Tag Archives: Basque culture

TOPIC Puppet Museum, a Last Walkabout, & Printing at El Hacedor

It’s worth visiting Tolosa just to visit the TOPIC puppet museum which houses an amazing collection from around the world, but plan on spending at least half a day in there. An animated puppet will greet you in one of several languages as you enter a labyrinth of displays, projections and exhibitions.

The mascot puppet at TOPIC.

The mascot puppet at TOPIC beckons visitors into the museum & explains what awaits us inside.

One of my favourites sections is a long corridor of shadow puppets; the 1955 film by Jean Painleve of the US sculptor Alexander Calder performing his “Circus” is enchanting, too. The poster collection is outstanding.

Part of the shadow puppet corridor.

Part of the shadow puppet corridor.

Puppet wearing a Basque txapuela at TOPIC.

Puppet wearing a Basque txapuela at TOPIC.

Low tech puppets at TOPIC.

Low tech puppets at TOPIC.

The temporary exhibition I saw displayed work by Enkarni Genua & Manolo Gomez of Txotxongillo Taldea who have worked in puppetry and theatre since 1971. TOPIC also organizes occasional workshops and has an online archive of posters, festivals, books, etc.

Another inspiring display at TOPIC puppet museum.

Another inspiring display at TOPIC puppet museum.

My papermaking apprenticeship had ended, and I planned to take the RENFE and Euskotren trains back to Donostia and Bilbao, then a bus to Oña where Dorien Jongsma from El Hacedor could meet me. There were no buses running to Oña that Saturday, though, because it was Columbus Day (!), so I had to wait another day to make this trip. This meant I’d have less time at El Hacedor, but the bonus was a last chance to walk around Tolosa, Hernialde, Anoeta and Billabona with a camera.

Billabona plaza, near Paperlan fibre/paper warehouse.

Billabona plaza, near Paperlan fibre/paper warehouse, public library & police station.

A view from Hernialde above the north end of Tolosa; black bean field in the foreground.

A view from Hernialde towards Mt Uzturre above the north end of Tolosa; black bean field in the foreground.

Freshly harvested black beans drying in a driveway; Hernialde.

Freshly harvested black beans drying in a driveway; Hernialde.

Alubias con chorizo - a traditional Tolosa black bean dish.

Alubias con chorizo – a traditional Tolosa black bean dish.

Plus I received a supper invitation at Boxa Arte Elkarte studios with Garikoitz and Xabi!

The amazing Xabi & Garikoitz in the kitchen at Boxa Arte Elkarte studios.

The amazing Xabi & Garikoitz in the kitchen at Boxa Arte Elkarte studios.

They thought I was a bit crazy taking trains instead of buses, which are faster, but coming from a country where successive governments have hollowed out or privatized train travel, I enjoy them. And then the little bus on a windy highway makes for a pleasant contrast.

The Bilbao-Poza de la Sal bus waiting at Termibus, Bilbao.

The Bilbao-Poza de la Sal bus waiting at Termibus, Bilbao.

I was sad to leave Zuloaga Txiki, though, where Carmen, Iñaki and José had made me feel so much at home.

Carmen outside the hostel.

Carmen outside the hostel.

José & Iñaki joking around in the kitchen at Zuloaga Txiki.

José & Iñaki joking around in the kitchen at Zuloaga Txiki.

There’s always something to work on at El Hacedor – Imágenes y Palabras in La Aldea del Portillo de Busto, and watching Dorien install a new set of windows in her house was inspiring. I’ll never complain about renovating with old Douglas Fir again: it may be hard to hammer nails into without pre-drilling, but it’s not stone!

Dorien hard at work on her new windows.

Dorien hard at work on her new windows.

I had brought a silkscreen from Wells with two different sized photostencils of the El Hacedor logo, but what should we print?

ImágenesyPalabras

After considering various possibilities, we settled on printing the logo at both ends of fabric “scarves” that could be used for a number of activities. Since Dorien has a couple of burros that live in a lovely corral just down the road, we could easily envision a kind of Dadaist chorus of the Burros of Burgos!

Preparing scarf fabrics to print.

Preparing scarf fabrics to print.

Printing scarves on the t-shirt press.

Printing scarves on the t-shirt press.

Heat setting two scarves at once.

Heat setting two scarves at once while printing the next ones.

Scarves drying on lines.

Scarves drying on lines.

One of the finished piles of scarves.

One of the finished piles of scarves.

It took half a day to sort and cut material, then much of another day to set up and print the scarves. The nylon ones were very tricky to print, because of static cling; my favourite fabric/colour combination was the natural cotton with dark green ink. I look forward to seeing them fluttering in the wind some day, whether from people, animals or trees 😉

My pending return flight to Canada had a departure time of 0655 hours, so I needed to be in Bilbao the night before. There are very few transit options from Oña, let alone from La Aldea, and Emilio kindly arranged for a rideshare for me via BlablaCar.

Dorien & Emilio in the hills above Pancorbo.

Dorien & Emilio in the hills above Pancorbo.

After a quick detour to Miranda de Ebro (sadly, not enough time to visit my friends Eduardo Alvarado & Cristina Montoya & their family) to check on the new windows, Dorien and Emilio dropped me off in Pancorbo where I loaded my gear into the car of a national police officer (I figured this ought to be a safe ride!), who kindly dropped me at a Bilbao metro station and only asked for four Euros towards gas. Another generous person in this country that’s experiencing such acute economic challenges.

I didn’t have nearly enough time to spend with Dorien, Emilio and Edo, but they were wonderful hosts as always and I was very grateful for their warm welcome and hospitality.

At the end of nearly a month of learning, discovery and new friendships, it was time to go home. Gracias a tod@s – eskerrik asko – agur!

Morning light, La Aldea del Portillo de Busto.

Morning light, La Aldea del Portillo de Busto.

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Zumarraga-Antzuola-Zestoa and Ahora! Kmk13 Tolosa

On one of my free weekends, I visited friends in Antzuola and Zestoa. There are lots of trains every day between Tolosa and Zumarraga, and from there it’s not far by bus to these beautiful towns. The valleys are narrow and the roads are extremely windy! My friends were incredibly generous and hospitable and it was hard to leave.

Tolosa, Zumarraga, Antzuola & Zestoa.

Tolosa, Zumárraga, Antzuola & Zestoa.

Antzuola.

Antzuola.

Antzuola and Aiherra are sister cities.

Antzuola and Aiherra are sister cities.

The beautifully restored Olaran House in Antzuola houses various municipal offices.

The beautifully restored Olaran House in Antzuola houses various municipal offices.

My friend in Zestoa suggested I might want to visit the neolithic caves a half hour walk from town, and I took her advice. While not as large a site as Altamira, the Ekain Berri cave paintings are very evocative. Like Altamira, it’s a replica site; the actual caves are a little farther up the road. This museum has an exhibition space which was showing contemporary art inspired by cave paintings. I’m really glad I went.

The road to the Ekain Berri caves.

The road to the Ekain Berri caves near Zestoa.

A lovely fall day for a walk to the Ekain Berri caves.

A lovely fall day for a walk to the Ekain Berri caves.

Iñaki Extebeste and Amaia Pavon had told me about a festival taking place in Tolosa on this particular weekend, so when I caught the train back from Zumarraga, I phoned to arrange a time and place to meet. Unfortunately, they were both sick, but I remembered Garikoitz had invited me to help out with a youth mural project at the same festival, so I planned to look for him at the underpass they were going to paint.

I hadn’t realized the scale of the festival, though. When I got off the train in Tolosa, the streets were filled with tens of thousands of people and the auxiliary train station, Tolosa Centro, was shut down for the day. I hadn’t arrived in time to catch the scything competition, wall climbing, paddling or many, many other contests, but large throngs of young people marched through the streets singing together while bands played and vendors hawked food, drinks, crafts, and prisoners’ rights.

When I found Garikoitz and his friends, they had finished their mural and were staffing a Gko Gallery table. Sales had been slow, so I offered to help pack it up after dropping my things off at the hostel. By the time I got back, though, they were already done and were heading to the musical finale. “Come on, Bill! If we get separated, look for the big cardboard hand,” they shouted, waving a cutout arm.

As we picked our way through the crowds – mainly teens and young adults – I learned that “Ahora! Kilometroak 2013 Tolosa” raises money for Basque language instruction in schools. Just as I was trying to absorb this fact and the incredible excitement in the air, Gatibu’s music began to blast us in the warm light of sundown.

Part of the crowd at the KMK13 finale. Photo courtesy of KILOMETROAK 2013 - TOLOSA.

Part of the crowd at the KMK13 finale. Photo courtesy of KILOMETROAK 2013 – TOLOSA.

I found myself in the middle of a giant mosh pit, with thousands of young people singing along with the band, chanting, waving Basque flags and Repatriate the Prisoners flags. Wow. I couldn’t imagine a similar event taking place in Canada – maybe Québec – but this was incredible.

I think this is Gatibu's Gaizka Salazar. I'm somewhere in the crowd between his guitar & the tents. Photo courtesy of KILOMETROAK 2013 - TOLOSA.

I think this is Gatibu’s Gaizka Salazar. We are somewhere in the crowd between the top of his guitar neck & the tents. Photo courtesy of KILOMETROAK 2013 – TOLOSA.

Gatibu's lead singer Alex Sardui gyrates on stage. Photo courtesty of KILOMETROAK 2013 - TOLOSA.

Gatibu’s lead singer Alex Sardui gyrates on stage. Photo courtesty of KILOMETROAK 2013 – TOLOSA.

Gatibu is based in Gernika-Lumo and their name means “captive”. I was able to sing along on the chorus of their song “Gabak Zerueri Begire” as the lead singer danced about on stage, at times with a three-year-old girl on his shoulders. It was a lot of fun.

You can find Gatibu on Facebook, and if you like them, you might also like Su Ta Gar.
There are many festival photos here.

When the concert ended, we started heading towards the old town centre that’s filled with bars and cafés, and I fell into a conversation with a French Basque woman who had been to James Bay, Québec last year with her husband. I asked where in James Bay they had stayed, if it was anywhere near … Moose Factory? Then, just as I started to ask if she had read any of Joseph Boyden’s books, at the very same moment we both spoke aloud the titles “Through Black Spruce” and “Three Day Road.”  The hair stood up on our arms at the surprise of the coincidence and we laughed our way into Tolosa’s night scene…

Boxa Arte Elkarte studios and GKo Gallery

One day after my shift at Eskulan I stopped in the old medieval centre of Tolosa on my way back to Zuloaga Txiki to pick up my repaired shoes and buy some cheese. I had been practicing a Basque phrase for about half an hour (gazta pixka bat mesedez = literally, cheese + a little bit + one + please) and mentally prepared myself to blurt it out. I was rewarded with a tasty wedge of semi-cured sheep cheese from the Idizabal region south.

Looking into the GKo Gallery window.

Looking into the GKo Gallery window.

Part of GKo Gallery.

Part of GKo Gallery.

As I walked out of the deli, I saw that the GKo Gallery, which Brian at the Tolosa Tourism office had told me about, was open. GKo is a unique enterprise that sells work for some Chilean artists who in turn sell art by Basque artists. It’s name is a clever Basque play on words.

Garikoitz Cuitlahuac Murua Fierro greeted me with a big smile and we fell into a long and interesting conversation about earning a living as artists, as well as copyright, culture and food (a typical mix of topics for many artists!)

Garikoitz Cuitlahuac Murua Fierro of GKo Gallery & Boxa Arte Elkarte studios.

Garikoitz Cuitlahuac Murua Fierro of GKo Gallery & Boxa Arte Elkarte studios.

His mother is Mexican, hence his Aztec middle name, so I found his Spanish much easier to understand than some of the Castellano I had been struggling with (I had first learned Spanish in Nicaragua). I was excited to learn that he works in silkscreen as well as murals. It’s always a pleasure to chat with one’s peers about a common craft, and we compared notes about various low-tech exposure methods.

I had brought a silkscreen for Juan Barbé and had been wanting to find a way we could test out a sunlight photostencil exposure of his logo so we could do some printing on hand made papers. But for this I need photoemulsion.

A lovely hand silkscreened poster produced by GKo Gallery at Boxa Arte Elkarte studios.

A lovely hand silkscreened poster produced by GKo Gallery at Boxa Arte Elkarte studios.

I asked where I could buy some and he gave me a name and phone number for someone in Usúrbil, which is west of Donostia. Two other people had mentioned this contact before, including a T-shirt printer I had met in Deba at the beginning of my trip. I had stayed in Usúrbil for two days last year and liked it. Maybe I should take a little train detour back up there…

Just as I was pondering the logistics of this, Garikoitz said if I only needed a little emulsion, he could get me some from the co-op studio he was part of. We arranged to rendezvous the next morning at the “cigarillo” pastry café by the music school and Tolosa Centro train station downtown – a short bike ride from the Zuloaga Txiki hostel where I was staying.

He showed up on his bici and I followed him through downtown into an old industrial district where the Boinas Elósegui beret factory used to be. Eventually we arrived at the Boxa Arte Elkarte studios in an old warehouse. The town provides this space to a group of local artists in exchange for their participation in community projects and contributions to the culture of Tolosa.

T-shirt screen printing press at Boxa Arte Elkarte studios in Tolosa.

T-shirt screen printing press at Boxa Arte Elkarte studios in Tolosa.

There’s a large shared studio space, a workshop, and a silkscreen printing studio, complete with a darkroom, exposure unit, washout room and a four colour T-shirt press. There are washrooms, showers, and downstairs, a kitchen and lounge that makes it possible for visiting artists to stay while working on a project. Very cool.

The kitchen-lounge at Boxa Arte Elkarte studios.

The kitchen-lounge at Boxa Arte Elkarte studios.

Garikoitz poured some Murakami emulsion – my favourite brand! – into a jar and taped it  up for me to prevent spills. I contributed some Euros to the studio cash box and cycled back up the road to Eskulan to show Juan my exciting find…

P.S. At the end of November, 2013, GKo Gallery won a Gipuzkoa business & tourism prize in recognition of their innovative work since 2008 – zorionak! ¡Felicidades! Congratulations!

Director de Desarrollo Territorial de la Diputación Foral de Gipuzkoa, Pedro Iturbe, Director de Comercio del Gobierno Vasco, Jon Zarate, Aritz E. Murua, Kizkitza Lasa, Garikoitz C. Murua, Presidente de Cámara de Gipuzkoa, Pedro Esnaola.

Director de Desarrollo Territorial de la Diputación Foral de Gipuzkoa, Pedro Iturbe, Director de Comercio del Gobierno Vasco, Jon Zarate, Aritz E. Murua, Kizkitza Lasa, Garikoitz C. Murua, Presidente de Cámara de Gipuzkoa, Pedro Esnaola.

My daily commute

On my first Monday morning I walked from the Zuloaga Txiki hostel at the north end of Tolosa about 5.5 km to Billabona along a series of small roads and paths that follow a section of the Camino of Santiago.

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Juan had recommended this route, but he couldn’t show much of it on Friday, because cars are prohibited in most of it. It wiggles back forth along the RENFE train line and the Oria River with many farms on either side, especially the section between Anoeta and Billabona. It’s beautiful and I see lots of people out walking, jogging and biking.

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Juan and his wife, artist Carmen Sevilla, live in Billabona; his paper & fibre warehouse is located off the town plaza. Eskulan is back across the river and another 1 km towards Zizurkil.

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He procured a bike for me and I had brought my own helmet, reflector belt and pump. What a great way to get around, as well as starting and winding down my work/study days with a light workout.

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Market day in Tolosa

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On Saturday I walked in to the market. A man I bought cheese from last year recognized me and the general scene was even more lively than it was last year. There was an eco-fair, an African fair trade booth, and the Tolosa choral group was out in force, with traditional Basque musicians alternating reed/drum instrumentals with their songs; fantastic to hear so many people singing, let alone in Euskara – Basque.

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Like last year, there was a protest in the triangular plaza against health care cuts. After chatting with some of them, I helped dismantle their banners and haul a wheel chair with a mannequin in it up a couple of flights of stairs, then bought a colourful shirt from the group to donate to the CCPA’s annual fundraising auction.

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Around the corner I found Luisan roasting pimiento peppers while his  friend Antton handled sales. Their minimum bag weighed several kilos, but I managed to persuade some young British English teachers to share one. I wish I had given them more – it took me 3 hours to peel & de-vein/de-seed the batch I gave to the kitchen at the hostel where I’m staying 😮 Very tasty, though!

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Found a shoe repair shop so I ran back to the hostel for my walking shoes, one of which had blown out and was at risk of falling apart. It was too late to catch a guided tour of the TOPIC  puppet museum, so I headed back to the hostel & up the narrow 3 km switchback road to Hernialde for a picnic at a lovely viewpoint with stone seats.

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The woman at Ostatua Hernialde remembered me from last year, too. At times I feel like the Gadjo Dilo – Crazy Stranger – in the Tony Gatlif film!

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