08 June 2009

Places You've Never Heard Of: Basque Country

By Anna C. Bowling

Imagine a European mountain hideaway, about the size of Rhode Island, rich in tradition, and hosts a unique culture that incorporates elements French and Spanish alike, yet is distinctly its own. Some say that this culture is one of the oldest in Europe, the current natives perhaps boasting roots over seventy thousand years back. Some may even whisper that the people who live here now are descendants of the inhabitants of the fabled Atlantis. (Are you paying attention, paranormal writers?) Perhaps such legendary strength might account for the popularity of Jai alai, the world's fastest ball game, where a ball can travel nearly two hundred miles per hour.

Imagine that this land inspires chefs with its bounty of both sea and mountain, and a pastry and confectionery tradition that is rich in the literal and figurative sense, even to the point of having its own museum of gastronomy. Imagine that the language of this land is so unlike any other that one legend says a native speaker of this tongue escaped eternal damnation by challenging the devil himself to learn this language, and the devil could not. Sound intriguing?

There is no need to imagine such a place, because it does exist. Welcome to the Basque country. I asked Amaia Iratzoqui, a Basque-American, whose photograph of Basque country graces this page, if she would like to share some aspects she finds especially interesting:
The Basque country borders the Pyrenees mountains encompassing areas of Southern France and Northern Spain. Driving up the mountain, the most popular tourist area is a collection of stores selling only Basque items, including food, clothing and home goods, and a designated area which, while standing there, allows the person to literally be straddling the county line.
What better place could there be to be in two places at once? With a history that reaches back thousands of years, a culture rich in lore and legend, Basque country could certainly be the perfect setting for a most unusual historical.