Tag Archives: Bilbao

“A Kiss in the Dark” by Javi Cillero

Let’s approach this story by studying how language is used to create setting, in this case the setting is Bilbao.  How do authors represent the world they live in?  How do authors use the protagonist’s eyes to see a fictional world?  Does that fictional world accurately mime the real world?  How do Basque writers represent the rural country, cities, and neighborhoods?   Uribarri is a neighborhood in Bilbao and the narrator is a young teenager.

“A Kiss in the Dark” is written in the first person and is a retrospective narration which adds a third aspect: memory.  So when thinking about this story we must consider all three layers: the fictional world, the protagonist in his youth, and the retrospective narrator as an adult.  These things aren’t mutually exclusive, which makes analysis difficult but is often simply understood by the reader.

The story is on some level recognizable and simple.  It reminds me of Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown”, Grimms’ “Hansel and Gretel”, and Borges’ “Labyrinth.”  The protagonist makes an across-town journey going from Uribarri to Indautxu through a number of streets that seem foreign.

Something I barely thought about when I read this story for the first time was where these neighborhoods are in Bilbao.  There is Calle Uribarri which is just east of the river and because of the mention of crossing the Town Hall Bridge (60) I will imagine the journey being from Calle Uribarri to Indautxu, a journey of 2.3 kilometers that will take 30 minutes to walk.  Certainly this won’t be a challenge to most adults but it could be to our young protagonist, who has only gone into the city to visit the cinema or arcade, this errand will take the young man into “the city [that] seemed quite labyrinthine.”

Page sixty shows the reader Bilbao.  I don’t have much of a desire to interpret these passages but simply to bring them to your attention: “So this was the perfect occasion to indulge in a thorough exploration of the place: the cinemas, the arcades, the shops where you could exchange comics, all the plush bars; I even spotted a dubious-looking ‘club’ with a red front door [….] I also saw old warehouses, dusty, broken blinds, dark bars and noisy garages.”  In this section the protagonist journeys from the commercial neighborhood into more of an industrial section of the city.  It is there that the protagonist meets the old woman.

As I previously mentioned, an active reader must take into account the perceiver, and I like to focus on modifiers such as adjectives and adverbs.  Going through the previous sections there are a few examples, such as plush bars, dubious-looking ‘club’, menacing faces, broken blinds, dark bars, and noisy garages.  Modifiers show the narrator’s perception.  There’s no need to explain why the faces are ‘menacing’ or why he happened to notice the ‘broken’ blinds.  But these words show the mind at work behind the eyes of the narrator.

The last thing I would like to address is how narrators indicate mental processes.  On the final page the narrator says, “I remember the floor and walls were covered in tiles, just that.  That and the doctor’s redolent, reverberating surname, which I shall never forget.”  Mental processes include memory, introspection, reasoning, and beliefs.  Everyone assembles the world, remembering some things and forgetting others.  But these activities create a unique world.  My final thought is a question I can’t answer.  Does this fictional Bilbao accurately represent the real Bilbao (whether current or historical)?  Mimesis, the act of imitation, is a central aspect to critical theory.  As an American who has never traveled to Bilbao, I can’t begin to debate the accuracy of Cillero’s writing.  But this story is beginning to paint a picture of the Basque Country in my mind.



Liburuak: The Books of the Basque Country

There is the physical world we live in, and then there is the world we imagine.  Walt Whitman imagined an America, as did Mark Twain, Jack Kerouac, and Aimee Bender.  Each of these writers played with the idea of life in America and used language and stories to create an America, a literary America.

This series will explore how Basque writers have created an imaginary Basque Country.  I plan to read and write my way through all my Basque books in order to get to know the inner landscape of the Basque people and to study how Basque writers use language to tell stories.

A few notes on myself.  I do not have an ounce of Basque blood in my body, but for whatever reason I began to think (some might say obsess) about the Basque language and narrative starting in 2008.  So what do I find interesting?  First, the thing that Basques identify with most is language: Euskara.  As a writer I identify with the English language in a much different way than your average person.  Every day I read and write for hours.  Language defines me as it defines Euskadi (the Basque country).

Second, the Basques are one of the oldest ethnic groups in Europe, many say THE oldest.  But at the same time, they ride the wave of modernity.  They were some of the first to sail the world during the Spanish Empire, mined and forged metals during the Industrial Revolution, and they experienced a Diaspora under Franco.  This last factor is a tragedy but has also defined the Basque people in the twentieth century.  It’s logical to think that their homes can be both Boise and Bilbao, San Francisco and San Sebastian—there is one foot in the old world and one in the new world—on one level this is their contemporary life.

Third, Franco made the teaching of Euskara illegal and the language should’ve died.  Thank God it didn’t.  Since Franco’s death, Euskara has shot back and many Basque Natives are bilingual—speaking both Spanish and Basque—not to mention some speak French or English as well.  When the illegal status of the language ended with Franco, it bounced back with vigor.  What used to be something whispered in barns and kitchens is now plastered throughout the internet.  Anyone can sign up for a class at a subsidized rate because the Basque government is willing to fund this project.  And there are many books being published and read.  Large presses, such as Penguin, have released titles like The Basque History of the World.  The University of Reno has released an entire series called Basque Literature.  And Independent presses, like Miss Nyet, have released thrillers such as ETA: Estimated Time of Arrest by Dephine Pontvieux, a Franco-American fan of the Basque Country

My desire is to create a blog where English speakers can discover Basque literature.  I studied English Literature and creative writing at university; for the past five years I have been writing fiction and non-fiction for a number of publications.  As a graduate student I taught British Romanticism and Critical Analysis.  I believe that close reading and writing about these texts will provide me with a richer reading experience and hopefully spark some interest in reading (and rereading) these text.