Actress Kirsten D'Aurelio's MENORCA blog continues... Basqueland
"Now that I´ve learned about Ollie`s work life, it´s time to learn about her personal background. So it´s off to her childhood home around the Pyrenees: Basque country. We bid farewell to Antoni, our Menorcan host in Ciutadella, and drove to see the only part of Mahon I´ll get to: the airport. While there, I stepped onto a scale in the Farmacia and was horrified to learn that I now weigh a 5-digit number: 65,700! Too many Trufo bars and ensaimadas! Luckily my husband calmed me down by converting that awful kilo number back to the 3-digit lbs I´m used to, and since I wasn´t in the "Obesidad" column on the slip, I thought it would be a really good idea to try a chocolate croissant. The best one of my life! Good thing there is so much walking involved in these cities, or I won´t fit into my costumes...
Arrival in Basqueland brought signage with Spanish and Euskera, and temperatures that are 10-15 degrees cooler than Menorca. We checked into a plush hotel that was once the headquarters of the Republican Basque government, and a favorite of Hemingway, Bacall, Ava Gardner, and many famous bullfighters. Probably says something about Spain´s current economy that we can afford this place, which costs less per night than a lesser quality room in downtown Evanston.
At night, we ventured out to the charming Casco Viejo (old town)and did the wonderful tradition of txikiteo (pub crawl) that features Rioja wines and a dazzling array of pintxos (tapas.) We got the hang of it quickly: step right up, order your beverage, and choose 4 or 5 pintxos. Stay about 15 minutes, remember how many pintxos you had so you can pay the bill (about 10 euros for bevs plus the tapas--couldn´t even get two glasses of wine for that in Chicago, let alone these gorgeous, delectable works of art with cod, pork, olives, quesos, mushrooms, and other unidentifiable things--we think we might have eaten some baby squid legs)and then you´re off to the next bar. The whole ritual is so enjoyable and efficient. Napkins are to be thrown on the floor in order to keep the bar clear for the next patron, since the turnover is so fast. We hit 4 bars in rapid succession, and in the last one, my friendly husband asked the woman next to us if she was Basque--and she said yes and excitedly began speaking to us in good English. She introduced us to her brother and mother (whose birthday they were celebrating) and took us to a 5th bar to sample a particular kind of wine that her family grows. By the end of the evening, we had an invitation to visit their vineyard and have dinner on Thursday at their traditional Basque home, which has a name, just as Ollie describes in our script. Jackpot! We are in for a very authentic experience. I am so excited and awed by the kindness of these strangers (to paraphrase Tennessee Williams) and our new friend told me that it´s important to her that we have a good time in Basque country because even in the south of Spain, Basqueland is considered by many to be filled with terrorists, and not a nice place to live. So she is deeply appreciative of our interest in Basque culture and, I think, our potential as ambassadors. I´m glad to oblige! Tomorrow: deeper into Basqueland."