Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Mark Kurlansky to speak at sheep festival

Explore Basques and their history

Express Staff Writer

Speaking at this year's 10th annual Trailing of the Sheep Festival will be award winning author, celebrated food writer and well-known Basque historian Mark Kurlansky.

Throughout his career, Kurlansky has always included food in his studies and in the many books he has published. Kurlansky has produced three books this year to add to his vast body of work.

As a food writer, particularly one focusing on food history, Kurlansky has always found food to be a great entree to learning about people and places. "Food is a way of getting into all social and political things. Food reflects history and turmoil," said Kurlansky.

"The Basques were great international people, explorers and traders always very interested in their past. They would go places and bring back food products. Their food reflects the Americas in a way like no other Europeans."

His book, "The Basque History of the World," is a definitive tome on the Basque people and their region whom he describes as a, "curious combination of people focused on preserving their culture and extremely open to other cultures."

Early on in his career, Kurlansky served as a foreign correspondent covering the last years of Franco's dictatorship and continued to return to the region for more than 25 years.

"The idea of the Basque people as rugged people is more like that in Idaho. The Spanish side of the region is very affluent and highly industrial," said Kurlansky.

When the Basque people arrived in southwest Idaho in the later 1880s they came to herd sheep, work in mines and timber. Traditionally Basques were not sheepherders.

"When people in the American West think of Basque they think they are sheepherders, but very few people in the Basque country of Spain were sheepherders for business. There, people came from diverse farms and had a few sheep with little a bit of everything such as pigs and horses," said Kurlansky.

For the Basques who settled the region, Idaho was a much larger area compared to Europe.

"Moving a flock to the next slope would take a week instead of couple hours," said Kurlansky. Basques in the West are very different from the Basques of Spain because there they are not rural people.

Kurlansky believes that life in the American West is a lonely one for a Basque sheepherder having to live in trailers in the mountains, but by becoming sheepherders they have added to their tradition.

"You hear stories, and most of the Basque who came to America to be full time sheepherders knew how to handle sheep. When they arrived in the American West it was different. The spaces and grazing lands were so vast. You would never see a huge flock of sheep in Spain like you see sheep everywhere in the big country of Idaho," said Kurlansky.

This weekend will bring lots of sheep through the Valley, and Kurlansky is looking forward to attending the festival and speaking

"Basques have lots of traditional festivals, especially in the winter," he said. "The winter festivals are the really old ones. In the summer the festivals are more for the tourists, but every town and city has a festival."

He added, "I'm always interested in meeting Basques in other areas, especially being invited to the beautiful Rockies.

"I think I am going to talk about peace. Remembering this coming April 26 is the 70th anniversary of the bombing of Guernica. It was the first bomb to bomb a city from the air, and cities have been bombed from the air ever since. I would like to get back that rage."

Given the recent Basque peace talks in Spain and the state of peace around the world, his subject matter could not be more timely and important.

Kurlansky will speak on Friday, Oct. 13 at the nexStage Theatre in Ketchum at 7 p.m. He will also give a workshop about the art and craft of writing at The Center, Hailey from 9-10:30 a.m. for the College of Southern Idaho. For more information and to register, call 788-2033.

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