Ok, I don't want to anger or upset anyone with this tip, so I won't be too detailed, but I do think that it is worth explaining some of the aspects of nationalist politics in the Basque Country. This is especially true for the northern Basque Country (i.e. Bayonne), since any information about Basque nationalist politics in the English language media is generally about the situation in the south, and specifically within the autonomous region of Euskadi. Even if there has been a resurgence in nationalist identity over the last few years in Bayonne, the same can't really be said of nationalist parties. Unlike in Donostia or Bilbao, nationalist politicians don't really give those from the national French parties a run for their money in Bayonne, and the desire for independence is largely absent from the graffiti and posters on the streets of Grande and Petite Bayonne. There are a few political organizations, like the one in the picture, but these are quite small compared to the organizations like the PNB, EA and EHAK. The one party that exclusively focuses on the north si Abertzale Batasuna, the Union of Patriots. For the most part, however, Basque identity is cultural rather than political, and the sort of street protests and violence that are frequently highlighted in the south are absent from the north.
I've always found Basque lettering interesting and somehow attractive. The Basques use the same Latin alphabet as the Spaniards (that is, it includes ñ and considers rr a single letter), but, like the pre-WWII Germans, a special script is sometimes used to write Basque, especially when it is in signs or titles. It looks rather cartoonish, with some of the letters (a and v, I think) having large bars on top or below. To be honest, I don't know where it comes from, but it is universally recognized as being Basque - used in both the North and South, and almost never for any other language. Sometimes it is even used on roadsigns, with the Spanish or French equivalent in normal Latin characters.
I’ve often referred to Bayonne as a Basque city, but that’s really only half true – it is officially a trilingual city, where French, Basque and Gascon (the western-most dialect that makes up he Occitan continuum) coexist. In practice, French is the overwhelmingly dominant language. Everyone speaks its, and it can be used pretty much everywhere and anywhere. In the past, Basque and Gascon coexisted in the city – Gascony traditionally lies to the north of the city, while Euskadi is to the south. For various reasons, Basque is sort of the dominant force in terms of regional cultures and revivals, and this is most noticeable during the fêtes de Bayonne, when everyone gets done-up in red, white and green, the traditional colours of the Basque flag. It’s not just thanks to the tourist industry that Basque has more of an advantage over Gascon; after all, Basque culture and language can be distinguished from French with much greater ease than Gascon. More than that, Basque culture in the city benefits from the movements to the south, where there are 24-hour Basque language TV stations, profitable publishing houses, standardized curricula and massive political machines all designed to revive Basque as a viable language of day-to-day usage. Gascon doesn’t have the same sort of advantages, but it is slowly being recognized and fostered in the city. You can see Gascon on various municipal signs, in the Musée Basque and in a few plaques commemorating famous residents of the city who used the language. Still, if you’re looking for actual materials to slate your thirst for learning more about this language, you’ll have to go out towards Pau or Bordeaux, as they are few and far between in Bayonne.
If you’ve read my introduction to Bayonne, you’ll know that I didn’t quite expect the same amount of Basque-ness as farther south in Donostia or Bilbao, but was surprised by the new vigour of the culture in France. I did, nevertheless, expect some graffiti – after all, it only takes one person to paint a mural. Politically motivated graffiti, murals and signs are more prevalent in Little Bayonne than in Big Bayonne, which is fitting given the distinction between the grimier, working class feel of the former and the touristy ambience of the latter. Political graffiti in the Basque country is NOT all about the ETA. In fact, given that the ETA is not active in France the way it is in Spain, there is really not a lot mentioned about the group in the murals or posters on walls in Bayonne. Rather, graffiti either calls for the authorities to answer for the disappearance of several young Basques from the Bayonne region something like 20 years ago, or it is of an ultra-left wing and pro-nationalist flavor, promoting women’s rights, national rights and workers’ rights at the same time. Although it is in Basque, much of it uses the same twenty words in one form or another, so, with a little help from a guidebook you can decipher the meaning of most graffiti. Even if you’re apolitical or opposed to Basque identity and nationalism, you must admit – the graffiti does actually help out in brightening up what would otherwise be a rather grimy and dark part of town.
Bayonne hams (jambon de Bayonne) are very famous in France....similar to Italian proscuitto but with a more distinctive taste.
If you get a chance, go visit a shop where they dry hams the old-fashioned way (production artisanale as opposed to industrial).
The demonstrations are free and you get to taste some of the products. Of course, there is a shop and if you are like me, you won't be able to resist buying some food items.