BOOKS - The Center for Basque Studies Reader's Club

Living on the Border in the Basque Country

In Living Boundaries: Frontiers and Identity in the Basque Country, Dr. Zoe Bray gives a fascinating anthropological account of three Basque towns: Hondarribia and Irun on the southern, Spanish side of the international frontier, and Hendaia to the north.

These quintessential border towns bring together the Pyrenees, the ocean, the Bidasoa River, the ancient sand, and a very interesting variety of cultures. Twin lifestyles that approach and separate like reflections of concave and convex mirrors.

The Txingudi was the main area of Dr. Bray’s research, which involved living, working, and making observations in the town. Dr. Bray’s research follows in a rich tradition of social anthropological research, laced with ethnographic accounts tied to contemporary sociopolitical issues including: work and play, language issues, cross border organizations, and events like the Alarde and the Korrika. Through her extensive ethnographic work, Bray unravels the complex web of multiple identities—some traditional and some mutant—that have developed in the French–Spanish–Basque context.

(Photos from Living Boundaries, by the author.)

A brief excerpt from Living Boundaries on one particular peril of learning Euskara, the Basque language:

One day, in the supermarket where I am working in Hendaia, I encounter Maialen . . . A native of Hendaia . . . [t]hree times a week, we meet at AEK’s branch in Hendaia, where we take Basque lessons together. . . . Basket in hand, a woman in her sixties wearing a brown raincoat approaches. Seeing her, Maialen switches to French and introduces her to me as her mother. Knowing that her mother speaks Basque and wishing to carry on speaking in this language, I address her mother in Basque. She looks astonished and then, with slight irony, remarks in Basque, “It seems that it really is a fashion amongst young people now to learn Basque. I suppose it is good . . . I don’t know. Not very useful though. . . . Not like English or German or . . . And you all learn this Spanish Basque don’t you? Batua?” Next to me, Maialen blushes, clearly ill at ease. While I carry on talking to her in Basque, her replies to me are no longer so fluent. (95)

Argi eta garbi, Zoe Bray doktoreak tesia egiteko aukerartutako munduko bazterra berezia da. Hondarribia, Irun, Hendaia, mugako herri hauek, aintzatik itsas hertzeko saretan biltzen dituzte Pirinioak, itsasoa, ibaia, area eta kultura sorta interesgarria. Senide artean bezala, elkarrengandik hurbildu eta baztertzen dira ispilu ahur eta ganbil bateko isla balira.

Azterketa etnografiko zabala baliatuz, Bray doktoreak identitate anitzen (mutanteak sarri) korapiloa askatzen du, euskal-frantses-espainiar mugen gainetik jauzi eginez.

Salta a la vista, el rincón del mundo elegido por la Dr. Zoe Bray para llevar a cabo su tesis es especial. Hendaia, Irun, Hondarribia lugar fronterizo donde los haya, concentra en su milenaria pipeta, Pirineos, mar, rio, arena y una interesante variedad de culturas. Primas-hermanas formas de vida, se acercan y separan como si reflejos de un espejo concavo y convexo se tratara.

Valiendose de un extensivo trabajo etnografico, Bray desenreda el complejo entramado de identidades plurales, a veces mutantes, que se desenvuelven en un contexto vasco-frances-espanol.

Aditional Information
Zoé Bray, de l'antrhropologie à l'art du portrait (YouTube French)