Thursday, November 11, 2010

Life without it possible?

Living here, I have become quite accostumed to good wine.  Just a stone's throw away sits the famous Spanish wine region - La Rioja, so a good bottle of wine doesn't really cost more than 3€ or 4€ ($5 or $6).  When we go out for pintxos or take strolls around town and stop in at a bar to warm up, we normally order a wine.  Funny thing is that it costs MORE for a bottle of water here than a glass of wine.  It's like they WANT you to drink the wine, which I buy into easily.  In my apartment, we normally share bottles of wine during the week and usually have a glass each during dinner.  It's a part of life here and has become a part of my life too, but unfortunatley this week...its not!

This week I have a doctor's prescription which highly advises that I don't drink alcohol - or else I might end up puking everywhere.  So, for 10 days, I am not allowed a single drop of wine!  Unbelievable.  It's not really THAT bad, but I guess it makes me take a step back and appreciate the delicious wine I am so accustomed to.  Recognized as the Premier Wine Region in Spain, the Rioja region has been home to vineyeards since the 11th century BC when the Phoenicians settled in the area after traveling up the Ebro River.  Centuries later, the Romans conquered the area and started setting up bodegas all around to supply and sustain the troops.  I read that a 75,000 liters (19,813 gallons) container was unearthed in the region...obviously proving the Romans had some pretty thirsty soldiers!

The reputation of Rioja wine grew in the Middle Ages as pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago trekked through the region on thier way to Santiago, Spain.  When in la Rioja, they of course tested various wines.  With its growing popularity, the wine-makers started to look for ways to spread thier product around and begin shipping bottles to the Basque Country.  Being a very important port area, Rioja wines were able to reach Dutch and English wine merchants, and so the popularity for Spanish wine began to grow.

Once wine-makers learned of oak aging barrels, the shelf-life of the wine was stretched.  This made it possible for the grape juice to find its way all the way to Cuba and Central America.  When epidemics hit Galician and Bordeaux bodegas, the Rioja region capitalized on the situation and supplied the high wine demand with thier wines.

After such a great period of success the Rioja was depleted of any vines after WWII when the country was famished and the government ordered the grapes to be replaced with wheat to feed the Spainairds.  Finally, in the 1960s, the vines were replanted and the wine-makers began to experiment with aging, grapes, etc and made a new and improved Rioja wine, that I happen to appreciate every time I take a sip.

Knowing all this, it really makes you want to have a nice glass of wine no?  Well, you guys go ahead...and I will too, in 10 days! 

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Bits of Basque

As you know, I signed up this year to learn Basque - one of the so-called most difficult languages in the world to learn.  It's coming along and I feel I am picking it up quite well.  I can feasibly read some things and recognize vocabulary all over town, but am still of course embarassed to speak! 

I go to class with my roommate and we study together from time to time, but I have also bought an extra book of activities that I do on my own and when I see Joseba he corrects them and we go over them together.  Two weeks ago, when I was learning how to say things like 'This is a pencil.  That's a door.  That's not a window, that's a table.' we did some oral practicie - him asking me about things and me having to answer.  The best was when he asked me 'Is this a language school?' and my answer should have been 'No, this isn't a language school, its a house' but in the end, it was both haha!  It makes me laugh, because they are such elemental things, yet I get so excited when I learn a new vocabulary word or can say a more complicated phrase.  I guess that makes me a geek huh?

I am so into it that I have even made myself some flashcards for the vocabulary words.  Seeing as I have a 45-minute bus ride both to and from work, I try to use the time wisely and quiz myself on the bus.  It makes the journey go a bit quicker!

I was passing over my notes today on the bus and realized that for only a month and a few days, I have learned quite a lot.  Not only vocab and grammar, but also some things of the language that I found interesting that I thought you guys might like to learn about.  So here goes...

Days of the Week (aste):
M - Astelehena (translation = first of the week)
T - Asteartea (translation = middle of the week)
W - Asteazkena (translation = last of the week)
Th - Osteguna  F - Ostirala  S - Larunbata  Su - Igandea
So, as you see the first three days of the Basque week follow a pattern.  We learned that this is because before Romans tooks over the area, Basques believed in a 3-day week.  The 4 other days were merely added to keep up with the Joneses. 

Basque numbers go in quite different way than our numbers.  Until 29, the numbers go regularly.  However when you get to 30, instead of having a specific number for 30, you say 20 and 10.  For 31 it would be 20 with 11.  Making sense?  I think its quite difficult.  Here, I'll attempt to show you a little of what I mean.
1 - bat, 2 - bi, 3- hiru, 4 - lau..............10 - hamar
11 - hamaika, 12 - hamabi, 13 - hamahiru, 14 - hamalau
20 - hogei, 21 - hogeitabat, 22 - hogeitabi, 23 - hogeitahiru
30 - hogeita hamar,  31 - hogeita hamaika, 32 - hogeita hamabi
40 - here it changes for the next 20 numbers - berrogei, 41 - berrogeita bat, 42 - berrogeita bi

Kind of see a pattern?  I totally underSTAND it but let me tell you, I find it quite hard and always do a little stuttering when someone asks me to say 76 or 92 or some big number! 

Word Formation:
aberatsa = rich -- loosely translated to mean the one who has the animal.  Because this is quite an old language, the people who used to have the animals were the wealthy ones.  Now spoken in the 21st century, some words still show how old language really is.

idaz = word -- from this we get two jobs.  The first is idazlea which translates to mean a fan of words (like being a fan of baseball...but instead, words).  If you're a big fan of words, that makes you a writer!  The other job with this word is idazkaria which means someone who works with words - which becomes a secretary!  As you can see, the suffix changes the word - which is something I am slowly learning to accept.

Basque is just like English
One of the very few things that I can relate from English to Basque is the possessive.  In Spanish, they don't have this 's function like we do.  Steve's book, Laura's car, etc.  Instead, in Spanish you must say the book of Steve or the car of Laura, which gets lengthy.  To my surprise, Basque works like English in this sense.  At the end of someone's name, you put the suffix -ren and it means the same as 's.  For example:
Liburua Steveren da.   or    Kotxe Lauraren da.  or   Hazel Amandaren amona da. 
Granted, the word order is much different, but hooooray something that me, the one English speaker in class can relate to! 

Well, after my flashcards on the bus, my homework when I got back and now this blog, I am Basque-ed out.  In 8 1/2 hours I have class, so I think I will close out this blog and rest up for more Euskera!  But, before I go, I will leave you with a little saying we learned in class:  'Eroriz ikasten da oinez' which means 'you can only learn to walk by falling down'.  One month in, I am still falling down of course - more like tripping all over the place - but am happily in the process of learning this language!

Muxu bat! (A kiss)