Sunday, March 11, 2007


Captions: The water taxi at Pasajes, aka Donibane.

View out the window of Txulotxo.
Workin' here.

Typical grafitti for the home team.

Typical Donibane street scene.

ETA is the supposed terrorist organization that operates in Basque country. I say “supposed” because even though ETA has killed a couple thousand adversaries over the last couple of decades, they are more or less completely embraced by the Basque population. In every town there is ETA grafitti….and in the mountain towns it is ubiquitous, and scary. ETA just wants the Basques to be left alone.

Basques are supposedly genetically descendent from the Cro-Magnons (thank you KyeBlue!!!)…..they are still here despite thousands of millennia of outsiders trying to fuck with them. These are the people that recognized Ayla of the Clan of the Cave Bear for the ignorant yuppie poseur that she was: "No boom boom for you, Ayla. We are happy with our AB positive blood. Keep your O+ away from us." They can’t figure out why everyone else has not got the message after 30,000 years…..The Goths, the Visigoths, the Moors, the French, the Limeys, the Aragonese, the Castillians, the Eurotrash….

In Basque country, no one is opposed to ETA….even the police. If there is an ETA demonstration, the central government has to bring in troops from Madrid. Recently a convicted ETA killer had served out his term and was due to be released. The central government came up with an Alberto Gonzales-style charge to keep him in prison after his release….He went on hunger strike….and all of Basque country revolted, albeit somewhat mildly. You didn’t hear about it in America, because Britney shaved her pudenda….or maybe her head. Something important.

The rest of the country counter-demonstrated, against “terrorism”….and the Basques counter-counter demonstrated. I don’t mean a bunch of hippies, acid heads and crazy lesbians…..half a million people, including all the grannies and all the politicians, and all the engineers and shop girls and waiters and truck drivers, marched through the streets of Bilbao in support of……Senor Chaos, the murderer….or freedom fighter, depending upon your outlook.

I kid you not, Senor Chaos. ( Don’t laugh, Yankee: the president of the company (IAP) who privatized nursing at Walter Reed and left our soldiers in fecal squalor? David Swindle. So shut up about Sr. Chaos…..).

The best comparison we could have to ETA in California is…..marijuana. It is everywhere… one really cares.... but the Central Government. They have to bring in outside cops to arrest people…and the grannies are all about it…….The ETA bake sale is unbelievable.....and no one womanning the table is under 60.......

If you go to an ETA demonstration in San Sebastian, you run across Ed Leeper’s octogenarian Basque pen-pals, and all the soccer kids, and the grannies, and the single moms, the business owners, the college kids, the stoners…everyone. People stand around and peacefully sing folk songs…and march around with beautiful grafically designed posters.......and drink a bit…..Until the Guardia from Madrid show up and spoil the party. Think: Pan’s Labyrinth. Guess who the good guys are?

I have pictures of a street in San Sebastian where they put up an ETA banner every Friday. The cops cut it down every Monday, but never arrest the dudes who always put it up. It is not like they don't know who does it.....given that it goes from one apartment to another. The accumulated strings that hold the banner every week, on both sides of the street, are testament to all that you need to know about the politics of freedom in Basque country.

Brendan got caught up in an ETA thing on his only day off from Mugaritz a couple of years ago. He was on his way to Akelaré for brunch. Sunday in Donostia is normally grannies and gramps pushing strollers around the pristine streets enjoying the sun…..This Sunday there was an action: bands and folks carrying banners about political prisoners.

The Guardia (the bad guys in Pan's Labyrith) sent in a crew from Madrid, because they knew the local cops were out at the soccer match. These guys were aggressive and ready to kick ass. Picture a SWAT team from Texas coming to straighten out a welfare strike in South Central LA. The minute the marchers hit the streets the cops swarmed out of their armoured cars and started beating ass. The marchers were ready, and dispersed off into the tiny streets of the Parte Vieja.

The streets of San Sebastian are marble and stone, and slippery in winter….especially on a Sunday after a long Saturday night of drinking and partying. Don’t even talk about the overnight dogshit from the cutest tiny dogs in the world. When a demonstrator would slip on the marble, the Guardia would swarm and start to beat ass. Instantly, a dozen Basque grannies would counter-swarm, surround the victim and shove and scream at the Guardia and whoop their butts with furled umbrellas. The cops would be shamed and run off to seek a new victim. The grannies would re-group and follow.

Meanwhile, Brendan was trucking through with his camera, taking pictures. The Guardia saw him and took after him. He almost got away when a Guardia hit him on the sole of his foot with a truncheon and dumped him like a sack of shit on the marble on the Avenida Libertad. Four Guardia swarmed up with billyclubs….but half a dozen grannies were there with umbrellas…….They surrounded him and shamed and battled the Guardia away. Bren caught the17 bus for Akelaré.

Anyway, back to what is important: Food! Basque country keeps to its roots. Not much happens on Sunday after 5pm….and almost nothing happens on Monday. Their Monday is our Sunday….and our Sunday is their Sunday as well. And, their Saturday is our Saturday, only less. Not much happens on Saturday either, except the bars are open. It is a rough place to work, believe me. All this emphasis on family, and food, and entertainment…….Weird.

After back to back meals at Arzak and Akelare, Amanda and I were in withdrawal....almost Basque Anorexic. Still, we needed a place for Monday lunch, or at least I did. Meanwhile, nothing is open on Monday. Well, one place in the port of Pasajes, in the gnarly modern urban ghetto….not out girl's style. I drove the girl around the beautiful mountains bordering the coast for a while before sneaking her back to the port.

The Basque coast is Pittsburg. It is Newark. It is Oakland. It is Hunters Point.

The ultimate irony of the whole Basque revolution is that after two millennia of providing all the fish, steel, guns and boats for the rest of Spain, and funding the Fascists with their skill and labor….the Basques were kind of set up by their worst nightmare, Francisco Franco. It is as if George Bush had accidentally done something right and all our children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren got free health care and education and housing and transportation from some deal he had cynically negociated…..Whoa, boy. Stop with that.

Franco ran the Basque country as his arsenal and foundry for forty years. At the end of the Franco regime Europe was desperate to absorb Spain. The heavy industry of Basque country (steel, boats, weapons….the rifle that killed JFK was made in La Coruna) was heavily subsidized by the Spanish Facist state. Franco’s deal was that he would join the EU if the EU would pension off everyone…..for three generations. The result is a socialist/capitalist utopia that would make Marx and Adam Smith cream their genes.

The Sierra Club would not be happy, however. Basque country is among the most beautiful in the world. Big Sur mixed up with the Swiss Alps, mixed up with the Riviera. And everyone is almost anywhere you turn in Basque Country there is a factory, and giant trucks pulling in and out of the pristine mountain valleys and beaches. Meanwhile, the residents work at the factory 35 hours a week, live in the beautiful country in architecturally cool housing projects, and are home for three hours every afternoon to cook, eat, talk to their children.......and have sex….Oh, and they have zero medical and educational costs….and the transport is subsidized, too. Damn……

Anyway, I snuck Amanda back from the mountains to Pasajes. Pasajes is a perfect harbor just east of the Ulia Mountain of San Sebastian , and only about ten miles from France. It is where Magellan left for his round the world deal, and where Columbus left for his little trip. The Brits took over the town after the sack of San Sabby in 1813 and used it as the supply port to invade France and crush Napoleon. It is still the modern port that San Francisco wishes it was.....on one side of the harbor.

On the other side of the harbor (Donibane) the town has not changed: tiny streets and piers and tunnels. The modern town is a tad to the west, and involves crazy interstates full of giant tractor trailers in huge traffic jams. The old town…not so much. You park outside town, and you walk.

The walk involves going along the old wharf and through some tunnels surrounded by eight hundred year old houses. Every surface is covered with ETA posters. Here, at the heart of modern Spanish commerce, and the heart of historic Spanish commerce…..ETA rules. Picture Snoop Dogg as Secretary of Commerce of California.

We found our Monday-open restaurant clinging to the side of the cliff, and got a table by the window overlooking the bay. Russian tankers came and went. Pilot boats came and went. A little taxi boat went back and forth from the Old Pasajes to the New Pasajes across the way every few minutes.

Amanda had lecheria de cordero….milk fed lamb. The Disney people would never let this happen in America……a cute little lamb still on its mother’s milk. In America a lamb might weigh almost eighty pounds, and the city slicker could not tell it from its mom. In Spain, maybe twenty is still cute and fuzzy. Amanda had a life-changing experience behind the quality of the meat.....while looking out over the same view that Magellan had. was cheap, too. Check out Txulotxo, 71 San Juan in Pasai Donibane. Pray for no French people.

Unfortunately, French people came to the restaurant when we were there, and ordered weird complicated expensive cocktails in a place where you drink Txacoli for nothing….We left and took the water taxi over to the modern portside, Pasajes de San Pedro. Half a Euro to the cute ld man. We had café con leche and shooters of aguardiente in a gnarly sailor bar and took the taxi back, walking past the shrine on the mountain that was established for sailors two hundred years before Magellan…..

On the way back to the car…..I could not resist. I took out my knife and cut an ETA poster off the wall of a fourteenth century tunnel. There was a slight line of sight up to an old tenement. Four gnarly Basque grannies were up there, watching guard.

As soon as my knife came out, they started hissing like Nero’s geese. Amanda ran in justified terror. I kept cutting: “Necisitamos este en California! Está bien! Serioso! Está bien…..” We need this in California! Seriously!

I cut away the poster and ran like a dog. I slammed it in the trunk of the car, and made sure that my dirty T-shirt hung over the license plate to mask it as we sped away.

These people are organized……

We are friends...but they don't need friends.

Just ask the Goths.....or the Visigoths......or the Moors......or the French.


Blogger Brian said...

Why is it I photograph markets but you have this fetish for bathrooms. I'm expecting a picture book soon "Bathrooms of the World" by Mike Jones. We'll find it next to the WC in fine dentists' offices around the world.


8:21 PM  
Blogger Nopisto said...

Oh, what a romatic view of the terrorism, fascism and innocent killing. Just because you have been touristing in a kidnaped society doesn't mean that you have understood anything.

Innocent bodies broken in millions of parts, covered in blood (of course 0+. Doesn't this sounds like Hitler and a predominance of a race?), the political oposition wearing bodyguards (hey this is democracy) and a whole region suffering schizophrenia because none can talk out loud about their feelings and opinions.

But hey this is Disneyland for us the antisystem warriors.

Come on, please inform yourself from both parts before doing such an irresponsible statement.

2:05 AM  

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