Yesterday was a day I’ll long remember. It first began with a hair-cut by Jose’s friend Elisa. She cut my hair and styled it as a favor to Jose. Her shop was upstairs with orange and green painted walls, with lots of mirrors. I liked what she did with my hair, but when Jose saw me he said it looked better before. Ha! Later, it fell out a bit, and looked more natural. It is a good hair-cut.
Then Jose took me on a drive up to the Basque Ullibarri-Gamboa mountain area where we stopped near a dam (which provides water to Vitoria) at a restaurant. I remember a boy at Lake Jr. High and West High School in Denver called Johnny Ullibarri, and now I realize his family must have originated from the Basque area of Spain.
But let’s get back on the road again, for the next stop was at Salinas De Lentz, a small village and a restaurant called Arrate. It was there that I trusted Jose to pick out a typical Basque-type lunch, which, by the way, is usually late in the afternoon.
The tiny restaurant was full of men, and only two women. We had a reservation, or there would not have been a seat for us.
Jose spoke to the waitress who was wearing a shiny silver and black dress, with lots of bling on her wrist. Jose tends to make everyone laugh, and she was no exception. I didn’t know what he was asking, but when she left, he informed me that the first course he ordered for me was a crab soup. The waitress brought a big bowl and a soup scooper and began pouring it into my bowl. Jose told me I needed to tell her when to stop. Well, after the bowl was full, it was almost too late to tell her.
I enjoyed the soup, and next was a dish of beef stomach in a tomato-type sauce, after which came the surprise of my life; a black dish with black sauce and some small black puffy things floating in the sauce. They were octopus-stuffed tentacles in their own ink. Well, hmm, isn’t there a first time for everything? Then I had flan.
We walked around the tiny village of stone houses, narrow roads and a large church, and one hotel. From where we stood we could see a church in the distance where Jose and his former wife were married. We drove there and Jose found mushrooms on the grounds and picked a paper bag full of them.
When we arrived back to Vitoria, Jose had heard there would be a group of ‘couch surfers’ meeting up at a popular out-door and in-door bar. We ordered a glass of cider and watched people for awhile and standing nearby were two college aged kids. Gonzalo turned to me and asked if we were part of the couch surfing folks. I said yes and asked them to sit down with us. We didn’t find any others, however, his friend Laura found a group of theater people and she spent a bit of time with them. Laura and Gonzalo are both exchange students in the local college from Mexico. Both speak English. Gonzalo has black wavy hair and brown-black eyes; a handsome lad, indeed. Laura has smooth peaches and cream complexion and long brunette hair. Both were delightful to spend time with.
There was plenty of local character in the crowd; Jose spotted a well-known chess player. He was a large man with a bushy long beard, and wearing a hat over long hair. You could almost see his face. Then there were younger people smoking pot, families with little kids, and people of all generations and walks of life. Jose agreed it was a very popular place for people of all kinds to meet up. He was right.
After awhile, when Laura came back to us; Jose announced it was time to leave and go somewhere else. Somewhere else was a crowded bar, with a crowd of people inside and just as many people standing outside in front of the bar. It was there where we met Elisa, who joined the four of us. Elisa doesn’t speak English. After a glass of cider we moved on to another place, also full of people inside and outside, as well.
Ane, another one of Jose’s friends (all day long and on into the night he ran into people he knew) joined us. She is from Granada and spoke English.
Ane explained that what we were experiencing was called Pintxo – a Basque tradition where a snack is eaten in bars or taverns while hanging out with friends or relatives. For one euro you could order a drink and a Pintxo would accompany it. They were small items served with a toothpick to hold it in place. The first one was a mushroom on a piece of toast. Jose wanted to find out how the mushrooms were cooked, but couldn’t get the answer from the cook.
Our group of six moved on to several other places for other tastes of Pintxo’s. “This takes place every Thursday,” Ane told me. “Not on Friday, but maybe again on Saturday,” she said. It’s a social event that happens every week. Ane said she doesn’t go out every time because she works and goes to school so she needs her sleep. However, she wasn’t working on Friday so she went out to the Pintoxo and found Jose and the five of us.
Our spontaneous friendly group were having a great time together. The two college kids hung out with us for a long time, until they got phone calls about where some of their friends were and they left to join them. The four of us went to one more place and then we parted.
“The party lasts until two or three in the morning,” Ane told me. So I’m certain Gonzalo and Laura watched the sun come up.
Today I’m moving on to a hotel in the center of the old town where I’ll be for a few more days. There’s more to discover with the Basque people.
By the way, Basque is spoken more in the mountains in more isolated places, but it is spoken in the city by a few people. Signage in the city are bilingual. The Basque language is totally different from Spanish, and for as long as one thousand years, no one has found the origin of it.
I will miss the dynamic, funny, thoughtful man, Jose.