Not really that I needed a rest in Bilbao, its just the way that things worked out as I traveled and there are a few other things going on from a business standpoint that need my attention. So, its a bit of a rest day in Bilbao, actually 2 to be exact. But no matter, its a great city to visit, and also the largest city within the Pais Basque autonoumous region.
I have learned alot about the whole Basque region since arriving here, and had a sense something was different even before I met my very kind Basque guides. We met, Urko and sister Urizio, in a rather strange manner and I have some friends to thank for helping me pull this off. A year ago, I taught a saddletree making class over in France, as mentjoned before. One of the very capable students was a leather worker by the name of Fred Javelot, talented fellow indeed and amiable sidekick of George and Natalie Brail. I was in need of having a package sent by Fed-Ex to Bilbao……but didn’t know a soul in that city or area……Fred came to my rescue and many thanks for that help. Back to my new Basque friends and our evening social event…….a most common occurrence in Bilbao. So common matter of fact, it has been given an official name or title within Bilbao, Basque country. Bar hopping as we may say in USA, here is called ” ir de pinxtos” and a group of Basque friends is known as a “quadrilla”.
Bilbao, dates back to very late 1390. The first moorings of a harbor and the first foundations of homes were laid by the venerable Don Diego de Lopez de Haro. Captured in his likeness in bust form in a central city park. The lineage of the Haro family was and still is active within the Basque region, which by the way, they are far prouder to be seen as Basque than having anything to do with Spain. The tiny Basque region of Spain, is a true AUTONOMOUS region, having its own police, its own government, and all level and rates of taxation. It, the Basque region, accounts for approximately 42%of the revenue generated in the entire country of Spain. And yet, to be understood fully for its magnitude, Basque region amounts to only 7.25% of Spains size. Basques can be accused of taking education , work and thier heritage very seriously. As a people group, they excell at and in, all three mentioned attributes. With more Univefsity educated citizens per capita than all be 2 other countries in Europe. An unemployment scene that sits around 10% for the Basque region, while national stat,s for Spain look like about 32% if you average a few different articles written about the subject. And to cap it all off, no matter who has the best coast, nor largest region……we are Basque and darned proud of it.
The Basque language, said to be the oldest language in ALL OF EUROPE. How that was arrived at, I have no idea, but that is the opinion of many who study such things…….in America, ae would call tnat person a “brick layer” I think. Whether or not its the oldest is of no real matter nor importance. What I have concluded is that without a 4 year University degree, I dont think you could even spell a quarter of the words in thier language. God God, but the Basques do use up an alphabet in a hurry when it comes to the spelling of a word. Its my own theory, that the “click-click bush people” of the Khalahari, are really frustrated Basques who moved out and south……..thier tongues simply could not wrap around that sound made by an EXZT all together.
One more tidbit……notice pleaze how I will now smoothly segway into a “FOOD” subject by opening with a typical eating phrase…..pretty cool for a guy raised in the northern Ontario bush. Anyways, if ever you happen onto a Michelin European travellers map, whose sole purpose is of course to sell tires…..you will notice that a Basque city, that being San Sebastion. Has more GASTONOMY stars to its credit that ANY other city within Europe……..lucky for these guys that Coon Rapids lays outside this same region. To say that the Basques love thier food is indeed a true understatment. They spend on average, twice as much disposable income on food stuffs as Americans do. Of course, we walk away with a bad……lets make that terrible impersonation of a Baguette cooked in a convestion oven……..Nd smile when we eat it……….all because do so saved us enough money to buy that new 9mm Berretta. Ha h! Sooner have the pistol anyways. In all seriousness folks, food in the Basque region is superb, and these folks sit for hours late in the evening enjoying it.
Two days basically, is what I had to walk, talk, and enjoy the riverside city of Balbao. And enjoy I did! How can you visit Bilbao and not taken in the world renouned Guggenhiem Museo. Avant guarde, ecclectic, masterful, a housing of modern, abrstract art…….more bent metal available in one place than the Sanford and Sons movie set…….more paint that has been sprayed, dribbled and generally thrown by the pail full at unexpecting canvas….than at a summer camp or disturbed teens. My real question after taking it all in for 6 hours, why the hell would you go to the Museo. I love art folks, but sorry, just cant find a place in my heart for items materialistic items without a soul. That is what abstract is, souless works. They are classically defined by the “nose in the air” educati as being pieces you have to learn to love…….whixh to me sounds oddly like eating Snails.
From and after the Museo, I began a walk in earnest all around the city. Its new areas, its old central city core, seen the latest in modern undertakings at reviving regions within an otherwise very vibrant city. Biased am I about things of beauty and artisitc skills,……YES, I am, I took in every Cathedral in the city, sat thru a mass in one, and took more pictures that one man should be able to take in that time. And yes, to answer your question…..2 of those pictures came out pretty good. I think I have samples product from roughly 20 plus bakeries in Bilbao. Ate hand made sausage, hand made olives, quince jam, non-pasturized milk cheese…….oh my God dont tell my friend Gloria A………but yes, I survived and loved it.
FACT 1 – we really donT have ham in USA. You will never be able to know “how right” I am till you have eaten ham here and in Italy. Sorry, its just a fact. The Basqjes take ham “jambon” very seriously. Have to since may epicurians agree, they re kmown for the best ham in the world. Here, they have what locals call “pata negro, hope I got that right. Its known as Iberico Jambon, and is made from ONLY, the hind legs of course of a special breed of black pig. The pigs are raised outside, in heards like cattle, they are fed a ration of Oak Acorns that hVe been collected Nd softened in boiling water. This produces a pig with considerable fat content, and more specifically a distinct taste. The hams are hung to dry and cure with very little salt. Once dried, approx 6 months time, they are brought to market and sold wgole to a family or by the slice. When jambon is sliced here, its not by some kid who slaps in on the delli food slicer…..oh no no. The hams are placed in a jamoneta, a golding fixture if you will, then a skilled meat slicer takes up a large thin bladed knife and proceeds to slice of slices so thin as to see thru them. Families do much the same with a whole ham at home. Its kept on the counter not in the fridge, placed under a heavy towel, and sliced as needed till finished. A properly cured ham at home is good a for a month no problem.
FACT 2-we dont really have cheese at home in USA. Lets face it, if cheese manufacturers would simply place a string thru the middle of every block of cheese….we could double sales. It can be eaten inwhich case it tastes like wax, but comes in 2 colors, beimg white or yellow. Or we could simply use that block of cheeses as a candle when the power goes out. Yeah, I know, pretty rough……sorry you true cheese makers. But in comparison to cheese nere, its really close to the rruth. The Basques, known as SHEEP MEN, have earned a place in American history as being the best shepards in the world. Here, the cheeses most common are drier that many of the French cheeses, and for the most part are made from the milk of sheep…..and tbe best from non pasturized milk and bought locally.
WARNING – to my many European friends, this will land upon your timpanic membranes with a thud…….you will catch yourself saying ” what the heck did he just say”. In a large way, you are losing you bread culture over here. Read carefully pleaxe before you cast that first stone..its the curse of those damnable convection ovens. They should all be stored in Davey Jones’s Locker……JMO. For myself, it is profound over a 10 year period of time the difference in breads at the bakery, witnessed by myself from first trip over till today. Here in Bilbao, I have only found 3 bakers using a stone oven, all the rest are convection. France was for the most part the same. If you are buying bread in a large city or large Super Market it is most likley done in a modern convection oven. I have found that in may small villages and towns, the baker still uses a stone oven heated by wood fire. The difference is marked in crust quality and carmelization, not to mention interior moisture and texture. These attributes are the essence of bread……..loose those, and there is no good reason to return to Europe. Its insidiuos, creeping into our daily lives like dark invades our evenings. We fall prey to its quickness and convienience and soon enough forget the taste of real bread.
Thats enough ramblings from me, enough of my gastronomy opinions and rants on modern non-ART. So, I will close with this lrayer to all, that tomorrow will find you healthy and happy, able to enjoy the bounty of what God places before us each day, not asking for anything other than direction and guidance so our footfall lands upon the path laid our for us each and every day, that we would wish more for another than for ourself, that we would truly love that nieghbour not just mluth the words. Gods house is built upon the solid rock of time and promise, not upon the shifting sands of chance, fate nor luck.