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The European Scene

Three Festivals
by Sam Yada Cannarozzi

SASPIAK BAT!
" The 7 make 1." No, it's not really a reference to the folktale "7 with One Blow", but rather the motto of the Basque country that sits on the eastern French-Spanish border. Seven provinces make one country.

A Unique Story Experience
The Basque language or euskara may very well be Europe's oldest, independant even from Indo-European. I heard it again at the polyglot HITZABIL Storytelling Festival. French, Basque, as well as Gascon tales were spun over a long mid-October weekend. In fact, the Festival has roots going back to the early 199O's, but first…

History/Culture
Cave drawings and artefacts have been found in the area in caverns at Izturitze, Otsozelaia and Erbervako at least as early as 12,000 B.C. Then followed the Indo-european and numerous other invasions through to the twentieth century that the Basque people have weathered and survived.

Perhaps the word hai lai means something to you. In euskara, jai alai (pronounced with the hard German 'ch'+ I a lie) is the distant ancestor of racket ball(somewhat pale in comparison) that slams the 'pelota' or ball around a three-walled court at speeds upwards of 90 miles an hour(!) using a xistera or elongated, wicker glove.

More specifically relating to storytelling, there exist frequent competitions of word jousting or bertsolari. Contestants are given a handful of words and allowed but a few minutes to spontaneously compose sung and rhymed poetry, according to precise rules. The Basques, in fact, a very songful people, also excel in folk dancing, also often seen in year round festivals.

Beautiful wool products and delicious 'etorki' sheep cheese give you but a taste of this ancient, fascinating culture. But now back to the story.

HITZAPITZ
My first invitation to Hazparne in the heart of Basque country on the French side of the border, came from Koldo Amestoy , a local (and now national and international) storyteller. He helped organize the first Festival, Hitzapitz or "The Word (hitza) takes flight..." from 1989-1995. Tellers from all over France joined northern and southern Basques and Gascon musicians who came to share a melting pot of cultures.

Storytelling evenings, concerts and jam sessions abounded for 6 years. Then the Festival shifted sometime later to the famous port town of Biarritz on the nearby Atlantic seaboard, and is now again centered back in and around Hazparne. This year the newly named Festival "Hitzabil" or " As the Word goes ..." featured six professional tellers and musicians along with, And if We Told a Story, a group of accomplished amateurs from the environs. Besides Hazparne, three other towns participated with young peoples as well as family performances each evening. "A Drink and a Story" (apero-conte) preceded the performance in a local tavern, where we gathered over a local brew of wild plum liqueur flavored with anisette.

Attendance was a bit light, the fledgling festival is after all only into its second season (reincarnation?), but was all the more intense for the same reason. Sometimes candlelit pathways guided listeners to the performance space; Basque radio and TV broadcast bi-lingual ads; and merchants and regional cultural offices joined Eihartzea, Hazparne's own Cultural Center, in receiving audiences and artists. Hearty meals were likewise served by the very congenial Basques noon and evening as lively conversation flowed down streets and around squares.

The weather was perfect, this year a balmy 22°C. And over 1500 attended, young and old alike. And sights are aleady being set for the 2002 event. But in thinking again of the motto 7 for 1, I thought of yet another that in a sense completes it, "e pluribus unum."
And here to finish is a Basque story ending—" I put my stories into a great, round pumpkin, and spill them out now on the main square of your village, so that they may be heard an shared again."

Addenda: Here is an example of the fascinating and very different sentence structure and word order of the unique Basque language unlike any other known European language: " Happiness is the only thing that we can give without needs having it." Basque: izan gabe eman dezakegun gauza bakarra da zoriona
Literal translation and word order: to have without to give that one can thing only is happiness.

The Festival is held every year in early autumn (mid-October or thereabouts).
For further information contact:
Eihartzea - Centre Culturel
Festival Hitzabil
81 route Briscous
64240 Hazparne FRANCE"

GRAZ ERZAHLT: eine Lange Nacht
'The City of Graz Tells late into the Night'

Flying in late Saturday, the Festival had been in full swing for two days. I caught the tail end of the evening with Francesca de Martin (Italy) in an exuberant overflowing of Italian, German, gesture and grimace in a short real life piece about …coffee… After the performance, over delicious Weizen beer, other Tellers talked up old times with Dan Yashinsky(Canada) and newcomers got to know each other. I finally strolled home past theaters, churches and concert halls where we had performed in previous years and by the chime of 3am I was almost fast asleep. One of my favorite evenings was one billed for Ghost Stories. Most of the Tellers realized that wasn't their forte but Nonetheless, in brilliant form, Peter Cook(USA) with his sign language stories and then Bobby Norfolk(USA) and Gcina Mlophe(South Africa) through rhythm and song, had the audience scared laughing! We finished well after one in the morning, following two encores.

One of the special features of this year's festive get-together was outdoor performances on a floating barge lakeside in a beautiful garden park setting. Each day at 4pm, Tellers presented hour long programs against a backdrop of swimmers and wind surfers. Refreshing!

Folke Tegetthoff(Austria) has been hosting the Festival for 13 years. In the early years we travelled with him across Austria with marathon Festivals that took us to 8 cities in 12 days. Since the Festival's 1Oth anniversary, he has concentrated his efforts and energies in his native Graz, a short train ride from Vienna the capital. It is here now where he draws sold out crowds to 33 hour evening long extravaganzas which for a week earns the city the title of Storytelling Capital of Europe. Because of the international list of guest Tellers (fifteen this year alone) a good part of the program is in English. So it's also Europe's most important English speaking Festival outside Britain.

After a delicious lunch at Folke and Astrid's house, a remodeled old cloister in the hills around Graz, we returned for a final evening of Story and ... Food.

An integral part of each program is music. This year four different groups, including cello and xylophone, but also folk music from Yemen, accompagnied our tales. And the closing program wined and dined our listeners' palates with 12 mini hors d'oeuvres in an 18th century open air courtyard. And if I mentioned coffee in the first performance I heard, again past midnight we sat down to our own little feast and good-byes as rich aromas of coffee still lingered amid torch light.

MANAS
" Goosey, goosey gander wither do you wander..." ah no, not that
one.

" I shot an arrow into the air, and where it landed I know not..."
Nope, not that one either,

" Message in a bottle," yes that's the one, and here's the story—

Just before Christmas 1999 I happened to read a newspaper article in the International Herald Tribune entitled, "National Lifeblood: Kyrgyzstan's Epic Poem Defines a People." I was astounded to read that this tremendous work of oral tradition is still sung by bards called Manaschis (the hero of the story is Manas) who "often slip into a kind of a trance as they chant." The article went on to say that the Epic Manas is (now hold onto your Storytelling hats!) half a million lines long, making it roughly 30 times as long as the Odyssey!!! Now that is some mouthful. And that's when I sent my 'message in a bottle.' Never having heard of this incredible epic, I wrote to the President of Kyrgyzstan, M. Askar Akayev, and asked if it were possible to get a publication of parts of the epic. I was kindly sent just a smidgin, a mere 11,000 verses, just enough to whet the taste buds, you'll agree. But also it was the beginning of an interesting correspondance with M. Besultan Jakiev, the artistic director of the International Association of Epics of World Peoples.

In November of 1999, participants from a dozen countries including Armenia, Mongolia, Germany and Iran, took part in an international conference organized by UNESCO in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. They signed a charter to the effect that they would:
•collect, record and study epic folklore
•favor the development of spiritual contacts and
intercommunication between nationalities and peoples through
epics in native languages of the world
•and establish, preserve and promote the study of the epic heritage.

Lofty goals indeed.

I was subsequently contacted by M.Jakiev and his staff and asked to participate in the thousand year celebration of the town of Osh in Kyrgyzstan. I was flabergastedly honored to receive such an invitation in response to my 'message in a bottle.' But at the same time I quickly faxed back that I, unfortunately didn't personally practice the chanted epic form, but put the Association in contact with two French tellers who made it their specialty. M. Jakiev responded that he would like for us to come just the same as an exchange between tellers of his country and Europe.

But all the hurdles were not yet crossed. Kyrgyzstan is still a new former republic of the USSR and as such is hard up for funding, even for such an incredible cultural elan. They could host us, but we would have to arrive by our own means. If you look at a map, you can find Kyrzgyzstan just north of Afghanistan and not exactly the house next door. I quickly contacted the French Foreign Office but for the time being, travel stipends are not available. Well, dreams don't always come easy. But it remains for me a fantastic contact. And I know that Ben Haggerty of the Compagny of Storytellers in London was able to make the trip with help from the British Consulate there and so dreams may in fact one day be well within reach.

If your particular style of storytelling approaches the bardic style and form I'm sure Manas would be happy to hear from you or even encouragement and support I think would be much appreciated.

And by the way, if you ever come into contact with a fantastic project that almost seems like an unattainable dream, don't discount it so easily, just get yourself a bottle, some paper and a pen and ... I'll see you in Kyrgyzstan.

For further information contact:

Manas-International Association
of Epics of World Peoples
M. Besultan Jakiev
54 Erkindik Ed.
720040 Bishkek
Kyrgyz Republic

—posted January 2004

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