Paddy Woodworth is an Irish reporter who has lived and worked in the Basque Country. His book The Basque Country: a cultural history, was described by the Irish Times as a terrific modern introduction to the Basque Country… succeeds in showing us the complexities of the Basque struggle for identity”
Here’s an the introduction from his book from his website.
“The Basque Country has had more than its fair share of stereotypes thrust upon it. The Basques have sometimes resisted this typecasting, but they have not been shy about making their own contributions, some as extravagant as any foreigner’s, to stock images of their homeland.
Even before Victor Hugo described the Basques as “the people who sing and dance at the foot of the Pyrenees” – a cliche which makes many Basques apoplectic today-the region had become a magnet for professional and amateur seekers after exotic folklore and unique customs.
As “Europe’s aboriginals”, all things Basque were seized upon as ancient and original. Basque nationalism, a relatively recent invention, has avidly cultivated some of these stereotypes, stressing those aspects of culture which made the Basques distinct from the Spanish and the French.
However, archaeologists, anthropologists, folklorists and nationalists have not flourished here by accident. The Basque cultural landscape is fertile ground for their enterprises. The Basques are, indeed, one of the oldest, if not the oldest, European people. They have probably lived in their home place longer than other ethnic group on the continent.
Their language, Euskera, is not only non-Indo-European, but it has no clear family relationship with any other tongue. And Basques, on both sides of the Pyrenees, have kept alive a vibrant tradition of folk costumes, folk dances, folk sports and folk music which few other European peoples can match. But some things which appear old turn out to be relatively recent innovations, and some things which appear to be quintessentially Basque have their origins elsewhere.
What makes the Basque Country really fascinating is that a traditional culture persists in a heterogeneous society which today exudes a dynamic, if confusing and sometimes dangerous, post-modern energy. The reinvention of Bilbao-a project led by Basque nationalists-has become a cosmopolitan model for the twenty-first-century city ofcultural services and information technologies. The “Guggenheim effect” has sent ripples into the remotest Basque villages.
In fact, the Basques have long been at the cutting edge of Iberian history, culture and commerce: Basque kings were prominent in the wars against (and in alliances with) the Islamic caliphates; the Basque Juan Sebastian de Elcano was the first captain to circumnavigate the globe; Basque iron mines kick-started the Spanish industrial revolution. Bilbao is not only the womb of Basque nationalism; it was also a midwife to Spanish socialism, and the mother of an industrial and financial oligarchy.
Several of the leading writers of Spain’s literary “Generation of Ninety-Eight”, including Pio Baroja and Miguel de Unamuno, were Basques. The Basques have made less impact on France, though Henry III of Navarre, in becoming Henry IV of France, bequeathed the mixed legacy of religious peace and the Bourbon dynasty to the French nation. Yet many Basques today feel no identity with either Spain or France, and want independence, or something close to it. Many other Basques are content to be French or Spanish citizens, and some of them feel deeply threatened by Basque nationalism.
The physical landscape offers similar contrasts: it ranges from moist green valleys to semi-desert badlands, from frozen sierras to warm sandy beaches and tortuous coastal cliffs, from harsh industrial landscapes to bucolic beech woods and alpine meadows. In this book I have sought to offer a variety of points of entry to this diverse and plural culture; to explore its enigmas and contradictions, and to suggest something of the rich and complex enchantment it can weave over half a life-time. There are many kinds of Basqueness, and I have made no attempt here to be comprehensive or chronological. Some big and delightful cities like San Sebastian, worthy of full-length studies in themselves, are only mentioned in passing. One small village, Asteasu, gets most of a chapter.
Some writers and artists are treated in detail, others are omitted. Rather than an overall survey, I have sought to offer a series of intimate portraits, ranging from cultural, political and historical analysis to personal anecdotes. I hope that this approach, inevitably more than a little idiosyncratic, will reflect some of the pleasure, and a little of the heartbreak, that any close encounter with the Basque Country engenders.”
The Basque Country by Paddy Woodworth is published by Signal Books and Oxford University Press