on the road to Saint-Jean-Pied-du-Port ("Saint John at the foot of the pass").

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Did you know that the French word "basque" just so happens to be related to the Italian "basta" (which means "That's enough!" "Stop!"... or simply "Whoa boy!"--something the Spanish Basque might have been shouting a few days ago, as they marched through the streets of Bilbao, rallying for independence for the Spanish region. Today, we focus on French Basque country... read on.

1. basque (bask) adjective
  : Basque (le Pays Basque: a region in northern Spain & southwestern France)
    : (noun) language

2. basque (bask) noun, feminine
    : tail (coat), skirt*

*The French word "jupe" is the word that the French use for "skirt".

Expression and audio file:
Listen to my son, Max, pronounce today's word and one of the following expressions: "être toujours aux basques de quelqu'un" and "être pendu à ses basques" = to be hanging on someone's apron strings, i.e. to follow someone around: Download basque.wav . Download basque.mp3

Nearly two weeks ago we returned from Basque country, and the region's colors, no matter how vibrant, are just now beginning to fade. What struck me most about the Basques, the people who populate this westernmost region of France (with its toe ever dipped into Spain or vice versa...), were their time-honored traditions.

Take the French beret, for example... while the streets of Paris may not be teeming with them, you will see plenty of berets worn in Saint-Jean-Pied-du-Port, where they help to distinguish the lively locals from the pèlerins*... never mind that the latter are easily recognized by their heavy backpacks and their faces sprinkled with awe.

The Basque cross, or "lauburu,"* a symbol of prosperity, is to the Basque what the fleur-de-lys is to France, and though you won't find as many French streets "fleurdelisé,"* when in Basque country you will see the cross-shaped lauburu partout!*: on most of the souvenirs in gift shops, over Basque doorways, and on T-shirts, flags, and even tombstones.

As for those vibrant colors, most of the homes and many buildings still sport the characteristic red or green shutters which decorate the stark white maisons.* Judging from the many freshly-painted volets* and newly white-washed façades, it looks like this tradition won't fade anytime soon.

In just about any Basque town, you'll find a tall "fronton"* wall, in stacked stone or concrete, against which the locals still play ball, or "pilota,"* with their hands or with oblong baskets. The players hardly notice the sunburned tourists who file by, occasionally pausing to snap a photo.

My favorite long-standing Basque tradition is the love for their lyrical language, which, unlike Provençal, can still be heard on the street and in squares and shops. Finally, Basque is still part of the curriculum in certain schools across the region.

Those are but a few lasting impressions of le pays basque français.* I've left out so many more: le poulet basquaise,* the striped linens, the cheeses (especially "Osau Iraty" and "Etorki"*), and the irascible waitresses who would rather throw a traditional gâteau basque* into a diner's face than to follow the mantra "the customer is always right" (well, maybe not all Basque waitresses... but some. I'll have to tell you about HER one of these times). Oh, and those home-made Basque bombs (!), one of which we apparently just missed while sojourning in Bidarray... (see Yikes!

To leave a comment on this post, or to share your own traveler's tale to the Basque region, click here.

le pèlerin (m) = pilgrim; lauburu (Lau buru) = "four heads" (or summits); fleurdelisé (adj) = decorated with fleur-de-lis; partout = everywhere; la maison (f) = home; le volet (m) = window shutter; le fronton (m) = "front" wall; pilota = pelota ("ball" in Basque) : a court game in which one uses his hand or a basket to hit the ball against a wall or "fronton"; le pays (m) basque français = the French Basque country; le poulet (m) basquaise = famous Basque chicken dish; Etorki = kind of cheese made of sheep's milk ; le gâteau (m) basque = custard tart, typical dessert from the Labourd region

Book: The Basque History of the World: The Story of a Nation

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The Roads to Santiago: The Medieval Pilgrim Routes Through France and Spain to Santiago de Compostela. According to legend, St. James the Apostle preached throughout the Iberian peninsula. His bones found their way to the cathedral at Santiago de Compostela and today many pilgrims make trips to the shrine. This fully illustrated book covers all the routes to this holy place from Paris and Spain. Providing readers with historical context for the routes, it showcases all the stunning monuments and magnificent landscapes along the way.

Etorki cheese: made from sheep's milk, imported from France:

Traditional Basque beret for man or woman that is fully lined and sports a leather sweatband, and at a great price - cheaper than going all the way to France to pick one up. Imported from France.

Colloquial Basque: A Complete Language Course

"Escape 101: The Four Secrets to Taking a Sabbatical or Career Break Without Losing Your Money or Your Mind" by Dan Clements and Tara Gignac

Words in a French Life: Lessons in Love and Language

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