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Pintxos and Paisanos

La Semana Grande

SPAIN | Wednesday, 27 May 2015 | Views [81] | Scholarship Entry

This was to be the final stop in our improvised journey along the Bay of Biscay. With the promise of good surf, San Sebastian awaited us.

We left the car by Parque Cristina Enea and started walking towards what we hoped was the beach. We did not know it yet, but the very reason for our visit would soon be forgotten once we arrived in the old town.

The park gave us shade as we walked. Continuing along the wide Urumea Itsasadarra River carrying the salty spray of the Atlantic and past old men with their grandchildren, fishing for whitebait. We then crossed the Puente del Kursaal, a bridge both necessary and completely out of place.

Right. Then left. Left again, then right. The script on the strong blue street signs was familiar but the language was at odds with anything we knew about Spanish. As were the bars, advertising not tapas but pintxos. This was not le Pays Basque. This was Euskal Herria.

On Fermin Calberton Kalea we dived into a taberna. My woeful Spanish was met with a friendly smile as I collected chorizo y pan for us all. The rich red oil dampened the hard crust of the bread and dripped onto the tips of my fingers. Somewhere between my hunger, the chorizo melting in my mouth and the smoky, garlic-enriched flavours I became completely overwhelmed.

The taberna had gradually packed out. In fact, while we’d been devouring our pintxos the narrow street had also filled. Laughter echoed off the Gothic facades of a nearby square, punctuated by loud and frequent cracks and the excited screams of children.

By the time we realised it was fiesta, the fiesta itself was hurtling towards us in the form of a four-metre harlequin with an oversized head – one of Los Cabezudos. Hence the screams: terrified children in Real Sociedad jerseys running away from these Punch and Judy figures.

It was La Semana Grande, a week-long fiesta in late August, bursting into life right before our eyes. With this new perspective on the city and our visit, we turned from the square into a Kalea pulsing with the inimitable excitement of fiesta.

Then, some twenty metres away, a huge banner was unfurled, spanning the street. In the green, red and white of Euskara, was a simple phrase helpfully translated into French and English. “Tourists!” it proclaimed, “You are not in France. You are not in Spain. You are in the Basque Country!”

Tags: 2015 Writing Scholarship

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