Wednesday, 11 November 2009

remembering in St Jean de Luz

In St Jean de Luz today everything stopped at 1100. Around four hundred people met with an army squadron at the war memorial. A band accompanied several Basque hymns before the mayor addressed the gathering. Police stopped traffic while the bells tolled the eleventh hour. After the silence local school children read the names of those Basques from St Jean de Luz who have fallen fighting for the country over the last century. The squadron stood rooted throughout. Comparing the children reading out the names and those in uniform carrying guns there really seemed to be very little age difference.

I recently made a visit to Guernica/Gernika. It is a fairly average looking town that hides well the true importance and horrors of its history. For centuries the seat of the Biscayan assembly met under a giant oak tree in the centre of town. It is constantly replanted as the parent withers and has become symbolic of the traditional rights of the Basque people as a whole. The trunk of one of the original trees is now protected while its offspring take root nearby.

On April 26, 1939 Francisco Franco, frustrated by the Basques' refusal to meet his demands, used the Nazi luftwaffe to annihilate the town. The Germans used the sortie as an experiment for their terrifying incendiary bombs. The unarmed population had no hope of escape. Those that survived the bombs were mown down by pursuing fighter planes.

The massacre is remembered in Picasso's painting and more recently in a wonderful book by Dave Boling, both called Guernica.

Basque of the day:- tree :: arbola