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In his own neighborhood nearly every home had a representative in California. The young men go away at the age of seventeen, and return some dozen years or so later with a comfortable little fortune acquired in sheep-raising. Whenever one returns, another leaves for America in his place. The nouveau riche pays off the family debts and sets up a well-furnished home of his own, with many of the comforts of modern times.
The Basque emigrant drifts naturally into the sheep industry of our Western ranges, for the mountainous district of his own country is truly a land of green pastures. The sheep are driven to the hills in March, to remain until October. Twice during the season they are brought back for the shearing. Some owners have as many as a thousand head. Young cattle are also taken to the summer feeding-grounds, the surplus stock being sold in the autumn because of the shortage of winter-forage crops. Pasturage is free for members of the commune, but even to outsiders the price is only five or six sous per head for the season. Rural occupations have a dignity of their own in this pastoral country. The lines of the national song of the Basques ring as true to-day as when they were written centuries ago, proclaiming:
For noble on our mountains is he who yokes the ox,
And equal to a monarch, the shepherd of the flocks.
Aside from the sheep industry, with its valuable products of wool and cheese, the Pays Basque is a country of small farms, raising just sufficient crops for home consumption. There are apples, -sometimes shipped to Normandy for cider-making, pears, peaches, apricots, cherries, chestnuts, walnuts, grapes, hay, corn, and wheat in abundance. Along the sea-coast, fishing is still a favorite occupation.
On the French side of the Pyrenees I found the typical Basque house to be two stories and a half high, with widely projecting eaves and gently sloping roof lines. The main doorway is surmounted by a round arch, leading sometimes into the living quarters of the donkey, the
cow, the pig, and the chickens, with a staircase at the rear of the gloomy interior mounting to the rooms of the family above. Brass knockers are common, usually in the shape of a hand holding a round ball. The following inscription, carved on the stones above the doorway of a house in St.-Jean, gives an interesting side-light on the property rights of women in this region more than a century ago:
"Jean de Ste. Marie et Marie Doxarain Conjoints1 Mes de la Présente Maison 1767"
In the kitchen the great chimney, with its spacious fireplace, is the center of attraction. It projects well into the room, with the hearthstone raised a few inches from the floor, giving an opportunity for people to sit around three sides of the fire. The room is filled with strange contrasts, for electricity now furnishes light for even the humblest homes, although the stately row of brass candlesticks still ornaments the mantel, and the enormous copper caldrons and shining stew-pans contribute a note of brilliant, dazzling color.
It would be unfair to give the impression that the Basque of to-day is at all provincial, since he is very up-to-date in many particulars, although he still clings fondly to some of the customs of his ancestors. The annual “jour férié” of one of the smaller villages gave me an excellent opportunity to study the inroads of modern ideas, and was quite a different experience from the weekly market-day.
This celebration at Uhart-Cize always takes place in the latter part of August and lasts for three days. It is held on the pelota-grounds, by the side of the churchyard. Upon my arrival I found several hundred spectators, men as well as women, seated on the walls, or standing around three sides of the field, all holding huge black umbrellas as a protection from the blazing sun. There had been no rain for weeks, and the pelota-court was so dry that the flying feet of the forty couples who danced continually raised a cloud of dust which almost hid them from view, but did not interfere with the interest of the multi
tude. The orchestra, consisting of seven pieces, two flutes, three horns, and two drums, with cymbals, was mounted on an improvised platform, resting on huge wine-barrels. It furnished music for the waltz, polka, schottische, mazurka, and quadrille. No fox-trot, one-step, or kindred modern dances were tolerated, and the absence of jazz music was refreshing.
All the musicians wore Basque shoes and caps, and had discarded superfluous collars. But among the spectators were several young women whose dress, from modish hat to dainty shoes, followed the latest dictates of fashion. One said she was a student in medicine at Paris, another at the Ecole des Beaux Arts. A typical young Basque told me he had. one year more to complete his studies at the Ecole Normale at Pau, while a stalwart youth with red hair answered my inquiries in my own tongue, declaring that his father was an Englishman, his mother a Basque, and that he himself had been, for several years previous to the war, a chef in one of New York's famous restaurants.
The strong family resemblance which I noted among the Basques is doubtless the result of long years of intermarriage. Marriage outside the race is becoming more common, but even the younger members of this generation consider such a step seriously and regard it as a transgression of the traditions of their people. The remark of a young bride who observed to me, "I never thought I should marry a Frenchman," hints at the self-sufficiency which is characteristic of the Basques. A wealthy textile manufacturer told me that his own mother was English, but his earnest advice to his eldest son, educated in the exclusive schools of England, was not to fall in love with an English girl, but to reserve his affections for some one in his native land. Slowly, but surely, however, the Basque blood is losing its purity, but who can say that the rest of the world will not be enriched thereby?
The great pervading principles of this liberty-loving people, trained by centuries of self-government to be freemen in spirit and not in name alone, have always been a love of justice and rever
Toilers of the sea bearing a single net, hundreds of yards in length, which they unwind, man after man, spreading it out to dry on the railing of the bridge
ence for law. "They were the Tyrolese of Spain, lambs in the hour of peace, yet lions in the field. With them the household charities and patriotism went hand in hand. In them the bravest yet the kindest spirit, the mildest yet the proudest virtues, were combined." So wrote an enthusiastic English traveler half a century ago. The Basques of to-day, although shorn of their ancient rights and privileges, still manifest the characteristic virtues of their forefathers. The spirit and traditions of his fatherland cling to the Basque wherever he wanders, causing him to contribute a wholesome element to our modern civilization.
With genuine regret I bade farewell to the narrow streets and arched gateways of St.-Jean-Pied-de-Port, with its beautiful encircling hills. As I paid my hotel bill, I was surprised to find not a taxe de luxe, but a discount of one franc per day. This unusual entry, my landlady naïvely explained, was because I was such a small eater.
The railway down the winding valley follows the twists and turns of the dashing river, past the Pas de Roland, where
the nephew of Charlemagne is said to have tested his faithful sword by cleaving the mighty rock, and out into the meadows near Cambo, one of the most popular of all the resorts of the Pays Basque. Here the landscape reminded me of the English country-side, like one huge garden, tended by many hands.
My entry into Spain was marked by one of those inexplicable errors on the part of the Spanish officials, that make one agree with the traveler who once said decisively, "Hereafter I shall travel in a country where there are no frontiers." After visiting numerous offices, seeking various stamps of approval on my passport, I was finally informed that the passport issued to me, an American gentleman, had been delivered to a Swedish lady only a few minutes before. After hours of vexatious waiting, while those who had been responsible for the loss lifted not a hand, the united efforts of the French police and the American consul recovered the missing document and I resumed my journey.
At Irun, the Spanish frontier town, the porter deposited my luggage near
the tram-line, and I entered into conversation with a traffic officer. Despite all my precautions in the way of inquiries, I nearly lost my car, for I gave only the slightest attention to the approaching vehicle, which looked very much like an old-fashioned carry-all drawn by horses. As it suddenly stopped just over the bridge from where I stood, I realized that I must hurry if I wished to take advantage of the principal means of rapid transit between Irun and Fuenterrabia, for this strange conveyance proved to be a bob-tailed affair, like one of our earliest types of horse-cars, drawn by two rawboned mules, tandem fashion.
Past little groups of houses, three and four stories high, loaded with balconies where clusters of vegetables were drying in the sun and the week's wash was flapping in the wind, around curves where little patches of vegetables and vast corn-fields covered the flats even to the gleaming waters of the Bidassoa, we rumbled along till we reached the terminus. Near by stands the quaint old gateway that marks the entrance to Calle Mayor, leading straight up the hill to the historic church whose Renaissance tower looks proudly down upon the surrounding country. The view from the top of the castle of Charles
Quint, close by the church, is surpassingly beautiful. The river stretches from the distant ranges of hills down to the sea at one's very feet. Perhaps two miles away lies Irun, while on the other side of the Bidassoa are the red roofs, the bright-colored walls, and the gleaming sands of Hendaye and HendayePlage. Dazzling white houses, nestled in the green slopes of both banks, dot the hillsides, while the chapel of the patron saint of the town, Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, stands at the very summit, with its steeple piercing the sky.
Of all the towns I visited in the Basque provinces of Spain, Fuenterrabia held for me the greatest charm. The old streets, with their vari-colored houses, white and pink and orange and brown, are always enchanting. Many of the upper stories overhang the sidewalk, while the roofs project away out into the street until they almost touch one another in neighborly fashion. Every house has its quaint old balcony, sometimes of wood, with slender spindles, often of curiously wrought iron, the masterpieces of medieval craftsmen. The ancient origin of the older houses is proclaimed by huge shields carved in the stones of the front walls, the coats of arms of the former owners.
The Spanish Basques are darker, on the whole, than those of the Pays Basque of France. Even here, however, it is hardly safe to deal in generalities, there are so many different types. In some respects they are more backward than their neighbors on the other slopes of the Pyrenees. Not only the children, but big girls, and even men and women, go barefoot. Many wear sandals without stockings.
The ideal way of touring the Basque provinces is by automobile, for the country is so irregular that the frequent tunnels spoil the pleasure of a ride by rail or electric lines. There are cornfields everywhere, apple orchards, with the branches overburdened with fruit, little groups of farm buildings surrounded by haystacks, all reminiscent of the hill country of northern Switzerland or our own New England.
This part of Spain is a hive of industry. At Tolosa are paper mills and cotton factories. Cement mills are common in the region near the sea, while at Bilbao the iron works which supplied rapiers to the cronies of Shakspere are still busy. For centuries the Basques have been a sturdy fishing people. Their seafaring men are famous. Along the coast of Newfoundland, and in even more distant centers of this industry, many of the fishermen are of Basque origin. To-day the old-time fishing-villages have become popular resorts for summer visitors. The motor-ride from Deva, along the shore, is a glorious one. As far as Motrico the road follows the indentations of the coast. There are many prominent headlands jutting boldly out to sea, wild, jagged cliffs, alternating with peaceful grassy slopes that lead down to the very water's-edge. From Motrico to Ondarroa the road turns inland, then out again, to mount high above the waves. Thence, on to Lequeitio, it is a superb highway, similar to La Grande Corniche between Nice and Monte Carlo. Orange-trees are replaced by apple-trees; olive-trees by locusts; vineyards by corn-fields; villas, with their gorgeous display of bougainvillea, by unpretentious peasant homes of stone, their garden walls overgrown with a tangle of wild blackberry-bushes.
San Sebastian, in the very center of
the Basque country, is to Spain what Biarritz is to France. There is a magnificent beach, with a wonderful outlook over the harbor to the precipitous slopes of the island of Santa Clara. Imposing hotels, spacious parks, wellshaded avenues, attract many a visitor, including even the royal family. Bullfights are here seen at their best, or their worst, depending on the point of view of the observer.
Less spectacular than a bull-fight, but still tremendously interesting, is the national game of pelota, a daily event during the summer season. This game interested me especially because it originated centuries ago in the Basque provinces, and is the favorite pastime of the Basques of to-day, although its popularity has overspread Spain. The fronton is an inclosure with walls perhaps twenty feet in height on three sides, and galleries for the spectators completing the quadrangle. The game is played on a cement floor nearly sixty meters in length and ten in breadth, with cross lines at varying intervals. The players are two against two, dressed all in white, except for the distinguishing sashes of red and blue. The game is best described by saying that it is similar to our gymnasium hand-ball. The ball is somewhat larger than a tennis-ball, and not unlike our base-ball in composition. On the right arm the players wear a heavy basket-like glove, weighing three kilos, with which they deliver the ball smashing blows at distances from the front varying from fifty to a hundred and fifty feet or more.
Marvelous as is the skill of the players, the interest of a San Sebastian audience seems to be centered far more on the score-board and the book-makers. These latter gentlemen, fifteen or twenty in number, picturesque in their scarlet caps, with leather bags slung over their shoulders, stand in a long line between the court and the spectators. In their ability to register the bets in the midst of the bedlam which lasts all through the game they show quite as much skill as the players themselves, displaying a cleverness in their profession equaled only by the famous bookmakers of an English Derby. To my mind the pelota game of to-day, no