Well, my four weeks of studying Spanish in the Basque Country have come to an end. It has been an incredible experience, with three weeks of glorious weather and instant friendships made with students from all over Europe as we enjoy nights out on the tiles.
It´s also been pretty bizarre to be here for the World Cup, because I could count on one hand the number of Spanish jerseys I have seen around San Sebastian over the past month. And most of them belonged to tourists!
Nobody admits to supporting ´their´national team and I even saw a violent bottle fight between a group of locals and some ´pissed up´tourists in the heart of the Old Town on the night of the excellent victory over Germany.
"This is not Spain," roared a woman in her mid 40s from outside an ETA supporting pub, as she launched a glass missile at a first floor window. The Americans and Australians inside, full of the joys after a day in Pamplona, probably hadn´t a clue what she was on about.
Basically, Basques do not support their national team, even though local boy Xabi Alonso is one of its stars. There is no wild beeping of horns, no flags being flown from lamp posts or balconies, and all soccer loyalties are reserved for Real Sociedad.
The fun over the past few weeks came from the ethnic supporters, the immigrants such as the Argentinians who made the Auld Dubliner pub their home. They chanted, they brandished flags, they wore the shirts, and they made this Irish supporter wish they had gone all the way to the final.
But there are people here from all over the world at this time of year and I also found a pub full of Dutchies who were jusifiably proud of their side on the afternoon of the quarter final. The streets tend to fill with fans from Holland, Brazil, Uruguay, or wherever, after the games, but you won´t see any fans of Espana dancing in the fountains. It´s strange, especially when you see how much the national team has captured the hearts of people in other parts of Spain.
Around here, all the attention at the moment is on the San Fermins festival, 45 minutes down the road in Pamplona. The morning bull runs through the heart of the city are the stuff of legends, and no few accidents, and a cause for celebrations in which people´s loyalties don´t come under question.
It´s strange to be in a country which feels it´s not part of a country, if you know what I mean. The first flag which greets boats on their arrival into the port of San Sebastian is the red and green flag of the Basque Country, what I call "the Mayo Union Jack".
National flags are not even visible over Government buildings and all of the discussions over whether or not people should support Spain have brought out the latent Socioligist in me.
For an Irish person, it´s fascination. The question of the Basques is in many ways similar to that of the Irish, even if there are also a host of differences.
But it´s sad to see people in their 40s or 50s, full of hatred and despair, hurling bottles at windows because they can´t accept that people want to enjoy a celebration.
In other parts of Spain, the team´s wonderful run to the final has lifted the national mood, but here it has just opened up wounds about what it means to be a Basque and whether that is compatible with supporring the red shirts of Espana.
Anyway, the plan is to enjoy the final in the Auld Dubliner, before heading south to see Brid and Manolo, Sofia, and Cian and Marie over the coming weeks in Peniscola and Valencia. Sure beats covering the Arts Festival.
And, yes, the past few weeks have made me realise how far our own piece of rock in the North Atlantic has come. I met a young student here who told me he was from Co. Londonderry, which pretty much set out his tribal loyalties from the start.
Thankfully, these days, our two tribes are not killing each other any more. Ireland has left the dark days behind, but some Basques seem to be intent on holding on to the hatreds of the past.
In our country, we´ve learned that such bitterness takes time to clear, that wounds are not easily healed, but we´ve come a long way. But right here, right now, I would not like to parade around town in a red Spanish team shirt on Sunday night, even if in the comfort of their own homes many locals will be rooting for the national side.
Ayudante Profile #5: Concepcion
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