Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Reunion at Juan de Bilbao

"Couchsurfing camps are the places where you meet your future hosts." This was the conclusion we reached at Budapest Winter Camp 2009/10 together with two great people I met there: Giulia from Italy and Unai from Basque Country. Giulia didn't wait too long and without any notice decided to be my surfer. We spent 5 excellent days in Toruń seeing the old town, cooking Italian and Polish meals and talking talking talking. Unai planned to visit me in Chamonix but this plan never came to fruition. What else could I do being in the south of France and having lot of free time in my hands? "Are you in San Sebastián these days?" "PLEASE COME WHEN YOU WANT AND THE DAYS YOU WANT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

The right way to wrap up 2009 is to get drunk at International Night...

Unai (or rather his raging need to have some beer) chose a great place to share thousands of stories about what's happened to each of us since Winter Camp. Juan de Bilbao, street in the old town, lined with pubs. In this place we're gonna spend 3 out of our 4 evenings out.

Before we start talking ourselves out about Perus, Equadors, Icelands and Frances, we get drinks and my wine tastes divine. One more country where I can drink alcohol for pleasure.

The most noticeable thing is the fact that so many people are drinking outside, inside pubs are almost empty, some of them have only two tables. I can't imagine a picture like this in Poland - people walking around with their drinks, drinking in ANY place, not just designated area close to the pub.

Unai says that this place is one of the most nationalistic streets in Donostia. With this remark, I have a look around and notice numerous signs saying "You're neither in France nor Spain. You're in Basque Country," crossed out Spanish flags and Basque flags on the flagpoles.

I learn many things about Basque Country in the past and now. I learn why people feel so connected with the country, why they feel Basque and not Spanish and why they want independence so much. Part of me admires the vast knowledge Unai has, part of me also feels a little envious because I don't think I've ever had such feelings about Poland. He feels proud when he can speak Basque outside his country; for me Speaking Polish is just comfortable in some situations. It's not a shame, but it's not a pride either.

I want to learn a little about Basque. I like the fact that Unai is so proud of his nationality and speaking the oldest language in Europe that has nothing in common with other languages and is known by few who are not Basque. In a library we find a book with Basque grammar and Unai tries to explain how the language looks like. The thing he shows me is declension of some verb, meaning "to go" but used more as an auxiliary verb in different situations. In every person the form of the verb in no way resembles the other forms, you could think they're all totally different verbs. Any explanations are very coherent and look like a puzzle to me but undoubtedly would be a challenge to learn, especially if similar vocabulary and grammar rules can't be found in any other language.

One day Unai tells me: "Let's go for a walk now, it's a high tide and I want to show you something special. You'll see." The ebbs and flows have a difference of around 6 meters and when the tide is high you can see peculiar waves making a huge splash when they reach the concrete platform and sculptures on the shore. But there are also some holes in the platform so when a massive wave comes, water finds its outlet through them and ejects as if from a geyser. We feel like kids during this wave-watching, Unai exclaims "esta, esta!", "oh my god, this one will be bigger!" Just looking at the waves, people getting drenched, people who stand very close to the shore and start running away when the wave comes, keeps us occupied for 1,5 h.

My plan is to leave for Zaragoza on Monday but Unai's brother, Etor, calls on Saturday and offers to take us for a trip to nearby villages the following day. Why not? I love when things happen all of sudden and this one will be a chance to see more of Basque Country and meet another person from Unai's really friendly family.

Together we have a great time, Etor shows us Hondarribia, right on the border with France, and Lesaka, farther south, from time to time telling about the architecture and little about history, points to the most beautiful, colorful fishermen's houses. The second village, Lesaka, is a place where everybody speaks Basque, we go to a Basque pub and once again drink typical Basque wine. At the end of the day Unai goes to a concert, I go to another pub with Etor, drink more wine and meet some of his friends. We go to new apartment of Etor and his wife, designed by Etor but made entirely by some workers.



Staying with Unai, I can't not take advantage of his musical knowledge and learn to play an instrument, or rather learn how to begin; one more thing to scratch off my bucket list.

Learning doesn't come reluctantly. I'm surprised how easily I memorize tones and how quickly my fingers move on the keys when I play short sequences. Unai shows me that while playing "do,mi sol, mi" with one hand, you can play any melody with the other and the overall result will always be good. So I focus on the easy thing, changing the tones from time to time, and he plays some melodies, one is made up (but very nice!), the other is the anthem of European Union. I love the learning aspect of CS and feel that once more I've learned something. I'll try to practise more, as soon as I have a chance.

It was splendid 4 days in a great city with a great person. When Giulia visited me in Poland, it was heart-wrenching to let her go at the airport. This time I didn't cry because I know France and Basque Country are close to each other and we'll see each other again soon. Next time not only for "Idziemy do parku. Jest tu obok" but hopefully for "Jedziemy stopem do Paryża. Jest 800 km stąd."

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