Grim Voting

Except for a flying visit at the end of 2010, I haven’t been to Spain for the best part of a year now, and I miss it. Of course there are many Spains, and technically tomorrow I’m not really going to Spain, but to the Basque Country.

Just about any flight to a Spanish destination is via Madrid, the center of the empire. Barcelona has managed some direct connections, a matter of economic strength and Catalan pride. Back in the days when the sun never set, the capital used to be Valladollid, deep in the heart of Castilla-La Mancha. In a federation of autonomous communities where several of them don’t really want to be Spanish at all, placing the capital city in the middle allows speedy military access to all points.

Euskadi, the Basque country, is actually an area that includes the part of France from Bayonne to the Pyrenees, and reaches into the province of Navarra, in Spain. Under the Spanish dictator Franco, Basque nationalism in Spain was mercilessly supressed. No national language, music, or arts. The tricorn wearing Spanish paramilitary were deliberately posted to faraway provinces to avoid local complicity. Andalucians ended up in the Basque country, and mutual hatred thrived. Mind you, the “Caudillo” was even-minded, during the civil war there was an edict in Barcelona, a republican stronghold, that anyone jeering from the first floor verandas at the passing nationalist troops would be fired on.

But the Basques were always different. Their language does not share the softer tones of the romance languages that surround them, a plethora of strong r’s and an injection of k’s. On first impression it sounds more like a Slavic dialect. Many years ago, before the age of digital cameras and smartphones, I had the privilege of watching an episode of Dallas dubbed in Basque.  Maybe this time I’ll get a chance to give you a videobyte of Dexter, or bliss, Tony Soprano.

Donostia, one of the emblematic cities of the Basque Country

 Mark Kurlansky spoke about both the Basques and the Portuguese in his book about bacalhau, or cod. The origins of the term are strange, given that bacalhau is dried cod, which the Germans call stockfisch, whereas the fresh kind is called Kabeljau in Germany and the Netherlands (with variations).

I get the feeling there may have been a couple of dyslexic fishermen at work here, given this was well before the days of the Reverend Archibald Spooner. Both nations were avid cod fishermen, in both cases preceding Columbus. In The India Road you can read about the Portuguese navigator João Vaz Corte Real, who reached Newfoundland, and cod heaven, twenty years before the Admiral of the Ocean Sea made port at Guanahani. Corte Real (the name literally translates as “Royal Court”) aptly named the place “Terra dos Bacalhaus”.  This is how it reads in the book:

Like many others, Corte-Real had left from the Azores in explorations to the west and the north, decades before Columbus. It was not in innocence that the Antilles were thus named; they were the Ante-Ilhas, the before islands. In his wanderings, Corte-Real, whose given name was João Vaz, had reached the Land of Cod in 1472, fully twenty years before Columbus sailed. One hundred fifty years later, Newfoundland was drawn by the great cartographer Gerhard Mercator as the land of Johannes Vaz.

The Basques are also unusual in their blood group distribution. A+ and O+ run through the veins of Western Europe, but in the Basques, O- is particularly common, and B hardly exists. This suggests an insularity that has maintained a genetic identity through the centuries. It is this inner strength of countries and communities that makes the currently prevalent  investment bank approach to politics woeful. Companies simply cannot command that kind of loyalty, except perhaps in Japan where the corporate anthem is sung by all. Basques stay Basques, or to use the Anglo-Saxon version, you can take the Englishman out of England but…

As if to prove this obvious point, practically the whole of Spain voted with their feet yesterday. 20% unemployment? Now there’s a social cause. Zapatero has a general election next year, let’s see how Spain’s politicians conform to the London bankers until March 2012. And the euro trembles. Down from 1.48 only two weeks ago, it seemed as stiff as a French pecker through last week’s downgrade from the Sofitel to Rikers Island, holding bravely at 1.42. This morning it was falling rapidly, right through the 1.40 barrier (traders love a good barrier), and it looks as if it may need a spot of Viagra, as I watch it go down toward 1.39. The political dance continues, as restructuring becomes reprofiling, and  the hunt is on for the next killer euphemism.

And Grim Voting is not just next door. Over in another of the bankrupt nations, the Grimsvotn volcano is giving us a taste of sovereign debt. Iceland apparently had an inordinate proportion of Land Rover vehicles during it’s heyday; now the locals have changed the 4X4’s name to Game Over. I do seem to pick my travel dates.

Mr. Wibaux, you’re ready to fly. Emergency exit seats, of course, when travelling in Spain.

The India Road QR links for smartphones: point your camera and click.

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One Response to “Grim Voting”

  1. Phil Says:

    Yes… my chiropractor is a third generation Basque, his ancestors went to Peru, and now are back into France… He chuckles when folks like him from South America, go to Basque country to see The Land, are referred by locals as ‘americanos’… !

    Luigi Sforza-Cavalli and son, have an excellent book ‘The Human Diaspora’ which does delve into this sangüine singularity of Basques…

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