Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Basquin’ in the Plaza Mayor

From Thursday through yesterday (Sunday), the Euskadi tourism board threw a little Basque festival in the Plaza Mayor. Since I pass through the Plaza Mayor, oh, anywhere between two and eight times a day, I managed to mill about and catch a couple of performances with little to no effort on my part. There were booths with handmade soaps, wooden toys, wooden decorative items generally, and life-sized painted figures on board stands in traditional costume with oval head-sized cutouts for people to stand behind and take pictures. Is there a name for those things?

There is a lot of wood in Basque culture. Other than the items for sale in the booths, at the modern dance performance on Friday night (which involved a lot of hops and could generally be described as springy; I missed the traditional dance performance on Thursday and don’t really have a point of comparison), the instruments that were being played were what appeared to be two-by-fours of different lengths, arranged on a flat surface like a xylophone at an extremely large scale, and were hit with large dowels. This sounded not unlike the percussion section of an abstract animated bit from an old Sesame Street, or a hold sequence in a video game.

Yesterday (Sunday), I was walking to the Prado and stopped for a few minutes en route to watch a display of Basque sport. The rock-lifting competition had either ended or was yet to occur, and the log-throwing competition had been earlier in the day; what I caught was a bit of log-cutting. This is a sport that’s right out of Huck Finn: the two competitors (I imagine that this could also be a competition between more people at the same time, but in the display that I saw, there were two) race to chop through a log as quickly as possible; the first one to finish chops a second log. The loser is punished by having to chop an extra log. I didn’t stay through the end of the competition, but it all looked like a remarkably efficient ploy on some clever parent’s part to get firewood chopped cheaply and effortlessly.

There was, as is de rigeur in any cultural festival, a food stand. This one serves pintxos, which are basically tapas. For one euro, you got a half-glass of sidra (apple cider, which is actually Asturian and not Basque, I’m told) or wine, and a pintxo. I got myself a half-glass of sidra, and one of something else remarkably similar to sidra but with a name that I can’t remember, and a pintxo of bonito on toast, and one of bacalao (cod), also on toast. They were both tasty.


Blogger pvf said...

cod is one of my least favorite fishes.
what kind of boredom did the basque people experience to come up with such games like rock lifting and log throwing? remember on that old video game, world games, where you could do log throwing? who does that?

1:44 PM  
Blogger Zora said...

If that's supposed to be some demonstration to the rest of Spain that the Basque people are culturally sophisticated and cool and thereby deserve their own country, then I'd say it failed. It also doesn't seem like the greatest incentive to visit Euskadi...I mean, you might get hit with a rock.

Why didn't they just have tons of food booths?

As for those things you stick your head through...no idea about the name. It reminds of a little kids' slide I saw at a festival in Bilbao (where, at 8am the next day, people were still snorting coke literally off the sidewalk--perhaps they should emphasize their party culture to encourage tourism?), which was just a big giant Basque man, made of Fiberglas, with a beret and a wide open mouth. Kids climbed up into his mouth, then slid down a short slide, which came out his butt. Something charmingly elemental about that. Kind of like rock-throwing.

9:53 PM  
Blogger AV said...

The cod thing was alright (I don't mind it. It's not my absolute favorite fish, which has to be the kind that looks kind of like an eel and they serve them fried with their tails in their mouths, which is my favorite not so much for how it tastes as much as for dramatic effect); it was cod with green peppers and stuff.

What's funny is that the other day at the cafeteria, they had cod listed as one of the dishes to eat. The other things, for some reason, didn't look so appetizing (possibly some organs, I don't remember what else). Anyhow, I asked if they had cod left, and they said,no, we just have salmon. Needless to say, I ate that instead. What would make the cod run out faster than the salmon?

Isn't log throwing a Scottish sport? I remember that in World Games (which was _almost_ as fun as Fraction Fever), the log thrower wore a kilt.

Also, I'm not sure why they just didn't have tons of food booths. I imagine that they were only allowed to use a limited amount of space on the Plaza Mayor (since there are restaurants all around the place anyway). The one (large, but just one) food booth was by far teh most crowded thing there.

9:35 AM  

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