The Basque Country – Alarde – Party Time in Hondarribia

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The following extract is from A Basque Diary – Living in Hondarribia, which is available, in print and as an ebook, from Amazon.

Every town in the Basque Country has their fiesta day. In Hondarribia, it is the 8th September, the day of the Virgin of Guadalupe (which is also the name of the church that overlooks Hondarribia from the ridge near the range of Jaizkibel). On this day in 1638, the town broke a 69 day siege by 27,000 French troops. It is celebrated with the Alarde, which is a quasi-military procession, performed (mainly) by the men of the town.

Hatxeroa the guy with the saw at the South Gate of Hondarribia

This is a very macho festival. The men march in companies, carrying the traditional whistles (most commonly the txistu), drums, or guns (we don’t know whether they are all live rounds, but at least some of them are. One year someone was killed when they were shot on a balcony. This hasn’t stopped them.). A token woman is selected by each company, sort of like an individual contender for Miss Basque Country. They don’t have to be pretty (though they usually are), but they do have to be considered the sweetest girl around. The women do not march. Except that is starting to change. There is one mixed company, which has not been well received. We saw them march and didn’t see any hostility, but we were told that they are often booed by the crowds. The march takes the companies around the town all morning and then up to the Virgin of Guadalupe for a midday ceremony.

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West Country Wanderings

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Everything we need to do in England before going to New Zealand is in the West Country. The West Country is a fantastic place to be in the summer, with lush, flower-speckled countryside and a variety of beaches to enjoy. I grew up here and love visiting. But so does everyone else, so finding somewhere to be for a month or two was a challenge. We are splitting our time between camp sites, a couple of weeks in the house I grew up in (thanks, Mum and Dad!) and an AirBnB place in Totnes. The last one is where we are now and it is the closest we could get to the Land Rover mechanic without breaking our budget. He’s an hour away.

Totnes castle

This is an excerpt from my Illustrated Epistle, which goes out in the middle of the month. It is a behind-the-scenes look at the life of a cartoonist (specifically, mine). You can sign up here (and unsubscribe if you don’t like it, or even if you do, though that would be a bit daft, as how many emails do you get that you actually enjoy reading?):

http://eepurl.com/cCOOeD

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Our dog wearing racing colours

The Basque Country – Basque Sports

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The following extract is from A Basque Diary – Living in Hondarribia, which is available, in print and as an ebook, from Amazon.

A lot of Basque sport seems to involve showing how macho a man is. Lifting really heavy rocks and using sharp axes to chop a massive log the competitor is standing on, are two of them. Something that looks a little more approachable, but which is just as difficult to master, is jai alai, or cesta punta. Through the summer months, you can pay 12 euros to watch games between various local teams of two. It’s like a crazy game of squash, with a ball about twice the size, but a court that is more than four times the length. To make things just that little bit trickier, the players don’t use racquets, rather long skinny baskets that wrap around their wrists to form an extension of their arms. As well as a very entertaining match, the entry price includes a classic Basque dish of marmitako, which is a tuna stew. They throw in a free glass of wine, or two, too.

jai alai or cesta punta or pelota

Another tough sport that you can watch in the summer is the rowing. Every weekend, the teams assemble in one of the coastal towns for an event that lasts about an hour. There is widespread support for the Hondarribia team in our town. Unfortunately, the team colours are an ugly shade of green, but that doesn’t put off every man and his dog (and our dog) wearing it.

Basque rowers

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The Basque Country – August and the Hoards

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The following extract is from A Basque Diary – Living in Hondarribia, which is available, in print and as an ebook, from Amazon.

August is not the best time to come to Hondarribia, as the French are on holiday en masse and at times Calle San Pedro is so full of people, it is hard to walk down the street, let alone find a spot to have a drink and a pincho. Getting the ferry to and from France means queuing and sometimes you have to wait for a couple of boats to fill up before you get on board.

the ferry from Hondarribia to Hendaye

If you are here, you can avoid the crowds and go to the calm town beach before 11 and leave as the crowds arrive at midday. I went to the surf beach in Hendaye by paddling across the river with my body board or stand up paddle board. But for the best swims, the locals head down to the far end of Hondarribia, at the port. Though this is a working harbour, with fishing boats offloading their catch for local stores, restaurants and beyond, you are still able to access the port wall (unlike other parts of the world where we have lived, where they have used the flimsy excuse of terrorism to make the port off limits to the public). People swim from the breakwater and the first year, I used to swim around the giant buoys that the fishing boats moor at. Or I would walk on to the rocky beach of Playa de los Frailes (beach of the monks), where the crystal clear water was very inviting on calm days.

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A Month in Totnes, Devon

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1975 rag top Land RoverWe are now in slow transit, making our way back to NZ. The next couple of months are based in the UK to sort out our stuff, including Billie, our 13 year old jack russell and Gertie, the boyf’s 42 year old Land Rover.

Since the Land Rover mechanic is near Seaton, we rented a place near Seaton. But, because it is August and the West Country, that isn’t very near at all. We are spending a month in Totnes, Devon. It is fun exploring a part of Devon that I don’t know very well and being here for a month, I’m hoping to get a bit of drawing and writing done.

wheelbarrows in Totnes

 

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The Basque Country – Hondarribia’s Cider Day – Sagardo Eguna

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It is our last weekend in Hondarribia and fitting that the Sagardo Eguna (Dia de la Sidra, or Cider Day) will be celebrated on Saturday in Plaza Gipuzkoa, which is the square below our flat. So, sort of our going away party and a good way to say goodbye to the locals.

Hondarribia Sagardo Eguna - Día de la Sidra 2016

The following extract is from A Basque Diary – Living in Hondarribia, which is available, in print and as an ebook, from Amazon.

Around the middle of July, there is a cider festival in Gipúzkoa Square in Hondarribia. For 5 euros, you get a glass that you can fill up as often as you like (though it is bad form to actually fill it – you want to put in a couple of inches at most). The admission price also includes a pincho of either chistorra (like a mild, skinny chorizo), or tortilla (the potato and onion Spanish omelette), though given the amount of cider on offer, it is worth going back to buy more pinchos. The square is surrounded by big barrels of cider, manned by the producers who release streams of it to land in your glass. You need to catch it low, move the glass up and move away as the next person comes in behind you with their glass. Catching the cider low and having it spatter on the glass mixes in air, which improves the flavour. Needless to say, there is an art to the cider pour that we never mastered.

A Basque Diary - Living in Hondarribia cover with borderYou can read more about Basque culture, food and places by checking out
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Never Mind The New York Times – I’m in El Diario Vasco Today!

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You can read the article (in Spanish) here:

http://www.diariovasco.com/bidasoa/hondarribia/descubrimos-hondarribia-amor-20170727003719-ntvo.html

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The Basque Country – Kutxa (Box) Day

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woman with a box on her head in Calle Mayor, Hondarribia, Spain

The following extract is from A Basque Diary – Living in Hondarribia, which is available, in print and as an ebook, from Amazon.

25th July: Kutxa (Box) Day

Our friends in Amona Margarita tried to explain this festival to us the first year and, because our Spanish wasn’t very good, we thought we had mistranslated it. They seemed to be telling us that a woman would parade with a box on her head, accompanied by fishermen, from the big church to the archway of the Brotherhood of the Fishermen. But this is exactly what happened. What we ended up calling “The Procession of the Woman With the Box on Her Head” is actually known as the “Kutxa Entrega (or Handing Over of the Box)”. We were close. The box contains fishermen’s papers and when the woman (a daughter of a fisherman) reaches the archway of the Cofradia, accompanied by the fishermen and a marching band, she spins around and around to bring prosperity to the fishermen. It was one of my favourite fiestas.

Where the woman with the box on her head turns around: the fishermen's restaurant arch in Hondarribia

A Basque Diary - Living in Hondarribia cover with borderYou can read more about Basque culture, food and places by checking out
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An Inconvenient Truth – the Arctic is Melting

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Today begins a series of Arctic Circle cartoons about how climate change is threatening the Arctic. You can read more about this in the New York Times.

The series was written because the movie, An Inconvenient Sequel opens at the weekend. It has been about a decade since An Inconvenient Truth came out and Arctic Circle celebrates 10 years in syndication this summer.

When the first movie came out and was a commercial success, I felt such relief. Finally, everyone was talking about climate change and what could be done. Some fantastic things have happened in the intervening years (solar power becoming affordable and electric cars becoming mainstream, to name but two), but it is distressing to me that it has become such a partisan issue. I’m sure this is because of the way the money that pours into politics corrupts the politicians who receive it. And that money comes from fossil fuels. But enough of that. Here is the first cartoon in the series:

I’m in the New York Times!!!

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The Basque Country – Hondarribia Blues Festival

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Hondarribia Blues Festival beach 2017

Last weekend was Hondarribia’s Blues Festival. This really could be the last year for it in this location, as we heard that it might be moving to Zarautz for financial reasons.

Hondarribia Blues Festival 2017

 

The following extract is from A Basque Diary – Living in Hondarribia, which is available, in print and as an ebook, from Amazon.

electric guitarWe were in Hondarribia for the 9th, 10th and 11th Blues Festivals. The festival is held towards the end of July (the date depends on when the Running of the Bulls is happening in Pamplona, as they don’t like to clash) and it is massive. There is a huge stage near the ferry terminal down in the Marina, a smaller stage in Calle San Pedro and a mid-sized one up in the old town in Arma Plaza. It takes days to set up (and pack up) the stages and the concession stands. The organisers bring in bands from all over the world. It must cost a small fortune to put on and they don’t charge anything for you to go to the concerts. It’s insane and a friend of ours has said that it might not continue for too much longer. Hondarribia council seems to have a lot of money, but we can’t see how they can afford to keep paying for this festival without someone else dipping into their pockets to help. Their only sponsor seems to be Carlsberg and there has been resistance from local businesses to cough up any local sponsorship.

A Basque Diary - Living in Hondarribia cover with borderYou can read more about Basque culture, food and places by checking out
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