Why can’t Australia have fun like they do in Spain? The festive atmosphere has taken a hold of this country and filled it with love and fun that is a contagion that quickly infects travellers, and certainly makes me envious. I loved San Sebastian when I first visited here when I was 21, and it seems I still do. The people party from whenever they feel like their first wine or beer, they stay up until they fall down, and they spend their siesta time between their split shifts basking and swimming at the beach. To be here now though, in August, has been a blessing, to let us truly see the character of San Sebastian at its best.
The festive season has brought the best of the best street performers to the beautiful coastal city, and throughout our day of roaming the streets, we witness incredible dancing, stunts, musicians, artists and even a man who is at least 50 showing amazing Pele-esqe soccer skills that enrapture anyone walking past. (I watch three fathers each with their daughters in prams completely mesmerized by him, like three schoolboys watching a sporting idol.)
The festivities are set off with a National Holiday, and everything is about National pride and love, and the music, literature, sport and traditions that make this country unique and wonderful.
What I must clarify, of course, is that we are not in Spain at all. We are in the Basque country, the fiercely patriotic and proud region that covers a heart shaped area of the North of Spain, and some of France. The people in this region, who have their own distinct culture, language and history from the country they are governed by, will not rest until they are made independent, and remind the travellers within their borders that they are independent, at least in spirit. Posters and stickers on walls, light posts, windows and doors warn us: “Tourist remember, you are NOT in SPAIN or FRANCE – you are in the BASQUE country.” Basque flags hang off flagpoles, boats, and house windows, and many a person wears the Basque colours, or T-shirts demanding independence. San Sebastian, one of the biggest cities, is known as Donostia.
The week long fiesta here is a strong and sure demonstration of the strength of Basque pride. The first firework set off is the lighting up of the Basque name for their country, “Euskal”, and the celebrations are sponsored by the phone company “Euskotel”. More than a few of the fireworks are in the Basque colours – an explosion of red, green and white. (Upon seeing a house decked out in a pattern of red, green and white flowers, I muse “I’m surprised their amber traffic lights aren’t white!”)
The Basque country will most probably never gain full independence (it is an autonomous region, but movement for its independence was knocked back overwhelmingly by Spain’s parliament in 2005, and then a proposed petition for 2008 never took place). Spain will not let it go, and it is a contentious issue all over Spain – although here, what is wanted is very clear. And what is sure, is that for Basque pride to wane or be forgotten, a complete turnaround in the psyche of the people here will be necessary. And if they continue to raise their families rich in the history and traditions of their country, and continue to speak their language so proudly as they do now (there is no other language that Euskadi has been found to be linked with) then at least unofficially, the Basque country will always exist.
And where there are people who still have faith (just like Dumbledore says) then there is always hope.