Basque festival full of dancing, poetry and food

Taylor Kimbal, 8, of Reno, left, and Hannah Lehman, 7, of Reno, eat hot dogs instead of lamb during the Basque Festival at Fuji Park Sunday.

Taylor Kimbal, 8, of Reno, left, and Hannah Lehman, 7, of Reno, eat hot dogs instead of lamb during the Basque Festival at Fuji Park Sunday.

Basque-American men lit the mahogany coals for lunch at 6 a.m. Sunday during the St. Teresa of Avila Basque Festival in Fuji Park, said event organizer and restaurateur Charlie Abowd.

"It was closer to 5, actually," said cook Mike Lemich with a slight smile. He and other men from the Ely area gathered the mahogany in the mountains near their homes. They spent Sunday rotating 30 turkeys on spits and grilling 600 pounds of lamb.

The sixth annual festival is a way to keep a fading culture alive and raise funds for youth programs at St. Teresa, said the church's pastor, the Rev. Jerry Haney.

"The Basque people are one of the most important parts of our culture as Nevadans," he said as grinning kids lunged for the finish in a gunnysack race.

Funds raised go to the youth group at the parish and the religious education program. On Friday, the 1,000 students of St. Teresa's focused on Basque culture.

"The more we learn about Basque culture, the more we learn about ourselves and our state," said Haney. "It's not just casinos and empty silver mines -- it's a major heritage of great people."

The event is growing, he said. "Last year, we had about 1,500, and this year I know we have more."

Plenty of young people -- who got in free with their parents -- chased about the park. Near the stream amid yellow flowers, they watched Basque shepherds practice their art in an enclosed area and even tried it themselves, scrambling in pairs to corral geese.

Dancers from the University of Nevada, Reno, performed as did Jesus Goni, a poet who came from the Basque regions of Spain 28 years ago.

Goni (pronounced GO-knee) has just returned from Washington ,D.C., where he was honored by President Bush for a book he helped publish called "Shooting From the Lip."

The book is a collection of improvised Basque verse, to which Goni and three others contributed.

"We improvise -- all improvise," he said, green eyes smiling. "We no write it down."

Unwritten spontaneous poetry is a Basque tradition. Professor Jose Mallea of UNR transcribed the poems from recordings, bringing the book to life.

"I feel so nice because I never think I gonna go so high, you know?" Goni said with a smile.

He performed a few lines of his poetry during a Mass lead by Haney.

"It was a great Mass, really beautiful," Haney said afterwards.

The food -- cooked under the guidance of Abowd -- was another beautiful part of Sunday's festival. At one point, the line for lunch extended more than 150 yards.

The cooks, Lemich, his buddy Joe Anxo from Eureka and several other marinated the meat with garlic, salt and pepper.

"And I think the mahogany does a number on it," said Lemich.

"That's what makes it really wonderful," agreed Anxo's wife, Iris.


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