I sit on the steps of the casco viejo facing the sea. Narrow streets branch off behind and to either side of me, their old walls purified in new white. The sun is blazing and I sip on a litre glass of Coke and red wine. The grey sea laps against the graffitti'ed harbour wall I smile at the huge words This is not Spain nor France emblazoned across it's length, headlined and post-scripted by huge Basque flags. They have written it in the true lengua del diablo, an imperialists tongue. I hope for a time when the wee piece of land I am from is pronounced neither England or Ireland, but Nor'nir'n'. Different context, I know, but the Basque "problem" could be the answer if the Northern Irish politicians were as drunk as I am.
Huge red sandstone houses line the sea-front, some now just burned shells - someone's trophies in a minority Guerrilla war. Ships sluggishly edge up the vast inlet, towards the Getxo and Bilbao industrial harbours, passing under the only cablecar / suspension bridge I have ever seen, delivering the worlds produce to a country stripped of it's industry by a government hundreds of miles away. Spain's Scotland, drained of it's industrial wealth and resources to support a yuppie miracle down south; Thatcher would be proud. I think of Belfast, the huge yellow twin cranes, the new Waterfront Hall, The Crown, the Europa, the unemployed, the huge grey, dirty estates, the Malone Road, the dissatisfaction.
As I wait, I notice a TV flashing through the open bar door. My position on the warm, stone steps is quite close to the bar entrance and can hear the dubbed Spanish. The Calimotxo is going to my head. It is a pleasant way to get drunk, like a fizzy fruit juice with kick. Sitting here, in the sun on my own, knowing no-one; no-one knowing me; I have become immersed in random thought. In life these moments are rare. These moments of the creation and inhabitation of a unique world where the only truth that matters is the one I have constructed. A world were I can allow the outside in at will.
One of the Star Trek spin-offs is on. It is Voyager. That Borg girl, Seven from Nine, is very sexy. Cold, blonde and dressed in a sprayed on uniform. Her image accentuates her sexiness. I hope never to see an episode were she becomes more human or to see the actress in twentieth century clothes, posing for Esquire. It would be like Spock becoming emotional, or seeing Leonard Nimoy earless and delivering a dirty after dinner speech. Her lack of emotion, her puzzlement at the human condition and her ruthless pursuit of the truth captivate me. She has saved an otherwise crap series; her and that doctor hologram. Between them they usually save the ship / a world / the universe, single handedly. They impose their American values on alien cultures, bringing their version of democracy to ridge headed aliens. I await the day when they replicate a Big Mac.
I wonder what they would make of the Basque region and it's bigotries? How would they impose themselves? What would they think of those who already do? But I am aware of the dangers of listening to only one perspective, does Seven from Nine or Captain Kirk?
A soft cooling breeze streams over and around me. I look around, hoping to see a familiar face but my gaze is met only by groups of the accumbent tightly clothed young and beautiful, drinking in the sun and the fizzy txacoli.
I used to like science fiction. I used to read 2000AD, Judge Dredd, M.A.C.H.1 and all of that lot. I stopped because I didn't want to become one of those nerds stuck in fantasy worlds. One of those greasy haired, moustachioed, sweat stained office workers working out their next strategy as Krub the Keeper of the Truth, or something. It's like chart music. You buy Smash Hits, NME or, in my day, Sounds. You build up an encyclopedic knowledge of pop music through the ages; who was number one on the eighteenth of February 1966, who has had the highest entry the largest number of times, who has the biggest selling twelve inch single, who kept Vienna off the top spot, who were the key members of Big in Japan? You spend hours flicking through vinyl and CDs'. You wear the tee-shirts, decorate your room with the posters and squeeze your spots. Then you discover music with a capital M; the World of Music, music through the ages, making music. New Order ceases to matter. It becomes a decent tune but it's relevence is diminished. It's limited market becomes apparent. It dates in a way you know Chopin, Charlie Parker, Elvis, Mozart and Bob Marley won't. It doesn't matter when you appreciate the history of popular music, Mambo, Irish folk and Gregorian Chants. You look at the world from above.
I recognise Aitor as he runs down the steps towards the shore. I wave, but he doesn't see me and I am thankful as I want to be alone when she arrives.
Captain Kirk and his mates usually stumble across a planet in peril. The Overgrounders are kicking the shit out of the Undergrounders, or something. The Star Trek crew materialise in a hollow rock strewn studio. Someone in a different colour uniform from the main cast members happen to mention their wife and wee boy and how much he misses them (for it is never a she) and promptly die. That makes C.K., Spock, Bones and Scotty personally involved, even though they never knew nor cared about Ensign Smith. The planet's problems are solved, via logical thinking, C.K. having a snog and Bones' ever present incredulity. The Over and Undergrounders are happy and grateful for the riddance of cold power hungry dictators (who always look as if they are a different race) and C.K. et al beam off.
In real life the crew wouldn't have gotten any farther than saying what a beautiful planet it was, it is a pity it is such a troubled world and hoping the two sides would, someday, see sense. They couldn't express an understanding for the Underground people who had killed their crewmember, nor could they be seen to be in political dialogue with the Overgrounders as this would be some kind of league with the oppressors. Outside help would not be welcome, both sides at some stage of their intervention would accuse them of knowing fuck all as they don't live there. Kirk and his mates would fuck off and forget about the parochial bastards. Let them keep at it until an eye for an eye blinds them all. Kirk knows where the party's at and it's not being caught up in diametrically opposed hatreds, fuck that - he wants culture, good booze, mind altering substances, freedom to come and go, to be loved by everyone, money, MacDonalds and purple, scaly, scantily dressed women. Territorial arguments, religious bigotry and insular societies can stay out of his five year plan. I smile and imagine Kirk patting a grateful looking Paisley and Adams on the back and disapearing into a grainy, multicolured shadow.
I think about the paramilitaries. They probably identify with Star Trek, it's simple truths, good against bad, it's unexplained politics / theology. Yes, those bastards probably like science fiction.
My plate of pintxos arrive via a smiling, fair haired waiter. He is one of the paradoxes of this region. He is more Germanic looking than the stereo-typical Manuel. I pay him in Spanish money and he walks away, making me feel like the dirt on his shined, black shoe. My freckly skin and paunch are features only seen on bar-flys or foriegners and both are seen as unfortunate. American or English are both equally disliked amongst a large proportion of the Basque popultion. Cultural interlopers and Imperialists are as unwelcome as a Spaniard in a Herri Batasuna bar. I always make sure my Irishness is made obvious early in any conversation. The Irish and the Scots are equally revered here. The Bravehearts and the freedom-fighters. As soon as this is known I must listen to and respond favourably to their politics. A drink is thrust into my hands and I precariously steer a neutral ground, though I make it clear I am disgusted at the Franco regime and what it unleashed on these beautiful people. If I wish to shock some bigotted, hatred filled ETA supporter, and if I am particularly drunk, I challenge the pally-wally relationship they think they have with another European fight for freedom. I tell them that the English are not who the Republicans are killing, in actual fact both sides are killing subjugated working class northern Irish. Republicans are killing the ancestors of poor Scots forced out of their crofts or uprooted in order to help a politically weak regime in Ireland. Loyalists are killing people who are as subordinated as they themselves and their ancestors have been. The English ancestors were usually those who wanted power devolved from London and the poor Scots were given land in return for support for London. The Irish natives culture was sopped up by the English / New Irish and, like the English Scottish Lairds, they became more native than the natives. The rich bastards with profits to make took the money and ran a long time ago, like the thirteenth Earl of Cavan or the eighth Viscount of Bangor. The so called Scots-Irish are fighting for their transplanted "Wee bit hill and Glen" and the so called Green-Irish are fighting for an Ireland that has never existed. Two thousand years ago Ireland's fuedal systems were not unlike England. Kings fought and competed for power, a kingdom was even founded in Argyll, East Gael or East Ireland. One thousand years ago the country was invaded by the Normans, like England. Three hundred years ago it was invaded by the Dutch, just like England. The two religious "enemies" are still fighting feudal wars that have been over in the rest of Europe for three hundred years. If the Basque is particularly bigoted and perhaps a little educated in the Northern Irish problem, I will be jokingly, though jaggedly, called "Engleesh". If the person is very politically minded and shows a genuine interest in dialogue, I tell him that I believe the ETA went the way of the IRA after the Carerras killing. They have just made enemies in their own land ever since. We agree to disagree and move on. Usually he will just smile and shake my hand and say, "Gerry Adams", excitedly and buy another drink. The best conversations are with those who don't speak much English. We exchange phrases like una trompa de te cagas (I'm as drunk as a fart) or pedo fuerte, always good for a laugh and promise to meet for a drink some other night.
I finish my finger food and knock back the last of my calimotxo. I stand up and walk into the bar. I set my plate and plastic glass on the old wood and order another litre of the intoxicating soft drink. I know he is thinking, "another drunken foriegner". I smile and look as vacant as I can in order to fit into his compartmentalised world.
She is late.