Monday, July 19, 2010

Bones, Basques & Barcelona: Day 7

Actress Kirsten D'Aurelio's blog researching MENORCA... Day 7

"Devoted the last day in Euskadi (Basqueland) to visiting Ollie´s birthplace: Donostia (also called San Sebastian, in Spanish.) I was eager to see what kinds of formative sights/sounds/flavors might have shaped Ollie as a child. 2 buses got us from Bilbao to Donostia´s Boulevard near the old town, which is chock full of pintxos bars, gelaterias, and bakeries. After a quick breakfast, we strolled along the 2-mile shoreline of the Playa Concha, which has beautiful views of the surrounding hills and the Atlantic Ocean. Less beautiful though is the dingy promenade and the surrounding buildings. A bit like Coney Island--faded glory. For some reason that even the tourist office couldn´t explain to us, there were polizia everywhere, some doing random vehicle checks, and we also encountered some pretty unfriendly merchants in the shops. Are they sick of all the tourists (who apparently comprise 50% of the population at any given time), perhaps? We tried to shake it off by wading into the ocean, but the hypodermic that washed ashore didn´t help matters. What to do? Something that is not deductible on my performing artist tax return: a visit to the fancy beachside spa. 4 pools, 2 saunas, and a relaxation room later, we felt ready to return to the town. I sought out the famous "pastel vasco" (Basque cake), which has been around for centuries. It was oddly-shaped, sort of like a pot pie, but tasted delicious. The ikkariña (Basque flag) was displayed everywhere. Unfortunately, we ran out of time to stop by Bar Herria, a haunt for Basque nationalists, where apparently there are photos displayed of some of the more violent members of the movement, who are currently serving prison terms.

Did a mad dash back to Bilbao to catch our flight only to find it delayed due to the rain in Spain. So all in all, not the best day of the trip. But still some highlights, like the picturesque views of the hills and valleys and the whitewashed, red-roofed Basque houses I could see out the bus window between Donostia and Bilbao. Also a great ariel view of the Pyrenees on the flight to Barcelona tonight (where I am writing this blog entry.) By the end of the day, we will have followed Ollie´s trail on 5 buses, 2 taxis, and a plane---whew!

And what of Ollie today? I came away from Donostia wtih the thought that due to the massive tourism industry in her hometown, Ollie was exposed to lots of people from different places, speaking different languages, different cultural values, etc. San Sebastian today has 180,000 people, so Ollie didn´t grow up in a tiny Basque village like the one we visited last night. She had a big view of the world right from the start, and though she would have had plenty of company as an "euskal herria" (speaker of Euskera), she was living in a place where other cultural identities were alive and well. Was that environment enough to cement her Basque identity, or did it leave a window open for questioning who she was? At 8 years old, she would move to an even bigger place--Barcelona--with her family, so that´s where I´m headed now to see where she finished growing up. Tomorrow: Barcelona!"

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