All this passed through my mind as I worked my way towards Bar Elkano.
As I entered, it occurred to me that the crowd was diverse to a degree I was not accustomed. I had taken to eating only in fine restaurants. From the outside, this tiny corner bar seemed to be a place less suited to a man in his early thirties wearing a dress shirt with jeans and driving shoes. Look around, though, there were older people dressed similar and younger people considerably more casual.
I sat alone, in a corner booth.
Noticing that I appeared to be somewhat lost in my mind, an older man with short gray hair and dark colored glasses asked from another table if I needed help.
“Not really. Just trying to figure out what's up with this place. Just in town for the night and needed a place to eat. Guy at the gas station said this was a pretty good place. Said Boise had one of the largest Basque populations in the country?”
“Not 'one of;' the largest Basque population in America,” said the man with a weird sense of pride.
“Really? Tell me how that happened?” I was always a little curious about the smaller stories of the American migration. The history books could not do justice to the reality of what transpired throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth century.
“Pretty much like any migration,” the man began. “You see, a Basque is an ethnic group, not a nationality. In fact, the Basques have never had a country of their own. There are only about two million world-wide. Originally, the Basques inhabited a small corner along the borders of Spain and France near the Pyrennes mountains.
“John Adams used the form of government practiced by the Basques as his inspiration for his Defense of the Constitution of the United States.
“In the late 1800's, large groups arrived here as gold miners, but quickly turned to sheep herding to make money. Liking their success, they wrote home to family and friends, encouraging them to move West and join them. Just like that, between 1900 and 1920, the Basque population in Boise began to grow.”
“What is it that differentiates the Basques from the French or Spaniards,” I asked?
“For one, the Basques have their own unique language. It is not an Indo-European language and many speculate that the Basques are the inhabitants of Europe prior to the spread of this language. We take great pride in being what we consider the 'true' inhabitants of Europe.”
“Ah, so you are a Basque descendant, then,” I interrupted.
“Sure am. Paulino Agire. I am the curator of the local Basque Museum. Pleased to meet you. I come here every Saturday for dinner. Have to support Basque businesses and this is one of the best. People call me Paul. Food is like the center of what the Basque culture is all about.”
“Smells pretty good in here,” I responded. “Anything you recommend?”
“Absolutely. Try the Solomo which is a pork sandwich with peppers. Incredible here. And, if you want to expand a little, try the Isastegi Basque Cider,” Paul said.
“Cider? Really? Is that like the hard ciders that have popped up all over the markets?” I asked.
“Not even close. This comes from the Basque cider-making tradition, which eschews the addition of sugar or carbonation. The result is a true expression of the fruit, and the processes of fermentation,” Paul assured me.
And, so began my first night. Unsure, I ordered the sandwich and the cider. I had heard of many friends who spent summers in Europe while in college. This is how they lived; exploration for several months at a time. They would wander about the continent and find out of the way places, enter and become like one group of traveling friends. Friends for just the night before each individual or couple moved on to the next adventure.