Jose picked me up from the bus station in Vitoria, the Spanish Basque country, yesterday and gave me the traditional kiss on both cheeks. He is a dynamic fellow who has traveled in many parts of the world. He’s informed about the world’s politics and culture and has proof his varied interests from the photos and art work on the walls in his home. And, best of all…he’s a great cook.
He is rushing around every day with many projects, including traveling to Africa on Saturday. I leave on Friday. Jose is one of the Couch Surfing opportunities I applied for and was chosen to be hosted for four nights.
I have learned much about the political and cultural history of the Basque Vitoria City and following here is a summary: Vitoria was founded in 1181 by King Sancho VI of Navarre, and it was called the city of Gasteiz Nueva Vitoria.
Then in the ninetieth century, came that little guy named Napoleon, who was defeated at the gates of Vitoria in 1813.
“During the years of Basque culture greatly suffered during the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s. Francisco Franco and his fascist party wanted to rid Spain of all heterogeneity. The Basque people were targeted harshly. Franco banned the speaking of Basque. The Basques lost all political autonomy and economic rights. Many Basques were imprisoned or killed. Franco ordered a Basque town, Guernica, to be bombed by the Germans in 1937. Several hundred civilians died. Picasso painted his famous “Guernica” to demonstrate the horror of war. When Franco died in 1975, the Basques received much of their autonomy again, but this did not satisfy all Basques,” from a website.
Fast forward to present Vitoria, it is characterized by its green and sustainable nature and was named, “European Green Capital 2012”.
Today, the government has brought back the Basque language into the schools, and all children are required to learn it.
Jose has memories of growing up in the town, and one of those memories he pointed out on a street we took a late night walk on: “When I was a kid, and before this became a closed street and a walking mall, the rich walked over on that side, and the regular folks on this side.”
We strolled all over the “Old Town” which is almond shaped streets with medieval architect, that I just can’t get enough of. We went to a coffee house and saw his mother and about six of her ‘cronies’ who drank coffee, talked and laughed up a storm. They were all around eighty years old and were having their daily very noisy social time. Jose said the ladies get together sometimes more than one time every day.
Three of the ladies came over to our table and hugged and kissed Jose, as one of their favorite sons. He obviously enjoyed the attention the ladies pay him, and seems to deserve it from what I have observed.
Today I walked back from Jose’s place to the center of the Medieval Old Town and sat in a town square where Napoleon was noted to have fought. Amazing to me that I could be sitting at the same place so many years later.