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Joxean Sagastizabal Errazu > Extracts

Narrative (short story and novel)

1994 Kutsidazu bidea, Ixabel | Alberdania

It was a hot, humid July afternoon a couple of years before 1980 when I got to Tolosa, the last outpost of civilisation.

Up the mountain, Vasconum.

After spending nineteen years being brought up as an urbanite, I went to a farm with the intention of turning myself into Josechu (rather than José) the Basque.

I lugged a huge suitcase.

It was terribly hot and humid.

The river (which might have been one in the Neolithic age) gave off a frightful stench.

A native pointed me in the right direction; he understood my question and I was completely taken by surprise by the fact that I could communicate in Basque. So, straight on, then turn left through the tunnel; I would find it hard going, on foot and dragging a millstone; no doubt about that.

When I got to the tunnel the sweat was pouring off me, I noticed that disgusting smell during the brief moments I rested. I got through the tunnel and came face to face with the kind of incline that figured in the nightmares of the racing cyclist Marino Lejarreta. According to my contact, "there's a farm all on its own quite a bit away from the town centre." I was also all on my own, Holy St. Gertrude, on my own and absolutely exhausted when out of the tunnel came a Land Rover driven by a fat, cigar-smoking, beret-clad native.


-Same to you.

-Where you heading?

-Aranguren farm, could.

-'course. Hop in!

I got in.

-Dyer knaa the Arangurens?

-What did you say?

-Dyer knaa the Aranguren family?

-No, I'm not one of the family. I've come to learn Basque.

-To learn Basque, eh? Ah buen sitio Harrialde, todos hablamos aquí, aprenderás enseguida, ya verás -he said. (In Spanish in original text in the way Basque farmers, who do not master Spanish very well, tend to speak: Ah, Harrialde's a nice place, we all speak Basque here, you'll learn in no time, you'll see).

-That's what I think, and that's .

-. Here we are! That's Aranguren! Canny playce. Hope you learn a lot!

-Thank you very much.

-Una cosa tengo que desirte, los de Aranguren no hablan tan claro como yo, tienen fama de hablar serrao -he added. (One thing I have to tell you, the people of Aranguren don't speak as clearly as I do, they're famous for speaking broad Basque.)

Oh, Holy St. Gertrude!

Well, there in front of me a red and white house and two barking dogs, one huge and the other very small and me right between them. They stopped a metre away from me, and their barking did not cease. As animals get more worked up when they sense that you are afraid, I made a superhuman effort to conceal my fear, but it came out of my ears.

-Txuri, Negro, heel!

And that is what Txuri and Negro did; truly amazing.

The monsters left and a princess came up to me, a girl of my age, with a pink face, golden hair and smiling.

A real smasher.

-Hi, are you the person coming to stay here?

-Is this Aranguren?

-That's right.

-Well, yes I am.

-Great. I'm glad about that; I'm Ixabel. What's your name?

-Juan Martin.

-Well, come on then, lad, you've gotta get to know the house an' the family.

-How many of you are there?

-Grandma, me mum and dad, me sister and me, the cows, hens, rabbits, 'few sheep, dogs, cats and lots of flies.

I remembered Gary Cooper, if he wanted to feel Sólo ante el peligro , all he had to do was come here.

I followed Ixabeli n her working clothes, old dress and apron; I had already started to imagine her body underneath.

I was very young.

I didn't know much about girls.

But I liked them.

We went inside as the sweet smell of hay mixed with dung hit my nostrils, and in the kitchen there they were, all of them.

The Munsters.

Let me explain, grandma didn't look like a vampire, dad didn't resemble Herman Munster nor did mum Yvonne De Carlo, but in general. the two brothers, who were undoubtedly twins, did, and there was no doubt either that they each possessed half of what fits in a normal head; the sister, the daughter of the fairy tale stepmother, ugly, anyway; bad? I had no idea at that time; the parents had formed an incestuous marriage, because they were identical, thick set, morons, with deep frowns; and grandma! The Wicked Witch! Minute, her eyes set in deep holes surrounded by wrinkles, dressed in black from top to toe and the last time she smiled was in 1947.

All that at one glance.

And Ixabel in the middle who appeared to love them. A rose among thorns.

They must have fished her out of the river, cradle and all.

Something I noticed immediately.

Hablaban serrao. (They spoke broad Basque).

-Hi, boy, ya'aalreet deeing! -said the twins, as they gave me a heavy slap on my back.

-Canny to meet yee -said dad.

-Myek yorsel at hyem -said mum.

-Same to you -I said.

-Hi, I'm Bego. How are you? -I could not reply as I was totally overcome that I had understood.

Grandma didn't even look at me.

And on behalf of them all the head of the family give what I assumed to be a speech to welcome me; I didn't understand anything apart from the odd word like "farm", "work", "tiredness"; mum was the head of the family.

-Come this way, lad, an' we'll shew yee yer room!

I looked to Ixabel.

-You go with them and they'll show you your room.

-Thank you very much, Ixabel.

Mum started talking to me and with Ixabel's help this is what I understood: there wasn't a bed for me but a straw mattress on the floor, but she thought I'd be fine there.

So I followed the twins to the floor above; on the way, in the dim light, a hot smell and the sound of chewing rose from the other inhabitants of the farm.

A large room, two single beds for the twins and my mattress in the middle, neatly prepared, with blue sheets and a reddish blanket. That was all there was in the room apart from a cupboard where I put my earthly possessions.

The twins were pleasant and talked and talked to me and I managed by understanding a quarter and imagining the other three quarters.

-Come on, Juanma, we'll shew you the farm.

-And they "shewed" me the farm.

About a dozen cows. I've never been a "cow lover", those stupid faces, cow faces, of course; cows, ugh! In my ungrateful heart I felt no gratitude for the milk, yoghurt, cheese, butter, cream cakes etc; I made no connection whatsoever between these delights and the animals; I went shopping in the supermarket and there were no cows there; things produced by a huge magic wand were on sale.

Each cow was in her own apartment; the apartment had a living room, bedroom, kitchen and lavatory; in the living room four legs holding up the body; their heads sticking in the kitchen, i.e., in the hay in the manger; the lavatory was behind, and the living room was a bedroom at night.

-Are they all cows? Isn't there a bull?

-A bull? Wheyaye there is. Ower there. Which one dyer reckon it is?

-That big one there.

-Ne, tha is wor Juanita; canna yee see hor udders?

-Udders? What are udders?


Udders=cow's teats. Noted.

I carried on looking, udders, udders, udders, wow!

-That's the bull.

-Very good, but s'not a bull, it's a calf, it's ernly a young'un.

-A calf?

-C-a-l-f, a bull when it grows up.

Calf=baby bull. Noted.

When you read this, you may think I was very calm, but fear doesn't come through the words on a page. The thing is, dear reader, I was shitting myself, even though I did not let on in front of the twins. In that promiscuity there, among the beasts, and it was right there! A BULL! They said it was "young", it was a "bull calf", bloody hell! The one that killed the famous bullfighter Manolete was only four years old!

To get to the back of the house there was a narrow corridor in front of their kitchens and when they saw people, the cows and the killer of poor Manolete surged forward thinking that food was on its way and the tips of their horns stopped only 20 cm away from whoever was passing them; if one of the twins passed them, there was no problem, "NOT NOO, JUANITA!" he would tell her, holding on to one of her horns, shouting and hitting her forehead. I stuck to the wall more than Spiderman, but the thing was, oh no! At the end of the corridor there was a ram! From one set of horns to another! I never got used to it, I always got past by doing what Speedy Gonzales used to do.

The kitchen and cowshed downstairs; upstairs the bedroom, lavatory and loft; no television anywhere.

Oh, Holy St. Gertrude! Can one possibly live without the box?

Ixabel, Bego and the Wicked Witch shared one room, then the husband and wife another, and in the third the twins with their urban pet.

By dinnertime I was exhausted because of the effort I had had to make to understand and because of the excitement of living or surviving there.

Omelette and pork chops. My delicate stomach cannot manage anything more than a salad or consommé and vegetable purée in the evening, but I had to eat something and my instinct told me that I would need a lot of energy.

They all had good appetites, but grandma had a voracious one. She looked as if she was eating for the husband, too, who she lost in about 1947 together with Manolete.

I was there to learn and I asked them how they said "tortilla de patatas" (Spanish omelette in Spanish), and the reply was: "tortillapatata"; perfect, in one afternoon I had learnt "calf", "cow's teats" (What was it now?) and "tortillapatata" in Basque and with that I could go into the big, wide world.

And for dessert.


I think I could be included in the Guinness book of records as the only person to make a fool of himself with walnuts.

They all opened them with their hands, and put five a minute into their mouths (grandma nine), without any effort at all.

I would have to have a go as well.

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