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Jaialdi 2010 Basque For Beginners

A guide to getting your Basque on during Jaialdi


Anyone who grew up in Boise is privy to one indisputable fact: Basques know how to party. Whether they're dancing jotas, drinking kalimotxos or eating croquetas, Basque people live it up with an unrivaled zeal. That's why for Jaialdi 2010—a massive quinquennial Basque festival that runs from Tuesday, July 27, through Sunday, Aug. 1, and is expected to draw 35,000-40,000 people to Boise—we're bringing you the unofficial guide to Basque culture, a Basque for Dummies, if you will. We've got a rundown on how to drink, eat, dance, speak and play sports like the Basques. So, study up; the pop quiz is on the streets. And it'll come five drinks deep, when you least expect it.

Edateko (Drinking)

Red wine and Coca Cola—the drink of the gods meets the drink of the masses. Though at first blush, this combo sounds like a botched high school stab at mixing whatever is in your parents' fridge, it is, in fact, one of the most well-known Basque cocktails, the kalimotxo (callie-MO-cho).

Served over ice with a 50/50 Coke-to-cheap-red-wine ratio, the kalimotxo is a popular drink among Basque youth, who often mix up a batch while gathered on the streets for the pre-party tradition, botellon (bow-TIE-ohn). And though you're not going to feel as fresh as a daisy after a night of drinking gut-rot red wine with a sugary carbonated fizz, these refreshing little headaches will be thrust into your hot hands at Jaialdi faster than you can say "eskerrik asko" (es-KARI-gaas-go, thank you).

"Kalimotxo is definitely the most popular [drink we sell]," said Matthew Mayer, a server at the Basque Block eatery Bar Gernika. "We also sell a Basque cider, it's a dry cider. A lot of people when they order it, they expect something sweeter, like an Ace Pear Cider."

That dry cider, or sagardo, is a good booze option for those with less of a sweet tooth. The non-sparkling, low-alcohol beverage (4-6 percent) is generally consumed soon after it has been produced at sagardotegi, or Basque cider houses. If it's not poured directly from a barrel, sagardo is served with the bottle held high in the air above the glass to aerate it.

This aerating tradition is also instrumental in serving another Basque hooch staple: Txakoli (CHALK-o-lee). This light green, slightly effervescent white wine is frequently poured from above in small portions known as txikito (cheek-EE-toe), and the wine often accompanies pintxos (PEEN-chose), or Basque tapas. Much like the dry, effervescent Portuguese white wine, vinho verde, txakoli is swiftly making its name stateside as a refreshing summer drink.

For the more experimental, there's the ever-popular Basque booze bomb picon punch. Served on the rocks with pecan liqueur, grenadine and soda water with a float of brandy and a twist of lemon, picon punch is more well-known among the French Basques than the Spanish Basques, though you'll still find it on the menu at both Leku Ona and the Basque Center.

Jateko (eating)

The txikiteo (chee-kee-TAY-o), or pintxos crawl, is a large part of the Basque socializing experience. In cities large and small throughout the Basque country, friends move from bar to bar, sipping small pours of wine, beer or cider and scarfing down an array of Basque tapas. The pintxos are usually set out on the bar counter on platters, sometimes with giant, dripping pigs' legs hanging nearby. Patrons grab a plate and load it up with whatever tapas look appealing—seafood, fried morsels, meats, cheeses, olives—then they pay per item.

"Txikiteo is going from one little bar to the next and they have the txikitos, which is a small wine, like 2 to 3 ounces," said Tara McElhose-Eiguren, co-owner of the Basque Market. "Then you can get maybe a little bit to eat there and then you go to the next place, and that's basically how you get to see all your friends."

Some of the more popular pintxos you'll find the Basque Market serving up during Jaialdi include tortilla (Basque omelet), a quiche-like egg wedge filled with potatoes, onions and often pimento peppers; croquetas, deep fried flour balls with various fillings including cod, chicken and cheese with piquillo peppers; and assorted bocadillos, or mini sandwiches. In addition to hand-rolling 38,000 croquetas, the Basque Market also has a few other culinary surprises in store for Jaialdi.

"We're going to be making paella every few hours during the busy times," said McElhose-Eiguren. "We're also going to be doing lots of the [frozen] white sangria ... during the busier hours we'll pull out more tapas and have more variety."

Another Basque food staple is chorizo: sausage made from coarsely chopped pork, pork fat, peppers, garlic and salt. Chorizos vary throughout the different regions of Spain (and Mexico) depending on the type of pork, the spices and how the chorizos are cured.

"They use lots of paprika, which is Spanish, we use the pepper in the Basque country, the choricero, we call it," said Ramon Barquin, executive chef at Leku Ona. "We let it dry and we use it for the chorizo we make in the Basque country ... In Mexico, they use the ancho, a different pepper."

For the more adventurous Basque eaters, a popular jet-black Basque delicacy is squid served in its own ink. For an idea of how special this dish is, note that it takes a whopping 2 pounds of baby squid to produce just one-half teaspoon of ink. Leku Ona carries this creepy—but delicious—plate on its full dinner menu.

"We stew the squid with onions, green bell peppers, tomatoes until the squid is tender. We puree the rest and add the black ink," explained Barquin.

Another trippy Basque treat served up on Saturdays at Gernika is beef tongue, prepared in a rich tomato and garlic piperade base. Because of the sheer number of people flooding the Basque Block for Jaialdi, Gernika will be condensing its menu, which might temporarily mean no beef tongue.

"We're scaling down our menu, because we know it's going to be super, super busy, so if you do come down and you're missing one of your favorite things on the menu, know that it's just gone temporarily," said Gernika server Matthew Mayer. "We have to streamline our prep work so we can make sure we have enough food for the amount of people who are here."

Dantzan (dancing)

If you've waltzed down the Basque Block in the summertime, you've likely seen a number of teens and adults grasping hands, tapping feet, snapping fingers and shouting in the middle of the street. The Oinkari (oh-inn-CAR-ee) Basque dancers, who are celebrating their 50th anniversary, are a group of local dancers with Basque heritage who frequently perform around town. Dressed in traditional garb—white slacks and shirts with red hats and sashes for the men and flowing red or green skirts and nubby knee-high white socks for the ladies—the Oinkari perform an array of folk dances from a variety of Basque country provinces.

"The two popular dances are going to be the jota (HOE-tah) and the porrusalda (POUR-oo-sal-dah)," explained Oinkari President Tyler Smith. "Basically there's different types and each group has their own jota and porrusalda. [Ours is] a three-part jota, meaning that there's three different steps and you typically do them two to three times."

According to the North American Basque Organizations, Basque dances are split into three basic categories: the romerias, or open-air dances, sword dances and end of festival dances, which wrap up feast days and carnival festivities. One of the most well-known Basque dances is the dantzari dantza or jantzari jantza, which is danced throughout many of the Basque provinces on the evening of a feast day.

But Basque dancing isn't only for the well-trained. At big celebrations like Jaialdi, you can expect to be swept into a conga line-like frenzy of shuffling feet and whirling partners. But those with two left oinak (feet) needn't worry. One of the popular festival dances you're likely to see at Jaialdi is the jautzi, similar in nature to the American square dance.

"There are different festival dances, basically, one of them is what we call jautzi dances which are the call dances," said Smith. "Probably one of the most popular ones is zaspi jautzi. That is a call dance so people playing the song will actually call and tell you what steps to do."

But should you care to prepare for the moment you find yourself face-to-face, grasping hands with a smiling Basque amuma (ah-MOO-mah, grandma), check out the helpful Basque dancing video tutorials at the North American Basque Organizations website.

Hitz (Speaking)

The Basque language, for all of its unpronounceable k's and x's, is the glue that holds the Basque culture together. Officially called Euskara, the Basque language is the last remaining pre-Indo European language in Western Europe. Though the language had to slink underground during Spanish dictator Francisco Franco's reign from 1936-1975, there's a new generation of Basques who are sending their kids to Basque language preschools, like the Boiseko Ikastola, to preserve their cultural heritage.

And while we can't explain the first thing about how the Basque language works, we did have some Basque experts translate a few key phrases you'll need for Jaialdi. A word to the wise: pronouncing any of these phrases even moderately correct might land you in a bar stool next to a rosy-cheeked old Basque dude as he explains every last detail of his childhood growing up in the old country. In Basque.

Hello. Kaixo.

Goodbye. Agur.

Yes/No. Bai/Ez.

How are you? Zer moduz?

I'm wonderful. Oso ondo.

I'm drunk. Mozkortuta nago.

Where are you from? Nongoa zara?

I'm from Boise. Boise-koa naiz.

How is your family? Zer moduz familia?

Where is the bathroom? Non dago komuna?

How much for a kalimotxo? Zenbat balio du kalimotxo batek?

Take your hands off my drink! Ez ukitu nire edaria!

Can I have a pull off your bota bag? Zatoa pasatzen?

My drink is not strong enough. Edari hau ez da nahiko sendoa.

Put this drink on his/her tab. Berak ordainduko du edari hau.

My grandma could dance you under the table. Nire amumak zuk baino mila aldiz hobeto dantzatzen du.

I did not order the beef tongue. Ez dut mingaina eskatu.

I have squid ink in my eye. Txipiroi tinta dut begian.

That is a fine-looking sheep. Bai ardi ederra.

The Boise Weekly is amazing. Boise Weekly apartakoa da.

Jolaztu (Playing)

Basque sports tend toward minimalism. Esku is one of many varieties of pelota (ball), all played on a regulation 36-meter court. Esku is the most basic form, requiring only a leather ball that's a bit smaller than a baseball with a solid core.

"The object of the game is similar to that of racquetball or squash," explained Edu Sarria, member of the Boise Fronton Association. "The ball has to hit the front wall. It can hit the side wall first if it wants, but it has to hit the front wall at least every time and then you get one bounce to reach the wall ... You score points on every point, not like side-out volleyball."

The sport's other varieties all have to do with different paleta (paddle) and ball sizes. Paleta goma, for example, is the style most frequently played in Boise that utilizes a hard rubber ball and a paddle.

Other variations of Basque pelota include the well-known jai alai, which is played on a larger court and uses an elongated xistera (chees-TARE-ah, hand basket), and baleen—popular among women—which uses a thin, wide paddle with a super bouncy ball.

Because only 50 or so people can fit on the Boise pelota court—which is located in the Fronton Building, at 619 Grove St., and is 6 meters smaller than regulation courts--the Jaialdi games will be simulcast at the Basque Center a few buildings down.

"We've aligned our court so that it looks like a 36-meter court, it feels like a 36-meter court, all of the lines are equidistant from one another, but it's six meters shorter," explained Sarria.

Another popular Basque sport, one that is perhaps the most baffling to Westerners, is stone-lifting. According to John Arrieta, weight lifter and Eusko Karolk board member, the sport is rooted in necessity.

"From what they understand, in the old country, it's one of our oldest sports, if not the oldest," said Arrieta. "All the houses and cathedrals and everything is made from stone, so in order to build them up, you have to lift it in place. You also have stone pulling in the old country, by man and animals, and they still do that as sport. They didn't have forklifts and cranes and stuff."

Stone lifting is one of many Basque rural sports (herri kirolak)—which include stone pulling, wood chopping, hay bale tossing and wagon lifting—that measure strength and endurance. To be a champion lifter, you have to be able to hoist 220-550 pound rocks as many times in a row as possible.

"In competition, a person is given a type of stone of whatever dimension and whatever weight and given a period of time to see how many times they can lift that up to their shoulder and back again," said Arrieta. "They drop it on the ground and then they do it again."

Agur (Goodbye)

Now that you know pintxos from pelotas and porrusaldas, we hope you take this newfound Basque-pertise and use it to make Boise's thousands of out-of-town guests feel more at home during Jaialdi. Or, at the very least, we hope you've learned how to properly slur out an order for a kalimotxo to wash down your chorizo. Baby steps.


Sometimes, a party is so good, it takes on a life of its own, growing and evolving into a whole new being. That's exactly what happened to Jaialdi.

It started in 1987 as a one-time weekend festival held at the Old Idaho State Penitentiary, and a way for Basques in the area to get together. But it went off so well that three years later, then Gov. Cecil Andrus asked that the local Basque community put on another celebration to help mark Idaho's centennial in 1990.

It was at that point that a tradition was born.

"We had so many friends getting together, we thought we should do this every five years," said Dave Eiguren, a Jaialdi board member since the first celebration.

By 1995, the event had outgrown the Old Pen and had to be moved to the fairgrounds at Expo Idaho. Now, it's regarded as the largest gathering of Basques in the world, and organizers expect it will draw between 35,000 and 40,000 people to Boise for the one-week event.

The success of the event is credited largely to the fact that the primary focus of the festival is fun.

"It's not political at all," Eiguren said. "It's all fun. The city is easy to get around and it's friendly and it's reasonable to get here.

"We didn't build the festival to make money," he said. "We built it to have fun first."In fact, Eiguren points out that event prices haven't changed since 1987.

Beyond drawing Basques from across the country, Jaialdi provides those from the Basque region the perfect excuse to visit friends and relatives in the United States. This year, two planes have been chartered to bring revelers from Europe, including several groups of dancers and traditional athletes.

Of course, Basque lineage is not required to appreciate Jaialdi.

"It's gotten to be less Basque and more friends," Eiguren said with a laugh.

"Everyone has their own definition of 'Jaialdi,'" he said. "Some love the [Catholic] mass. Some love the drinks. Some people love the dancing ... it shows you can be Basque and you can be American and people don't know the difference. They're all Basque for the week."

--Deanna Darr