoice. Problems will not be solved immediatly with ETA gone: 10 years of anti-democratic measures in Spain, sold as anti-terror measures, have left a state in which political association is not guaranteed, prisoners of conscience are on jail after farcical political trials, and prison terms have been made longer and harder than in Franco's time.
But, as I say, I am hopeful. And I wish we could give these visitors a warm welcome so they help us as much as possible. A brilliant Basque cartoonist, Patxi Huarte aka Zaldieroa (CrazyHorse), has depicted a series of comics these days, with one of his favourite characters (the 'Basque nice taliban', sort of very funny local grammar nazi):
So, the nice Taliban will host the opening welcome ceremony. He sings one Mikel Laboa tune (an iconoclast of Basque music), also dances the Aurresku (a salutation dance, that seems to have impacted John Cleese from Monty Python years ago). But the funniest one is the first line, the initial greeting: "May the Ergative be with you". The translator explains that to the visitors, "the Ergative is a powerful Basque energy"! LOL. It's just a feature of Basque grammar, a tricky one maybe, which I tried to explain on my own terms some years ago in this blog: Ergativity: murder is just transitive death (also featuring John Cleese & Monty Python).
As for the conference, not much info in English. Maybe the BBC or someone will tell something tomorrow. Lokarri, a Basque pro-peace movement, has some in Spanish here.
Last week Google Research published an interesting piece in the blog. How languages are linked among then in the Web. So at Sustatu we published a Basque review; contributing a little to the centrality of English as our links point towards Google's English content, of course :)
That is an insightful and interesting piece of information. Basically, regarding Basque is shows that roughly a quarter of our links go to Spanish pages and another quarter go to English pages.
There's one important piece of information that the researchers in Google have certainly used and that does not appear in the article. Absolute numbers. They have taken into account "several billion most important pages on the web in 2008, including all pages in smaller languages,"... well, those numbers are interesting for us.
How many pages in Basque were there in 2008? and which was the ranking position of our languages as compared to the others in the study? I've tried to find the authors of the study, but googling their names didn't bring me much information. Found one guy in Linkedin but I need a paid subscription to send him an "linkedin email" and I guess that for most receivers that kind of messages are spam.
Can you Google please disclose that data? It is certainly of much interest for us.
The last paragraph of the article also mentions evolution from 2008... I guess they are processing those data... for a next article maybe? I would like to see the position of Basque in those data, in absolute numbers or ranking, did we improve, stall, or...?
Off-topic: my spanish language version of this blog, El Cementerio de los Ingleses, has been relocated once again. Now for a while, I hope.
It's 74 years today that the Basque town of Durango was bombed by the Italian fascist air force servicing the rebel Spanish Army of Francisco Franco. More than 300 people died that morning, march 31 1937, in one of the many war crimes commited in the Spanish Civil War. My father survived, right there, where the red spot marks it in this picture, which is, astonishingly enough, the exact moment of the beginning of the raid, and it's a photo that has remained unpublished until this week, hidden in some Italian military archives in Rome, and has been rescued for historic memory of all thanks to the efforts of the Gerediaga cultural association of Durango.
My father was 15 years old at the time. He's still alive, an old man that almost never leaves home, but with his mind and memory clear. I showed him this to him yesterday, we chatted once again about that day. Today, 74 years ago, he throw himself to the ground in the Ezkurdi plaza of Durango... After that first raid, he woke up with no hurts, surrounded by debris. Serendipity, I guess, looking at the newly found picture. He was a refugee from a nearby town, which was right on the frontline and had to be abandoned by his family. Their foster home was untouched on the attack.
If you look at the comparison image you will see that the target of the attackers was the very populated center of Durango, where locals and refugees lived packed. The church served them as a marker, that's clear, you see the bomb clouds covering it totally. The priest died on the spot. Eleven nuns also died in a nearby convent. The atackers were very catholic Italian and Spanish fascists, you know...
The picture rescued by Gerediaga was this. We rotated it to fit the north-south axis for an article in Sustatu, the Basque blog. Then we compared it with current day Google Maps, and I marked the Ezkurdi plaza in red. I was with my father there for the last time in 1997, on the eve of the 60th aniversary. I was a journalist then, and I was writing a series of reports for the Basque language newspaper Euskaldunon Egunkaria alltogether with historian Josu Chueca: the Spanish Civil War in the Basque Country, that was it. We wrote several episodes and for all of them we interviewed living witnesses of the events. For the episode about the fascist offensive of Bizkai in the spring of 1937, I just took my father to Durango and I used his remarks for that article (an act of vanity from my part, but I have no regrets). Here I am with my father there in 1997, in Ezkurdi plaza.
We didn't know at the time that we both would still see one day a picture depicting that very moment that my father is explaining to me there. Remember, these photos have remained hidden to the public until this day.
And that one from Durango is not the only one. Gerediaga brought around 100 reproductions of never seen material they found at the archives of the Ufficio Storico dell Stato Maggiore dela Aeronautica Militare in Rome. Me and other people have asked them to make the pictures public, and they intend to do so; they've begun with some of them, you can see them here. Immediatly other users have begun working over the photos... This attack on the town of Igorre has been put in comparison with Google Earth imagery by a Basque wikipedian:
Se more of those pictures here, there were all taken from Italian war planes. They collaborated with the Spanish fascists, just like the Condor Legion of the German nazi Luftwaffe did. They made shifts for the raids, Durango for the Italians, Gernika for the Germans, just like that. It was pure training for them, just aiming at defenseless Basque civilians with whom none of those aviators had no involvement at all. The very existence of these photos on Italian archives shows that assesment of the bombings by photography was one of the motivations of the attackers.
That criminal campaign of aerial war crimes begin precisely in Durango on march 31, 1937. It ended by the end of June in Bilbao. It was a highly effective terror campaign that crushed and defeated the Basque front of the Spanish Civil War. The winners brought their flag to Durango and the other places... It's still there. The attacking army's main commander was General Francisco Franco; and he remained on that post until he died; but he left a designated successor both as head of State in Spain, and as the army's maximum commander, King Juan Carlos of Spain, yes, designated by Franco himself. We haven't heard any apologies from him or the Spanish army yet, for this crime commited by their Italian mercenaries.
Japan is a wonderful country, but it has suffered greatly previously. Looking back to some pictures that we took 3 years ago in Hiroshima, it strikes to me the similarities with the landscape alteration caused by the tsunami, made visible by several websites with comparison slides. Yes, in march 2008 we were in Japan, for a short holiday with a Basque fried who's married there in Tokyo and has a lovely Basque-Japanese kid, Kotaro.
I am sure Japan will overcome this crisis. Totoro will help, ;-)
This was the image Basque cartoonist Patxi Huarte (pen name Zaldieroa, meaning Crazyhorse, a true genius IMHO) made for Basque newspaper Berria yesterday. I'm going to use that cartoon to revamp my Spanish blog, re-re-named as Cementerio de los Ingleses and moved once again. The image by Zaldieroa captures the mood, but also gives hope, that's what I sense in the picture. I've seen images coming from Japan these days that have reminded me of Hayao Miyazaki's poetic cinematography. At the end, poetry and resiliance will prevail.
I hope that the crisis also makes us think about nuclear safety. There are no nuclear plants in the Basque Country, but there is one just at the gates, Garoña. It's reactor is identical to n.1 in Fukushima Dai-ichi: same design (BWR type 3, 460 Mw), designer (General Electric), age (operating since 1971). It was due to be closed this year after 30 years working, but a very weak Spanish government delayed the closure, for the moment until 2013. Not anymore please, enough is enough.
The company behind Garoña, Nuclenor, has suffered a complete OWNED effect these days. Last year, they received a visit from Fukushima Dai-Ichi and they were soooo pleased boasting of the japanese twin sister reactor that the news story is still in the newsclipping section of their site.
The Nuclenor people also made this year a ridiculous rap clip, with engineers chanting the wonders of their reactor and criticizing anti-nuclear stances. Well, they still have a last line of defence; no tsunamis around. In inner Ukraine they don't suffer tsunamis either, yet Chernobyl failed. Well, that was flawed design. No problem then, 'cause we already know how well GE people designed those reactors... oh wait! ffffffuuuuuuuuuuuu...
I look at Catalonia with envy and hope. The movement for independence is becoming stronger, and although a majority for clear and plain independence might not be the outcome of the next regional elections there, the issue will reach the Parliament at Barcelona, and hopefully create contradictions in Spain. We Basques... we have ETA. So bad. 50 criminal years of bloody stupidity and a worthless run to nowhere. And then a bunch of nationalist political parties with no clue about how to head towards independence despite all-aloud talk about self-government and blah blah blah.
I think that the only hope for Basque independence is, on one hand, partition, forgetting about a 7-province Independent Homeland comprising all the Basque Country (Euskal Herria), north and south of the Spain/France border. And, on the other hand, Catalonia. I strongly believe that independence will not come from some process that follows the rules of law as it is now on the Spanish Constitution. Cause there is no place for that. Independence will come from an accident of history, the break-up of Spain. And that can only happen in Catalonia. If they go away, that's our chance. It will be the only window of opportunity at sight.
I wrote about these thoughts recently in Basque, and then got it translated into Spanish and Catalan. Me, a nobody, got no replies, really. I failed creating a controversy, and that's what I wanted: break the taboo of partition (a forbidden word in Basque nationalistic political speech), and put our eyes on Catalonia, the real hot issue around.
So, after my failure as a polemist, I take solace looking at the new instance of the Umap product (a realtime agregator for Twitter) that we launched (yeah, marketing propaganda, btw :-)), Umap in Catalan. They are alive and kicking, almost every news item they comment is like adeu Espanya, bye bye Spain. So, go, get away, Catalan folks, leave us behind. Just, at the last moment, as you close the gate of scape from Spain, turn your head take a last look back. In the improbable case that Basques are approaching, leave the window open. Just in case. Gràcies.
Umap is a Twitter-based product developed by CodeSyntax, our little company. It collects and processes all the tweets (or at least most of them) in a certain language.
We have just tried it with Basque language, but we hope that some other languages will be coming soon. You can see the Umap's Basque version at eu.umap.eu. The app works with some automatic processes:
- A method to detect Basque speaker Twitter users.
- Detect all the tweets of those users and distinguish the Basque tweets of those users.
- Extract trends. and other data, for instance langauge-usage stats of the users being tracked.
Some more info in the company's English-language blog.
We hope to launch other Umap versions. Some languages and countries do have commercial possibilities, obviously. However, being Basques, we know minority languages first-hand, and commercial approaches are probably not practical for others in our situation.
We think that above 500 hundred original Twitter users, and not all of them using the language all the time, but with occasional users among them, it will work fine for a given community. The release of something like Umap could atract more users, and usage of Twitter is also expected to grow.
It would be nice to contact with some citizen association / media organisation / language promotion board / administration body that may want to make use of this tool, rigth now, in the most affordable way, with prospects for continuity and with the safe assumption that it will have a great impact in language use in the most cutting-edge of the communication realms, that of the Realtime Internet. Follow or DM Luistxo on Twitter if you're interested.
Plus: Umap looks great on an Apple © iPad