Saturday, June 30, 2012


Just a short blog to share an email that popped into my inbox.  Before Joseba gave me my Kindle for Christmas, I was always looking for a good place to buy good books in English for a cheap price.  I found this place called Book Depository, which is an online book shop based out of England.  I was tickled pink, ordered 6 books and had them in 3 days!  I also signed up for the email, which I get from time to time that offers discounts and such, but have since started downloading books instead.

So, this email just popped up about 12 countries of books in 12 days!  Spain happened to be the first country on thier whirlwind tour of literature.  I am placing this LINK, not because I want you to buy books from across the pond and pay in pounds, no no, I am passing it on so you can check out some of the great books that come from here!  The Shadow of the Wind is quite famous, I'm sure most of you have heard about it or read it like me.  The Basque History of the World also makes the list of recommendable books and is one I would suggest too.  There are tons of books about Spanish history and some Basque books as well (although I wouldn't recommend trying to read in Basque!).

For all my fellow book lovers out there, take a gander and see if something catches your ojo and let me know!


Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Peter piper loves the Basque Country

Somehow when I decided to move abroad, I unknowingly picked an epicenter of delicious food.  From pintxos to cider houses to sheep cheese and squid, I can't seem to get tired of the scrumptous Basque food.

When my cousin Cathy and Grammy came to visit, Joseba whipped up a plate of one of his favorite dishes - a plain and simple plate of peppers.  But these aren't just any peppers, these are large and tasteful green peppers that you cook lightly with some extra virgin olive oil and then sprinkle with sea salt and eat just like that.  From a restaurant dish to a pintxo liking these peppers is a Basque requirement.  They are to die for but something my family had never seen before. 

Cathy loved them so much she wanted to plant some in her garden at home so we tried fruitlessly to find out what kind of peppers they were.  In Basque Country they are referred to as Gernika peppers, hailing from the famous town of Gernika.  However, we couldn't figure out what they were in English and she went home empty-handed. 

Just the other day, an article came across my laptop called 'A Guide to Peppers of the Basque Country' so I took a gander and sure enough, there they were - the infamous Gernika peppers or as we would call them Choricero peppers. 

As the article explains, peppers, which were brought home from the New World by the Basques in the 16th century are a staple in Basque cooking.  From seasoning of food (roasting peppers) to stuffed pepper dishes (the red choricero peppers) to the stand along green choricero peppers and their close relatives the guindilla peppers that are used for many pintxos, bars are peppered out! 

Like we are used to in the Southwest, people here also hang peppers out to dry - but to a much larger extent.  I have seen sides of houses almost completely covered in red peppers drying!  If the person doesn't have a whole side of a house, they atleast hang a strand or two out on thier patio!  And why wouldn't you?  They are little taste explosions!

I don't know readily available the green choricero peppers are at home nor how much they go for (quite a pretty euro here) but if you run across them, just buy a couple and try them out  - I can guarantee you won't regret it!


Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Le tren and le mountain en le French Basque Country

A few weekends back (I've been slacking on the blog upkeep, I know, sorry), we headed out on a mini-family vacation to the French Basque Country.  Joseba and I loaded up the car with delicious Spanish omelletes full of onions, peppers and ham and met up with his mother, brother, sis-in-law and our niece for the short roadtrip across the border.

Although we live literally only about 25 minutes from the Spain/France border, we rarely jump countries, which is a shame because the French side is gorgeous!  When you drive from Spain to France it's sort of the same feeling as driving across State lines - you don't even notice.  A bridge or a toll booth is how the border is here, but while the actual crossing seems like you hadn't changed countries at all, you note a difference immediately.  The houses all seem to turn white with red trim and red shutters.  The flowers seem to be more abundant in each roundabout.  The signs for upcoming cultural events at each exit are more detailed.  The small towns look more like provinical villages that you would see on a postcard or in a movie.  All in all, the French part of the Basque Country is adorable with a capital A.  I love it. 

The plan was to head to Larrun (La Rhune in French) for something I had seen advertised on the city bus for weeks - le petit tren de larrun.  A small wooden train that treks up one of the most important mountains in the Basque Country - Mt. Larrun - this train called its first 'all aboard' in 1924 and has been hauling people up and down the almost 3,000ft mountain.  With the original engineering, passengers of all ages ride up in the wooden cars pulled by a locomotive up a zipper-like track.  It's a shaky ride and slow (only about 6mph) up, but leaves time for taking in the views.  With wood from the region (roof from Pyreneean Firs, pine wood for the floor from Les Landes and chesnut panelling from another nearby French region), we sat down on the benches facing each other, excited to start the ride.  My niece, Irati, loved it and was all smiles as we passed gorgeous flowers (don't these look like blue bells except that they are purple?!), and the local stout ponies called pottoak - a Basque word for their breed.

In the French Basque dialect, Larrun translates to 'good land' - and with the rolling hills that you gaze down at, I think it was aptly named.  From the top you have a 360º view of the landscape - from San Sebastian out to the Bay of Biscay to the Pyrenees behind you and the Les Landes region of France up north.  The view is incredible, but being Basque Country is always threatened by the weather.  What was sunny weather soon left us on top of a cloud-shrouded mountain.  Before the clouds reached full misting power, we managed to check out some other areas of the peak. 

Famous for its many dolmens and stone cirlces and neolithic monuments, we found that  many people had taken rocks and spelt out messages - be it a love message, thier name or the unending support for the high-speed train that they are installing.  My sister-in-law and I wandered up ahead and by time the boys and mom got there, it looked as if I had worked really hard to make this rock formation for Joseba!  Hahaha, sure didn't!  It was just there, but we got a good laugh :)

With the clouds closing in, we went to wait in line for the train, and it being the last train of the afternoon it was packed, but my short little legs and the fact that I was carrying a baby helped me through the crowd and I managed to get us a carriage for the whole family!  The ride up offered stunning greens and swooping birds, but the ride down didn't boast much of a view seeing as we closed the red and white barber-shop striped curtains to block to strong wind and mist.

With a drastic weather change our plans were a bit shot, but we managed to keep on having a good time.  Iker, Ixaskun, Irati and Maixus had driven up in thieir camping van, so we were able to squeeze all of us and a table into the center part of the van to feast on our picnic - our omelletes, a tasty salad complete with bonito tuna fish and all, potatoe salad and what is called legia, which is Bleach in Spanish.  No no, we didn't drink bleach, but it is a name of a drink that is lemon soda mixed with beer, which gives you a refreshing drink perfect with any picnic! 

With the clouds still hanging we decided that shopping was the solution and until it stopped raining thats what we did.  By time we reached Hendaye, France on the way back it had cleared up a bit so we stopped off to walk along the beach.  With more than 2 miles of sandy coast, the most southwesternly city of France gets lots of tourists!  Just across the border, which is just an inlet of the Pacific is the town of Hondarribia where I used to work!  We walked from one end to the other, even Irati took some steps!  While not the sunniest day in Basque Country history, we managed to make a fun family day out of it and headed home beat!


Sunday, June 3, 2012

Queenie Day!

I am not sure how much the news is highlighting the Queen's Jubilee this weekend in the States, it seems to be all over and working with an English girl, I coudln't forget it was coming up.  Turns out, my workmate, Holly, got a surprise box on Friday - a box full of things to celebrate the Jubilee!

Her lovely sister had sent her the box with all the fixings for a lovely little party, like as if she were in England - masks of the Royal Family, Union Jack tissues and even a Jubilee cookbook!  Holly, very excited, posted the photo of the box of surprises on Facebook and soon after I suggested we wear the masks out to a bar to celebrate Queenie's day.  She upped the anty and suggested a lunch at her place where she would cook treats from her Jubilee cookbook and us girls could have the boys there too so that they could wear the masks and celebrate her Majesty too!

Joseba and I arrived dressed in British colors and ready to celebrate Elizabeth's 60 years!  Since Holly was throwing the party, we let her be the Queen, which meant her husband would be Phillip, which just left me with Kate Middleton and my hubby as Willy.  I found it a bit funny that although Charles was in the box, Camilla didn't make the cut.   Turns out us Americans aren't the only ones who don't like her!

Having read a bit online, it seems that this day is one that will go down in history in England - massive boat parades, horse-drawn carriages, people caming around London to get a peek of the Queen as she celebrates so many years as the head monarch.  The national spirit seems to be so high, and hearing Holly talk about it, you can tell that she kind of wants to be there.  It may be silly, celebrating the Queen's Day with masks and little picnic treats, but I completely understand what it is like to miss your country on special days like this.

The only day in the whole time I have been over here that I really wish I had been home was the day at Barack got elected.  For the States it was such a big event, one for the history books, and I missed it.  I think that for my generation it will be one of those days that you will remember what you were doing when it was announced that he would be the next President.  Or where you were when he gave his inauguration speech.  I was teaching 3 children, Maria, Nestór and Jon, and remember being so sad I was missing such a special event.  So hopefully, when Holly looks back on her missing the Diamond  Jubilee, she will remember dining on her tasty salads (one with garlicy tomatoes, one with yummy potatoes and one with duck - all equally delish), nachos and her sausages in little flaky crusts.  And while she didn't have the Union Jack toppings for her cupcakes, the Buckingham Palace guards that marched around her cupcake wrappers did the trick.

Muxu for the Queen!

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Speaking your way to smartness

A couple of months ago, the NY Times ran an article that I found particularly interesting.  Titled The Benefits of Bilingualism it explains why people who speak more than one language, on top of being able to communicate effectively with more people, are smarter. 

If that's the case, the I am surrounded by a pretty intelligent population.  With Basque and Spanish as official languages in the Basque Country, these people are constantly switching back and forth between the two.  You don't need Basque to get by here, but anyone who speaks Basque as their first language has learned Spanish just as well too.  And even the Spanish speakers who don't speak Basque can get by with some vocab and phrases. 

Some time ago, researchers believed that trying to use two languages would only confuse children who were simultaneously learning two different tongues.  However, recent research has shown just the opposite - that having to constantly be thinking about what you're saying is like a great exercise plan for your brain.  Staying focused while doing meaneal tasks such as speaking conditions your brain to be a better problem-solver and better use functions involved in planning, doing complicated tasks and so on.
Below is an excerpt of the article which speaks to the type of tests that have been done to reach the results about bilingualism helping not hurting children:

In a 2004 study by the psychologists Ellen Bialystok and Michelle Martin-Rhee, bilingual and monolingual preschoolers were asked to sort blue circles and red squares presented on a computer screen into two digital bins — one marked with a blue square and the other marked with a red circle.
In the first task, the children had to sort the shapes by color, placing blue circles in the bin marked with the blue square and red squares in the bin marked with the red circle. Both groups did this with comparable ease. Next, the children were asked to sort by shape, which was more challenging because it required placing the images in a bin marked with a conflicting color. The bilinguals were quicker at performing this task. 

Obviously starting a second language at a young age has positive affects throughout your whole lifetime, but learning one at an older age helps just as much and is said to help prevent dementia!

Throughout the world, people have taken note of the benefits of speaking more than your native tongue and bilingual schools, called immersion schools, have popped up around the globe.  For example, where I work, the classes are taught in English although the students speak Basque and Spanish.  They learn math, social studies and science in my language, because immersing yourself in a language has a better effect than just studying it an hour a week.  Same as the in the States where your kids can study and go to school in Chinese or German.  

After having lived in Europe for some time now, it kind of becomes embarassing that us Americans, for the most part, only speak 1 language.  In Europe, people speak at least 2 and in some places many more.  My friend Emma speaks 7!  And when I say 7, I mean she speaks all 7 well.  If you go to Germany or Sweden you don't even have to worry about speaking their language because everyone speaks just as good of English as you.  Not only have these speakers learned in a classroom but they also watch American films in the original version, see our TV series and read books in the language that they were written.  It's very impressive!

The Basques are constantly jumping between their own language and Spanish.  I find myself doing the same with English and Spanish.  And from that develops Spanglish that we know so well in the States.  And here, I don't know what you could call it - Basquish?  But if you listen to a Basque conversation you will hear quite a bit of Spanish peppered in, and if you're speaking in Spanish it's not odd to throw in a Basque connector word.

To give your brain a little workout, here is a quiz that I use with some of my private students to engage both Spanish and English at the same time.  At 14 he is already on his 3rd language!  It makes you wonder, if speaking 2 languages makes you smarter, what does the 3rd and 4th do?!  Happy studying!