How to be French (Basque?) Part 4: San Sebastian

"An ivory tower should be built to protect the Basque people and their language, to ensure that this jewel does not disappear." // Niko Marr, Georgian writer and philosoper

“That doesn’t sound like Spanish,” a friend of mine said to me, as we walked along the crowded streets of San Sebastian, or Donoastia, as it is known in the Basque language. We listened in to the snippets of conversations that weaved in and out of the vibrant-colored buildings, unable to determine what language some of these people were speaking.

It’s amazing what happened when we crossed the border between France and Spain. I don’t think any of us knew what it was we were crossing into. It’s been said today and hundreds of years ago, that Africa begins after the Pyrenees mountains. Which geographically makes no sense, but to some living in France, that is more than the case.

What comes after the Pyrenees mountains is not Africa, but Spain. I’m taking an intercultural communications class during my time here and we had a discussion about this mindset. This is not an uncommon thought of some who live in France today and those who lived so many years ago. What comes after the Pyrenees is definitely not Africa, but a country full of unhindered blues and rusty reds that decorate the shudders of every window. It’s a place where the ocean meets the sea wall of a city bustling with some of the most lively people I have ever met.

It’s also place where the Basque language thrives, along with the Basque people. Spain may never sleep, and might make a little more noise than France, but from what I experienced, it is sophisticated in its own little ways. From the culture of eating pintxos late into the night, to the busy fishing port that reminds me of home, Spain has its act together in a very beautiful and unique way.

The Basque language, or Euskara, is the only surviving non-Indo European language in Western Europe.

Let’s just process that for a moment. It has been isolated in its own little paradise since the Romanization of Europe, and even before that. It’s origins are a debated topic, but nonetheless, it remains a language that branches from no other, or at the very least, from the unknown.

How wild is that? And to think I had the chance to explore that region and that language if only for a weekend.

I got up to watch the sunrise and sketch a little on Sunday morning in Donoastia. I wandered to this small alcove that was built on top of the sea wall. A few surfers drifted in and out of small sets that rolled in, along with the moored boats that dotted the bay. There was some weather moving in and I wrapped my scarf around me like a blanket.

I, like the Basque language, have found myself a little isolated at times since arriving in France. It’s the first time I have been anywhere I was not a little familiar with---no origins, no ties, no acquaintances to find comfort in.

But at the same time, like the Basque language, I want to be able to thrive in the unknown and the uncomfortable.

Looking back on my time here thus far, I am proud of myself for taking advantage of the uncomfortable to learn more about myself and why I am here. I know that I was not put here on this earth to live in a constant state of comfort, but rather to grow where I am planted and find joy in the unknown.

Grow where I am planted: that statement has never made more sense to me than it does now. I look at the Basque Country, all of the culture and the language and the people, and just marvel at how it did exactly that in Spain. It grew where it was planted and was made beautiful in the most vibrant and unique ways because it endured and still endures today.

I will not let the unknown or the uncomfortable steal my joy while I learn to grow where I am planted. I want to be in a constant state of joy even in the hardest things, just as Donoastia seemed to be well into the small hours of the morning.

So while this little life lesson was not learned in France, I now know how to be Basque to some degree: vibrantly full of life and unencumbered by the unknown.