What to Read – What to Do – Spain.
“This route, it seemed, had been a good decision, and the extra walking to the east of the area that had been most heavily patrolled had been worth the effort. But the real test always came at the river, and Dodo had planned to cross some six or seven miles upstream of Béhobie. There the slope was gentle and protected by woods on the French side, and although there were guard stations at intervals on the Spanish shore, bends in the river created gaps in the lines of sight at some places…no German patrols had been seen.” – Guernica (p342)
THE BOOK: Dave Boling’s novel Guernica takes us into the world of the Basques in the 1930s – focusing on a family living in Spain’s market town of Guernica, the center of Basque culture and history. It is a time of growing persecution for the Basque as the Spanish Civil War begins to bite and the Ansotegui brothers and their offspring are desperately trying to cling to their identity. On April 26, 1937 Guernica was bombed in an attack which to this day is held up as one of the world’s worst examples of the horrors of war and its impact on civilians. This novel look at that attack through the eyes of the Ansotegui family.
Image courtesy of Jean Michel Etchecolonea via Wikimedia Commons
WHAT TO DO: While most of the novel is set in Guernica itself, there are several scenes in the Pyrenees mountains on the border between Spain and France. As the Basque area straddles both countries, it was ideal for the smuggling of goods and people from one country to another – and the Basque themselves, with their knowledge of the land were perfect for the job. Now – in far more peaceful times for the two countries, you can experience something of what that was like.
The Pyrenees were a place for shepherds and smugglers, and as a result there’s an abundance of fantastic walking trails. A quick google will bring up a number of people offering guided walks, but if you want to know more about the Basque, you might want to consider The Pyrenean Experience which will also give you a taste of traditional Basque mountain life, from the walks, to the food and Basque rural sports, like wood-chopping and stone lifting – something else which features in the novel. You can even meet people who once smuggled allied airmen out of the country and still do a bit of poaching with their children to “keep up the family tradition”.
THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND: Late winter and early spring is ‘Carnival Time’ in this part of the Pyrennees, so while the weather may not be perfect, you can experience a UNESCO recognised event which brings out the depth of Basque cultural traditions. In the towns of Ituren, Zubieta and Auritz the carnival is held in the last week of January, when groups of men dressed as ‘Joaldunak’ march between the towns clanging bells, in an ancient ritual of which no-one really knows the origin. Ituren holds another carnival in September in which the Joaldunak also put in an appearance.
Basque Joaldunak during an ancient bell-clanging ritual during the Ituren carnival
Image courtesy of Jean Michel Etchecolonea via Wikimedia Commons.
VIDEO TO WATCH: Learn more about the Joaldunak and the woman behind the Pyrenean Experience in this video.
One person’s experience of a Pyreanean walking holiday – “I have left a little bit of my heart in the Basque country, and will certainly be back.”
Carnival Time in Ituren – “In short, it was chaos.”
BOOK SOURCE: Own copy
P.S If you have enjoyed this post, then you are sure to enjoy my free online bookclub, in which we are taking a fiction adventure around the world. Read more about it here.