My father and I visit dad's visit hometown of Gernika, while he's still living in Los Angeles. It's early 2012. This is one of the many spontaneous lunches with his childhood friends, Mauri and his brother, Felipe. Mauri is the famous Mauricio Ugartemendia Lauzirika, the great futbol player of the Athletic Club from 1953 through the early 60's.
We are eating centollo or txangurro in euskera, (king crab,) while talking about food, eating and the memories of eating. Mauri is showing the babies of the female txangurro, and explains that there is a male and a female, and we must be eating the female. Felipe says that one must have patience to eat well, and with gentleness to extract the juicy meat from its shell. Mauri loves to share the stories about friends who come from foreign lands, just to eat in the area, and restaurants that are good and others not so good. Then comes baby squid in their black ink. The wine is a Rioja Imperial Reserva 1998. A lot of talk about the past. Mauri's memories playing futbol.
I take their free spirit in, their passion, their sense of gratitude, remembering childhood experiences of poverty and despair.
They are friends since they were seven years old, and Mauri laughs at how he slept with his three siblings in one bed, smelling each other's feet. They had to steal, wood from the forest, and hollow the trees to hide inside, and then steal metal from the rubble, and clean the mess from the war, and rob pears from orchards and run off, and be chased, and not be able to help themselves because they were starving. Felipe: "One can't ever forget these things. Never." Mauri: "The Jewish person makes money and sacrifices pleasures, for the cause, not because he's selfish, but because he has a purpose that is greater, because he is thinking of the collective cause." Then Mauri continues, "Catalans always eat at home, and the men always have a mistress or two." Felipe, "One for sure." Mauri, "But the wife is like the goddess, and symbol of the home, but he can have mistresses." I ask, "And what about the Basques?" - "Basques have no idea of anything. I'm talking about the past, now things have changed, but Basques are very good-hearted, primitive, and this is from centuries past. Did you know that out of three hundred and sixty-five days, in the Basque country, over a hundred days were holidays, and people worked little back then. Technology has fucked up all that. I used to love sitting in The Gran Via in Madrid and to watch the people go by, one couple was arguing another was making out, the other, well, it was a life lesson just watching sitting on a bench. Everything is a life lesson, everything. Then there is what is born within us, and we go on developing. And teachers too, they learn from others who have been there but they assimilate. The virtuous one is that person who has taught by example without boasting, while others make fun of him, 'look at that crazy one.' but the smart one watches and learns. Between the teacher and the student, there is a mutual understanding to the point of deep love. It's not easy for the student to have the hunger and desire to absorb from the teacher to the point of falling in love with his teacher."
Felipe, "One teacher would come and plant her Spanish flag, and say, I know you don't like me here, but too bad, because I have another flag of Spain I'll stab into the floor. Everyday she'd bring with her some new Spanish flags just to fuck with us. We couldn't speak our language or show sentiments for our culture." Mauri, "A fan, who I would always see and exchange a few words with and one day another guy came to me and he wants to see you, well when I went to see him, he was dying, and he said that he was so happy to see me before dying. He grabbed my hand and a little while later, died so peacefully. Felipe, "There was a priest who was so nasty, nasty, he'd walk along the street and yell at people, son of a bitch get out of the way." Mauri, "I've always been someone who toward the bad person, the bandit, who comes to mess with me, I don't care if he's important, big or small, I'll clobber him. All my life, no matter who if he comes to fuck with me, I clobber him. Because that asshole has to be reprimanded and learn that he can't do that sort of thing. Because if you allow, then he'll do it to others and do it again to you. I'll cut your throat before you conspire your damage. Then he'll think, I better not do that because another person may actually hurt me, I just warned him. If there is no respect and education in a relationship, it's not worth anything."
#mauriugartemendia #athleticbilbao #gernika-lumo #euskadi