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Euskal Idazleen Elkartea

Inaki Irazabalbeitia > Extracts

Narrative (short story and novel)

1999 | Gero-Mensajero

I'm Xixote. Never look back, Quixote


XIXOTE


Nobody knows when he appeared the first time, nor where he came from. And to tell the truth no one was bothered about his unknown origins. He apparently showed up at the Izar Beltza for the first time one fairly calm night when there was a full moon, and became a regular customer from that night onwards.

He called himself Xixote and we never found out what his real name was. When people asked him his name, he would reply with a smile, "I'm Xixote. Never look back, Quixote".

He was a small guy, a four-foot nothing and a dog biscuit. His most outstanding feature was his wide, friendly smile on his square face. He had wrinkles, too, round his eyes especially. He always sported a short beard, of the kind you see on people who have not shaved for three or four days. I never saw him with it either longer or shorter. His dark, laughing eyes were always brimming with life.

Whenever he came into the pub and before taking up his corner at the bar he would wish everyone "Good health!" in a loud voice.

He would spend hour after hour sitting at the bar speaking to all and sundry who came up to him. He had no trouble talking the hind leg off a donkey. And he had a rich turn of phrase. Besides, he was an excellent teller of tales and when he started telling stories (I am bound to admit in passing that it did not happen very often) the usual, loud babble in the Izar Beltza would cease all of a sudden, and we would all pay great attention to what Xixote was saying.

Most of the times Xixote's stories were fascinating. He told anecdotes as they had happened to him and he would swear that they had really taken place. We all laughed at him when he said that and assured him that we believed him. It was all a kind of game between two sides, in other words the ritual to begin telling a story.

Xixote did, however, have one minor fault: he was inordinately fond of alcohol. He was in fact a chronic alcoholic; a drunk, as my mother would say. He used to stay in the Izar Beltza for ages and always had a glass of gin in his hand; that was all he drank, and very often he would interrupt the telling of his stories to knock back a mouthful of the clear liquor.

We used to tell him that alcohol would be the death of him, but he took no notice of us. "The devil looks after his own," he would say, and after downing a mouthful he used to add: "So there's nothing to worry about."2

Occasionally, after he had been holding up the bar for a long time he would fall to the floor totally unconscious. After we had taken him to hospital and he had spent a short time at a treatment centre to dry out, we had him back with us once again in the Izar Beltza.

As time went on he started going to the treatment centre more and more frequently. At the same time the short breaks he spent there turned into longer spells. So when he disappeared as unexpectedly as he used to show up, we though he was drying out at a treatment centre once again. It was not until some weeks had passed that we noticed that we had lost Xixote for ever.

He left us as unexpectedly as he had come. It has to be said that at the beginning he did not arouse any special interest among the Izar Beltza's customers, and we just thought he was another of the many drunks. After he disappeared, he aroused intense interest among us.

Xixote's absence was keenly felt. Xixote became a habitual subject of conversation among us, and very soon a whole set of myths grew up about him. Xixote was attributed with all the witty phrases and remarks. Without doubt he was the author of many of them, but not all of them, of course. In the meantime, Xixote was in danger of turning into the only subject of conversation.

There was of course much speculation about where he had come from. The lack of knowledge and a touch of mystery enriched the mythology about Xixote. Some regarded what he said jokingly from time to time as true. Others believed Xixote had come from Transylvania and was the heir to Count Dracula. There were those who firmly believed what he said during an angry outburst that he was the bastard son of an oil tycoon. There were prolonged arguments on that subject in the long, relaxed conversations we had when we were having a drink.
There is no doubt at all that Xixote had left his mark on the Izar Beltza.

Now that the myths about Xixote have with the inexorable passing of time faded, become silent and been practically forgotten, because others have followed him, among other reasons, I think this could be the right moment to put into writing the stories or, as he used to put it, "happenings as true as life" in the way he would tell them.



It was a dark evening in the depths of winter. The cosiness of the Izar Beltza contrasted starkly with the freezing cold outside. As the storm whipped up the piled up snow in all directions, it was impossible to know whether the snowflakes were coming from the clouds above or whether is was the wind moving them. Anyhow, ensconced in the warmth of the Izar Beltza, we only got any news about the storm raging outside when the door opened.

Instead of sitting at my usual table, I was perched on a tall stool in front of the bar next to Xixote. We had not spoken for some time as each of us gazed at our glasses without uttering a word to each other.

The door opened and the roar of the storm became audible. One of the regular customers ran into the warmth of the pub.

-Bloody cold! -he said-. Never seen anything like it.

Xixote stopped gazing at his glass, turned his head, looked at the newcomer and said:

-Outside would look like Lucifer's furnace to you, after what I've been through -he said challengingly in his rough, grating voice.

All the conversations in the pub fell silent simultaneously, as everyone turned to look at Xixote. In the atmosphere one could feel that one of Xixote's stories was coming. People were looking forward to it, because Xixote had been silent for quite a long time.


J'accuse


Stephen Jay Gould passed through the Basque Country like a shooting star in a dark sky, leaving its bright trail behind. He came to give the inaugural speech for the 1st Conference on Scientific Prose organised by the EIE-Basque Writers' Association and sponsored by the Elhuyar Foundation, and to a certain extent stole the limelight from the conference itself. Was Gould to blame? Did the organisers put their foot in it by inviting him along? Was the Conference of any interest? Were they the intellectual exercises of a bunch of lunatics? Other similar questions can be raised to justify the mediocre response to the Conference. Nevertheless, the Conference committed two sins when one considers the cultural situation in our country: the title included the word scientific and it was in Basque. Take note!

The conference was meaty and the approximately thirty participants who attended had an opportunity to listen to sound reasons and strong arguments. Furthermore, the debate was fruitful and many people spoke. What a shame...! We should say what a double shame, when we consider the background of those who attended. Not a single journalist or student of journalism had turned up. We also noticed the absence of representatives from Basque publishing houses. Consequently, it boiled down to those of us in the business, lecturers and students from university science faculties and a few Irale teachers. A poor market when such a productive harvest was being offered.

That only a part of the target public should appear at the Conference could be the fault of us organisers, as a result of ineffective advertising. However, that is only one aspect of the reality; the smallest, most likely. The lack of coverage that the Conference had in the mass media indicates that the reality is even harsher in fact. For example, this newspaper closely monitors the details of all the events organised by the EIE: it prepares the atmosphere beforehand, follows it up with a chronicle of what is said every day and frequently finishes off with an appraisal. Why not this time? On the other hand, the lack of response from the university community also gives cause for concern. I am inclined to think that either science is not culture, or that scientific prose is not writing, in certain circles. The key to what happened could lie there.

That is the reality of our country and our society; they give the cold shoulder to the bases of science and technology on which they have been built. Storms of cultural simple-mindedness rock our society. It refuses to accept the situation. I am not prepared to accept the discourse of the two cultures (incidentally, of what could be the discourse of three cultures in our diglossic society). I shall firmly denounce the pseudo-scholars who turn their noses up the moment they hear the word science, those who identify culture with pompous phrases and empty, ostentatious discourse produced with cheap words, those who do not regard scientific essays as literatureÓ It is a noble task, my friends! J'accuse.

Published in the "Izarren Hautsa" column in the newspaper "Euskaldunon Egunkaria" on January 8, 2002.
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