Day 6 of actress Kirsten D'Aurelio's trip to Spain to prepare for her role as Ollie in MENORCA...
"Took some time away from show research to visit Bilbao´s pride and joy: the Guggenheim. Fantastic. Shimmering. Sculpture within sculpture. For a Chicagoan, seeing designs by Gehry, Kapoor and Calatrava is a very familiar experience, so that makes Bilbao truly feel like a sister city. I love it here.
But in the evening it was back to the show. We were treated to 4 hours of incredible hospitality from our new Basque friends, Itsaso and Egoitz. (These are older Basque names that are being revived by the parents of the post-Franco generation. Itsaso means "sea.") They picked us up at the hotel and we took a scenic drive out to their farm in Laudio, about 30 minutes outside Bilbao. Their traditional etxea (house) has been in the family for 150 years, and its name and family crest are prominently displayed over the door, just as Ollie describes in the script. We met an aunt, grandmother (88 años)and Dad. Beside the house is a vegetable garden, and lots of roosters. Down a short path, the family´s vineyard appears---4 hectares worth. We got a tour of the winery, and Itsaso and her dad explained the process with the vats and showed us the labeling and corking machines.
Then the fiesta! We drank the lovely wine, of course---a white variety called txakoli--and Egoiz cooked for us. Our meal: deep-fried pig´s blood cubes (very good if you follow Itsaso´s advice and don´t think about it too hard), tortilla espanola (Spanish omelette), fresh (from their garden) green peppers with coarse salt, bread, and some chocolate candies we had brought as a gift from Gernika. Delicious! Served informally on napkins with toothpicks for utensils. The weather was perfect,and we were joined by 3 more friends as well. So the 7 of us had a lively conversation about gender roles in Basque life, politics, Basque culture, music. Some struggling to understand each other at times, but Itsaso´s great English saved the day (and her Spanish-English dictionary, which enabled us to look up harder words like¨"wild boar", "partridge", "woodcock", "criminal", and "stubborn".)So grateful to Itsaso for all her translating. 4 hours must have been exhausting, though we all tried to help by being enormously expressive and pulling on the little Spanish and cognates my husband and I knew.
Some ideas: there is displeasure that, especially by Spaniards in the south, the Basque country is perceived as a dangerous place, since in reality there is so little crime and the terrorism has been so infrequent and small-scale (esp. compared to 9/11, as one person pointed out.) It´s true--we´ve felt perfectly safe here even at midnight on the Gran Via, and there are no partitions between driver and passenger in the cabs as there are in Chicago and NY and other US cities. There´s a feeling that politicians use the terrorists as a dodge for talking about real problems, such as drunk driving and domestic violence. Sound familiar?
What about a separate Basque nation, we asked? Not much interest in our group. They feel solid in their identities as Basques (their primary identities) and feel very content with their lives. Securing a nation isn´t a priority for them, and they consider themselves apolitical (like Ollie.)
Speaking Euskera outside of Basqueland? This would provoke curiosity, they said, but not necessarily disdain.
Female power? Lots of spontaneous discussion about this. Women rule the home and family in Basque culture. But they cannot inherit the legacy homes, and they aren´t always paid equally in the workplace or represented in political bodies. Despite this, Basque women are considered to be very independent, especially compared to other Spanish women as a whole. They have jobs, own property, delay motherhood. We were told repeatedly that Basque women have this very strong, indepdendent character, and that their men aren´t threatened by that, including the possibility that a woman would earn more money. This is a lot for me to think about as I consider Ollie´s relationships to the men in the play.
All of these serious themes were interspersed with guitar playing and loud singing (including La Bamba and "Don´t Worry, Be Happy.") As if all of this weren´t enough, Itsaso very graciously agreed to read Euskera words and even an entire English monologue from the script into my digital tape recorder, so I have fantastic source material now to design my dialect for Ollie.
One final treat on the way home: a stop at a scenic overlook for a fabulous view of Bilbao at night. Reminded me of Mulholland Drive in L.A. What an incredible, authentic experience! I feel so fortunate.
Tommorow: to Ollie´s birthplace!"