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The summer of 1968 beckoned and looked very promising. Balmy days for us kids often spent butterfly collecting, trading comic books, listening to baseball on the radio, and playing afternoon stickball, a uniquely New York City street game involving a stick --usually appropriated from an unwatched broom-- and a hard pink rubber ball manufactured by the AJ Spaulding Company universally referred to as a “Spalldeen.”
However my dreams for such a bucolic near future came to a screeching halt one afternoon when I was greeted by my little brother at the door with news that we would all soon be flying in an airplane! That sounded exciting enough, but further elaboration disclosed a darker truth: We would be flying to the village of my mother’s birth in North East Spain. My knowledge of the place was minimal at best: I had only seen rather quaint photographs with scallop-cut edges of what appeared to be a ramshackle, sleepy and sun baked town populated by sunburned farmers with dazzling white teeth clustering around a new tractor, scooter or calf. It looked foreign, smelly and somewhat ominous.
Soon enough we headed for the airport to begin our journey. Modern, security-frazzled, airline customers may not realize or remember just how much of an event traveling by airplane was in the mid 1960’s. Washed and scrubbed, wearing rayon shirts and thin ties, mother in Sunday best complete with pill box hat, we journeyed the Atlantic in the marvelous Boeing 707.
Fully jet-lagged we landed many hours later at Barcelona airport and were greeting by a deputation from the village, 150 screaming, waving and wildly gesticulating Catalans, for this was, as I would soon be told “Catalonia, not Spain.” From Barcelona we soon began our travels westward, into the Llobregat river valley and the mountains of the Montserrat, strangely carved peaks that are the results of eons of erosion by now-extinct giant rivers. This is an enchanted land; not for nothing are Catalan artists overrepresented in the Surrealist art movement.
Winding down roads of choking dust, we made our way to the town, or pueblo. Until then having grown up in the restrained, plasticized and sanitized habits that characterized the USA in the 1960’s, I was in now way prepared for the coarse, almost brusque mannerisms of these folks. The gesticulated wildly, seemed to argue about everything, screamed at each other from their windows and talked at an amazingly rapid-fire rate of delivery. It’s phenomenally fertile land, and the local people are rumored to be the only people in Spain who can “make bread out of stones.” The closest town, which is at the border between Catalonia and Aragon, was described as being “renowned for its figs, and the thick-headedness of the inhabitants.”
Culture shock soon set in. A shy kid to start off, I was soon just happy to find a quiet place and read my bon voyage present, a huge book on the Battle of Gettysburg. Unlike my little brother, who was muy sympatico, eating in the café and yelling at the soccer games on the one TV like everyone else, I just felt alienated. One had to be careful with their choice of friends. The headless automaton jumping around my aunt’s kitchen spurting blood all over the place was just shortly before the chicken with two different colored eyes that I had so carefully observed that morning. Cute, friendly rabbits were soon rendered into grotesque hanging parodies of the “visible body” model that I had built that Christmas.
Being the wonderful people that they are, my family soon began to try to get me to come out of my shell. One of my uncles took notice of my liking of history, and soon we were off in his tiny car, visiting Visigoth and Roman ruins. Another uncle, a simple but lovable farmer, would take me out to his fields, hold a finger up to his lips so as to say “let’s keep this secret to ourselves” and begin pushing aside sagebrush, rubble and other weeds, revealing a lovely Roman husband and wife gravestone. Gradually, I began to open up to this wonderfully simple and pure world.
Around midday we would break for lunch and siesta, which never varied all that much; a medium sized fish, called a “sardine”, stuck on a branch and placed around perimeter of a small fire, some olives and almonds from the field, followed by a peach or pear. Since it was still too hot to go back to work we’d look at clouds or the distant hills and at one point I asked him what lay beyond those hills.
“Saragossa.” He said.
“And beyond that?”
“And beyond that?”
“The Basques. But they are different than us, and a little crazy.”
It would take a lot for a Catalan to call someone else “different”, and to a Catalan, the Basques may well be the only qualifying group. Like the Catalans, the Basques are very independent minded, with great cultural sensitivity and were consequently heavily repressed during the Franco dictatorship. Similarly, they have experienced a phenomenal cultural renaissance in the years following his death.
An ancient people, or more correctly a “people island,” they have resisted virtually all attempts at assimilation, forced or otherwise. In the Basque language there is no name for “Basque”. There is a name for the language that Basques speak, Euskera and a Basque is simply defined as a Euskaldun, someone who speaks Euskera.
But we would have to go back farther still to get a grip on the Basques. You have to go back to a very cold, dry time without agriculture. The Basques, you see, are sort of living fossils, probably the most direct link we genetically possess to a distinct people that can be traced back to the Pleistocene Age.
The upper right-hand corner of Spain has some of the most interesting dialects to be found in the world over such a small piece of geography. Catalan, the language of my family, is an ancient Latin derived tongue, probably closer to the Latin of the Romans than either modern day French or Spanish.
For a romance language, Catalan has a surprising number of consonants, with the free use of the letter x as an example. But for all its unique qualities, Catalan is a relative newcomer, the Romans having inhabited the area roughly two-thousand years ago. Prior to that the population was a hybridization of two earlier groups, rather short, dark haired and eyed indigenous people, called Iberians and taller, lighter transplanted Celts who arrived a few hundred years prior to the Romans in search (like their modern-day counterparts) of a warmer climate. These two groups intermingled freely, fused and produced what historians called the “Celt-Iberians.”
Yet these modern languages are distinct from Basque Euskera or any of the Semitic or African languages as well. English with it clipped and nasally sounds; German with its guttural mega words; French, with its mellifluous hints of romance and Hindi, with its beautiful Sanskrit writing all share Indo-European as a common ancestor.
and you definitely have it in your genes when it comes to the written word Dr. D.!
exquisite picture you have shared with us all!
Maybe another time you can discuss blood type in relation to those people.
We're just BT junkies, aren't we??
The stick ball reminds me of the similar game we used to play when we were small. If the ball couldn't be found, we would stomp a tin can and use it. I slammed one right into my poor, older sister's forehead once, and we had to do a speedy redo on her hair so our mother couldn't see the huge bump! :-/
I think Barry Farber wrote this but it has been a long time since I've read his book.
It's neat to see a reference to this mysterious place.
Mostly thank-you for this precious blood type diet -known by the Arch Angel's who are leading us back to health. A great work, appreciated.
And the surrealists were so hated by the fascists...
considered decadent, etc. Thanks, Jaynee0
Thank you for your splendid and generous work that I hope will be soon better known in Spain in order that many more people could benefit from it, as I do for more than six years with more or less compliance
I didn't know you were into the Civil War?! My little son, Niki and I both like history also. We just visited Gettysburg this past October 07'. I must go back..I really enjoyed it.
I'd love to see Spain..It's right next door to Italy.
Do, tell more!!
Thanks in advance!
And many thanks to Martha and family for sharing you with us. :-)
My ancestors came from Spain to this town many many years ago. I have been told that were Basque people. I have always been very proud of this part of my heritage. Thank you for the vivid picture of part of my past. (The other half is Pennsylvania Dutch)
Thank you for all your knowledge and leadership.
My own ancestry is from Oviedo, on the northwestern coast of Spain, in the region of Asturias, in the area where the very westernmost portion of the Pyrenees Mountains terminates.
Someday I'd like to go visit there and see my ancestral homeland.
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