Oct 252015


On this date in 1979 the Gernika Statute, which was approved by a majority in a referendum, made the Basque region of NW Spain autonomous. Nowadays it is one of the most decentralized regions in the world; in this regard it has been described as having “more autonomy than just about any other in Europe” by The Economist. The forerunner of the Gernika Statute was the short-lived Statute of Autonomy for Álava, Gipuzkoa and Biscay, which came to be enforced in October 1936 just in Biscay, with the Spanish Civil War already raging, and which was automatically abolished when the Spanish Nationalist troops occupied the territory. Before the Spanish Constitution of 1978 and its system of autonomous communities, these three provinces were known in Spanish as the Provincias Vascongadas since 1833. The political structure of the new autonomous community is defined in the Gernika Statute.


Concerning the limits of the Spanish Constitution, Basque nationalists cite the fact that in the 1978 Spanish Constitution referendum, which was passed with a majority of votes and a poor turnout in this area, the Basque Country had the highest rate of abstention (the Basque Nationalist Party had endorsed abstention on the grounds that the Constitution was being forced upon them without any Basque input). To this, the “NO” vote in this referendum was also higher in the Basque Country than in the rest of the state. All in all, many Basques believe that they are not bound to a constitution that they never endorsed.

The Statute of Autonomy of the Basque Country is an organic law, but powers have been devolving gradually over decades based on re-negotiations between the Spanish and the Basque regional governments to reach an effective implementation, while the transfer of many powers are still forthcoming, a matter of heated political discussion. Basque nationalists often attribute this limitation in the devolution of powers to concessions made to appease the military involved in the 23-F coup d’état attempt (1981).


The statute was meant to encompass all the historical provinces inhabited by the Basque people in Spain, who had demonstrated a strong will for the acknowledgement of a separate Basque identity and status, even in non Basque nationalist circles. However, the statute’s original blueprint came up against strong opposition in Navarre (Unión del Pueblo Navarro party founded) and rightist and nationalist circles of the still Francoist central administration. At the beginning of the 1980s the Spanish Socialist party and their regional branch too swerved to a Navarre-only stance, paving the way to a separate autonomous community.

However, the Statute of Autonomy of the Basque Country retained in its wording the spirit of the original blueprint, namely allowing the necessary means for the development in liberty of the Basque people, while now limited only to the western Álava, Gipuzkoa and Biscay provinces. The possibility of Navarre joining in is anyway emphasized and provisioned for, insomuch as they are identified as Basque people, should that be their will.

It established a system of parliamentary government, in which the president (chief of government) or lehendakari is elected by the Basque Autonomous Parliament among its members. Election of the Parliament is by universal suffrage and parliament consists of 75 deputies, 25 from each of the three Historic Territories of the community. The parliament is vested with powers over a broad variety of areas, including agriculture, industry; from culture, arts and libraries, to tax collection, policing, and transportation. Basque (as a right) and Spanish (as a right and duty) are official languages.


The equal representation of the provinces regardless of actual population was a wink to Alava and Navarre, the least populated and least prone to Basque nationalism of the provinces. However the Navarrese society seems content with its current Amejoramiento del Fuero’

Up to early 19th century, the Basque districts maintained a great degree of self-government under their charters (they came to be known as the Exempt Provinces), i.e. they held a different status from other areas within the Crown of Castile/Spain, involving taxes and customs, separate military conscription, etc.), operating almost autonomously.

After the First Carlist War (1833-1839), home rule was abolished and substituted by the Compromise Act (Ley Paccionada) in Navarre (1841) and a diminished chartered regime in the three western provinces (up to 1876). After the definite abolition of the Charters (end of Third Carlist War), former laws and customs were largely absorbed into Spanish centralist rule with little regard for regional idiosyncrasies. As a result, attempts were made by Carlists, Basque nationalists and some liberal forces in the Basque region of Spain to establish a collaboration among them and restore some kind of self-empowerment (“autonomy”), while the Catalans developed their own Catalan Commonwealth.


Attempts at a unified Basque statute including Navarre were repeatedly postponed until the occasion seemed to have arrived at the onset of the Second Spanish Republic with an statute for the four Basque provinces. A draft Basque Statute was approved by all four provinces (1931), but Carlists were divided, and the 1931 draft Statute of Estella did not achieve enough support, against a backdrop of heated controversy over the validity of the votes, as well as allegations of strong pressures on local representatives to tip the scale against the unitarian option (Assembly of Pamplona, 1932).

Following the works started for the Basque Statute, another proposal was eventually approved by the government of the Spanish Republic, already awash in the Civil War, this time only including the provinces of Gipuzkoa, Biscay and Álava. Its effectivity was limited to the Republic-controlled areas of Biscay and a fringe of Gipuzkoa.

After the surrendering of the Basque Army in 1937, the statute was abolished. However, Francisco Franco allowed the continuation of a limited self-government for Alava and Navarre, thanking their support for the Spanish Nationalist uprising.


Basque autonomy represents a microcosm of the struggles of ethnic groups within Europe. I have written many times here about this situation. For centuries Europe was, and is, torn by opposing ideologies. On the one hand, states and empires sought hegemonic control over large territories that encompassed a range of ethnic and linguistic minorities. Even now there is no state within Europe that is unicultural, although a few come close. Some are inherently pluralistic without even considering recent waves of immigrants. Spain is a classic example. It was originally manufactured out of individual kingdoms whose languages and cultures are quite distinct. Spanish language differences are bad enough – the dialects are much more diverse within Spain than between other Spanish dialects worldwide. Though I speak Argentine Spanish, I can understand Chileans, Filipinos, Peruvians, etc. easily enough, but I have no hope with Catalonians or Galicians. Add Basque to the mix. It is a language isolate, totally unrelated to Indo-European languages, or any other language family for that matter.

On the other hand, these individual cultural and linguistic groups have sought independence from state and imperial hegemonic power. The European Union is merely the latest in a series of unifying powers aimed at bringing a vast region under one government (sort of). Counter to this are Basques, Scots, etc. who want autonomy and self identity. Not everyone is happy with the situation, but the creation of an autonomous Basque Country within both Spain and Europe seems to be a reasonable model.

The Basques may have more recipes for variety meats than any other culture. They delight in tripe, sweetbreads, heart, oxtail, tongue — you name it. This derives from their traditional occupation as shepherds in the high Pyrenees (and subsequently in the American West). As is true of so many peasant cultures of Europe, the herders raised the animals and sold the fine muscle meats, but got to keep the less desirable organ and scrap meats for themselves. Yet, a cuisine born of necessity can, nonetheless, produce magnificent dishes. Many fine Basque stews like this one have a base of tomatoes, onions, and green peppers. The sauce is reminiscent of the taste of gazpacho, tangy with the olive oil and peppers, so be sure to use the most flavorful olive oil you can find. I cook this stew over two days, simmering the tripe on the first day, and adding the vegetables on the second. Like many stews of this type, the preparation is rather simple. The key to success is long, long, slow cooking. This dish is best served with plain boiled rice and a big loaf of crusty bread.


Basque Stewed Tripe


3 lbs honeycomb tripe
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion diced
1 green pepper diced
2 tablespoons garlic finely chopped
1/4 cup of finely chopped green chiles
1lb fresh or canned (drained) sauce tomatoes peeled and chopped
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
beef stock


Simmer the tripe in rich beef stock for about 1 hour, or until it is fork tender but not soft, and then let it cool in the broth (preferably in the refrigerator overnight). Remove the tripe from the broth and cut it into bite size hunks. Skim the fat from the broth and return it to the heat to warm through. Gently heat the olive oil in a large skillet or heavy bottomed saucepan capable of accommodating all the stew ingredients comfortably.   Sauté the green pepper and onions in the oil until they are soft. Add the tomatoes, green chiles, parsley, and garlic and continue to sauté gently for 5 minutes. Add three cups of the warmed broth and the tripe, and simmer very slowly, uncovered, for one hour. The sauce will thicken considerably in this time. There is no harm in extra cooking if the sauce appears too thin. Essentially, the longer the cooking the better (if the sauce gets too thick add a little more broth).

Serves 6


Jun 012015


Azores Day (Dia dos Acores) is a regional holiday to commemorate Azorean political autonomy established in the Portuguese constitution, following the Carnation Revolution – a military coup in Lisbon on 25 April 1974 which overthrew the regime of the Estado Novo. The original context of Azores Day has changed from a commemoration of a “Day of Autonomy” to one based on the celebration of the political, religious, traditional, and historic context of the Azores within Portugal. Political quarrels between the Azores and the national government are usually highlighted during these celebrations, with political commentaries made by the President of the Regional Government. The day is also associated with the distinctively Azorean Catholic cult of the Holy Spirit.


The islands were known in the fourteenth century and parts of them can be seen, for example, in the Atlas Catalan. In 1427, one of the captains sailing for Henry the Navigator, possibly Gonçalo Velho, rediscovered the Azores, but this is not certain. In Thomas Ashe’s 1813 work, “A History of the Azores”, the author identified a Fleming, Joshua Vander Berg of Bruges, who made landfall in the archipelago during a storm on his way to Lisbon. He stated that the Portuguese explored the area and claimed it for Portugal shortly after. Other stories note the discovery of the first islands (São Miguel Island, Santa Maria Island and Terceira Island) were made by sailors in the service of Henry the Navigator, although there are few written documents to support the claims.

Although it is commonly said that the archipelago received its name from the goshawk (Açor in Portuguese), a common bird at the time of discovery, it is unlikely that the bird nested or hunted in the islands.


At some point, following the discovery of Santa Maria, sheep were let loose on the island before settlement actually took place. This was done to supply the future settlers with food because there were no large animals on the island. Settlement did not take place right away, however. There was not much interest among the Portuguese people in an isolated archipelago hundreds of miles from civilization. However, Cabral patiently gathered resources and settlers for the next three years (1433–1436) and sailed to establish colonies on Santa Maria first and then São Miguel next. Settlers cleared bush and rocks to plant crops—grain, grape vines, sugar cane, and other plants suitable for local use and of commercial value. They brought domesticated animals, such as chickens, rabbits, cattle, sheep, goats, and pigs, built houses and established villages.

The archipelago was settled over the centuries largely from mainland Portugal. Portuguese settlers came from the provinces of Algarve, Minho, Alentejo and Ribatejo as well as Madeira. São Miguel was first settled in 1444, the settlers – mainly from the Estremadura, Alto Alentejo and Algarve areas of continental Portugal, under the command of Gonçalo Velho Cabral – landing at the site of modern-day Povoação. In 1522 Vila Franca do Campo, then the capital of the island, was devastated by a landslide caused by an earthquake that killed about 5,000 people, so the capital was moved to Ponta Delgada. The town of Vila Franca do Campo was rebuilt on the original site and today is a thriving fishing and yachting port. Ponta Delgada received its city status in 1546. Once settled, the pioneers applied themselves to agriculture. By the 15th century Graciosa exported wheat, barley, wine and brandy. The goods were sent to Terceira largely because of the proximity of the island.


During the 18th and 19th centuries, Graciosa was host to many prominent figures, including Chateaubriand, the French writer who passed through upon his escape to America during the French revolution; Almeida Garrett, the Portuguese poet who visited an uncle and wrote some poetry while there; and Prince Albert of Monaco, the 19th century oceanographer who led several expeditions in the waters of the Azores. He arrived on his yacht “Hirondelle”, and visited the “furna da caldeira”, the noted hot springs grotto. Mark Twain described his time in the Azores in The Innocents Abroad (1869).


Azoreans have developed their own distinct regional identity and cultural traits, from a combination of continental Portuguese customs brought by various waves of immigration and local political and environmental factors. Religious festivals, patron saints and traditional holidays dot the Azorean calendar. The most important religious events are tied with the festivals associated with the Cult of the Holy Spirit, commonly referred to as the festivals of the Holy Spirit (or Espírito Santo), rooted in millenarian dogma and held on all islands from May to September. These festivals are very important to the Azorean people, who are primarily Roman Catholic, and combine religious rituals with processions celebrating the benevolence and egalitarianism of neighbors. These events are centered on treatros or impérios, small buildings that host the meals, adoration and charity of the participants, and used to store the artifacts associated with the events. On Terceira, for example, these impérios have grown into ornate buildings painted and cared for by the local brotherhoods in their respective parishes. The events focus on the members of local parishes, not tourists, but all are welcome, as sharing is one of the main principles of the festivals.


Another event, the Festival of Senhor Santo Cristo dos Milagres (Lord Holy Christ of Miracles) in Ponta Delgada on the island of São Miguel, is the largest individual religious event in the Azores, and takes place on the fifth Sunday after Easter. Pilgrims from within the Portuguese diaspora normally travel to Ponta Delgada to participate in an afternoon procession behind the image of Christ along the flower-decorated streets of the city. Although the solemn procession is only held on one day, the events of the Festival of Senhor Santo Cristo occur over a period of a week and involve a ritual of moving the image between the main church and convent nightly, ultimately culminating in the procession, which is televised within the Azores and to the Portuguese diaspora. The Sanjoaninas Festivities in Angra do Heroísmo on Terceira are held in June honoring S. Antonio, S. Pedro and S. João, in a large religious celebration.

Ecce Homo celebrations

The festival of Nossa Senhora de Lourdes, (Our Lady of Lourdes), patron saint of whalers, begins in Lajes on Pico on the last Sunday of August and runs through the week—Whalers Week. It is marked by social and cultural events connected to the tradition of whale hunting. The Festa das Vindimas, (Wine Harvest Festival), takes place during the first week of September and is a century-old custom of the people of Pico.


On Corvo the people celebrate their patron saint Nossa Senhora dos Milagres (Our Lady of Miracles) on 15 August every year in addition to the festivals of the Divine Holy Spirit. The Festival da Maré de Agosto (August Sea Festival), takes place every year beginning on 15 August in Praia Formosa on Santa Maria. Also, the Semana do Mar (Sea Week), dedicated almost exclusively to water sports, takes place in August in the city of Horta, on Faial.


Carnaval is also celebrated in the Azores. Parades and pageants are the heart of the Carnaval festivities. There is lively music, colorful costumes, hand-made masks, and floats. Traditional bullfights occur as well as the running of bulls in the streets.

Naturally, feasting featuring local dishes is an important component of these celebrations. Azorean cuisine is obviously derived from traditional Portuguese food, but with variations that have evolved over time. Fish is, of course, a major element. But the Azores are also noted for dairy for cheese and butter, and local beef is a staple. Pork is also popular. Here’s a local recipe for a hearty fennel soup, originally from Portugal but with typical Azorean rustic hints. Linguiça is a Portuguese sausage that you can often find in good supermarkets, or online.


Fennel Soup


1 ½ cups dried white kidney beans
1 lb pig’s knuckle
2 fennel bulbs with green leaves, coarsely chopped
1 medium onion, finely chopped
5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 bay leaf
¼ tsp ground cloves
black pepper
3 Savoy cabbage leaves, coarsely chopped
3 large new potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 bunch green onions, thinly sliced crosswise
3 tbsp olive oil
½ lb linguiça, cut into ⅛-in rounds


Soak the beans overnight.

Rub the meat with 2 tablespoons of kosher coarse salt and chill overnight.

Put the pig’s knuckles and beans in a large, heavy pot and cover with water or light stock. Simmer until the meat and beans are tender (about an hour, or more).

Add the onion, garlic, bay leaf, cloves, and freshly ground black pepper to taste to the pot. Simmer 5 minutes, then add the fennel, cabbage, potatoes, scallions, olive oil, and sausage. Return the soup to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low, and continue to simmer until the potatoes are cooked, about 20 minutes.

Serve in deep bowls with crusty bread.

Jun 092013

Aland map   aland-islands

Today is Autonomy Day in Åland (or the Åland Islands), a demilitarised, monolingually Swedish-speaking, self governing region of Finland consisting of an archipelago lying at the entrance to the Gulf of Bothnia in the Baltic Sea between Finland and Sweden. The location of Åland makes it of major strategic importance for military operations in the Baltic, and therefore its sovereignty has changed hands several times since the eighteenth century.  Prior to 1809 Åland was part of the territory of Sweden, but Sweden ceded the islands, along with Finland, to Russia after being decisively defeated during the Napoleonic Wars. Subsequently Åland became part of the Grand Duchy of Finland within the Russian Empire. In 1832 the Russians built the great fortress, Bomarsund, in Åland to protect its interests in the Baltic, but it was destroyed by the combined British and French fleets during the Crimean War.  The peace treaty that ended the war declared that the islands should be demilitarized.  However, the Russians built a submarine base there in 1914.  After the October revolution of 1917, Finland declared independence from Russia, and Åland attempted to reunite with Sweden as part of the deal, given that almost all of the population spoke Swedish and thought of themselves as Swedish.  However, Sweden was preoccupied with its own internal political problems, and so Åland remained in Finnish hands until 1920 when Finland granted the islands the right to self governance (confirmed a year later by the League of Nations).

Åland consists of about 6,700 skerries (small rocky outcrops) and islands, 80 of which are inhabited.  Shipping has been an important component of the Åland economy for centuries, and, in fact, the last European port for commercial sailing vessels was located there.  Islanders used sail power long after the rest of Europe had converted to steam for powering sea vessels. Fishing is also of great importance, and for centuries the export of fish, mostly to Sweden, was a main component of the economy (as well as exported timber from cleared agricultural lands).  In recent years the government has begun investing in aquaculture, such as mussel farming.  Sport fishing and sailing have also become important components of a growing tourist industry (and despite looks to the contrary, this post is not sponsored by the Åland tourist board – although I am open to offers).

The islands are rocky with thin, but rich, chalk/clay soils which allow a wide variety of farming activities.  Farming has supported the islanders since the Neolithic (New Stone Age), starting roughly 4,000 years ago. For 3,000 years before that the inhabitants were foragers, living off fish, hunted small game, and gathered grains and berries.  Rye was the principal cereal grown until the end of the nineteenth century because of its tolerance for cold weather.  In the eighteenth century cold weather root crops such as potatoes and turnips were introduced.  Nowadays there is an abundance of certain fruits, most especially apples and berries, and, more recently, pears.  Naturally sheep thrive in the rockier lands unsuitable for agriculture, and flocks are left to roam and graze on many of the uninhabited islands.  There are also large herds of dairy cattle supporting a well established butter and cheese industry for export. There is a strong move towards green farming, and now a significant percentage of electricity is produced on the islands through wind power — decreasing dependence on undersea cables from the mainland.

Weddings on the islands until the 1920’s were three day affairs of song, dance, food, and drink.  Nowadays they are recreated (in miniature) for tourists. The one pictured here shows people in what is now considered national dress, although these were invented in the late nineteenth century – but shhhh!! – don’t tell anyone — ALL “traditional” costumes in Europe were invented in that time period (or later). The main festival on the islands is Midsummer (June 21) although these days maypoles and traditional dances have been replaced with rock bands.

Much of Åland cuisine has its roots in the cooking of Sweden and Finland, with influences from Russia and France.  But there are two items that are considered classics of Åland:  Ålandskt Svartbrod, a dense dark brown bread made of rye flour, malt, and molasses, and Åland pancakes. These pancakes are more of a pudding than what we usually think of as pancakes, made of a base of semolina (cream of wheat), and eggs which is baked, then topped with fresh fruit or fruit “cream” (more traditional), and sometimes whipped cream.

Åland Pancakes


4 cups  (9.5 dl) milk
1/3 cup (1.6 dl) semolina
1 teaspoon salt
4 eggs
½  (1.5 dl) cup sugar
7/8 cup (2 dl) flour
1 tablespoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 tablespoons (.5 dl) butter, melted

Åland prune cream (see below)
fresh whipped cream


Bring the milk with the salt to a slow boil and add the semolina in a steady stream whilst whisking until thoroughly combined.

Cook at a low heat for approximately 10 minutes while occasionally stirring.

Set aside to cool.

When cooled, pour the cream of wheat into a mixing bowl. Add the eggs, sugar, flour, cardamom, and vanilla, and stir to make a smooth batter.

Line a 9″ (23 cm) round baking dish with parchment or greaseproof paper. Brush the paper with melted butter.

Pour the batter into the baking dish and cook at 390°F (200°C) for 30 to 45 minutes until golden brown.

Serve warm in slices topped with prune cream and whipped cream.

Serves 4-6

Åland Prune Cream


15 pitted prunes cut in quarters
4 cups (9.5 dl) water
1 cup (2.3 dl) prune juice
1 cinnamon stick
½ cup (1.5 dl) sugar
2 tbsp (.3 dl) cornstarch dissolved in 3 tbsp (.5 dl) water

Soak the prunes for 1 hour in the water in a saucepan.

Add the prune juice and cinnamon stick and bring to a slow boil.

Add the sugar slowly whilst stirring to dissolve, then remove from the heat.

Give the water and cornstarch mixture a quick whisk and add it to the prune mixture.

Return the pot to the stove and bring to a gentle boil.

As soon as the mixture thickens remove from the heat.

Discard the cinnamon stick and let cool.

Yield: 3 cups