Coming Down From Chino

The Chino Basque Club‘s annual picnic this weekend was epic. Here’s why:


Even though there was a dinner going on at the fairgrounds, my parents and I opted to stick with our tradition of having dinner at Centro Basco on the eve of the picnic. After hosting the grandchildren of Monique Berterretche, Centro Basco’s owner, for San Francisco’s Udaleku in 2007, my family has been pretty close with the Berterretches. It’s great to check in with all of them at the bar.

Centro Basco

I had the veal named after my Chino bestie, Taylor Berterretche. Ever since I met her six years ago and found out she had a dish at Centro Basco, I order her veal every time.

My aita had a chicken the size of his cute little face.

At the end of the meal, Monique the owner ended up buying our dinner. Such a sweetheart! And her daughter Bernadette bought our drinks. They treat us like kings over at Centro Basco. Gotta love the Berterretches!

Centro Basco love note

After dinner, we headed to the fairgrounds. My parents followed their friends who wanted to see the stage production, Domingo Ibarburu, which they had scheduled to show after dinner. I tagged along to see who was around and where the party was going to be later that night.

With JesusI can tell you the party wasn’t at the fairgrounds. So I met up with some friends for a kickback. It turned out the aita whose house we were at is a Hella Basque fan. He walked out into the yard to say hi to everyone, and when he saw me, he was all, “Hella Basque is in my house!” It was super cute.

Thank you, sir, for giving us a venue for our catch up on Saturday night. Also, thank you for having so many awesome religious statues in your yard.

If you want to see what we got up to, I have a video of one of the drinking games up on the Hella Basque Facebook fan page.


Chino mass

Chino, only for you do I go to mass. This was my eighth Basque festival of the summer, but the first where I actually attended mass. I go to Chino’s mass mostly to see all of my friends dressed up in costume. The dance groups there have beautifully varied costumes, and the Besta Berri men are a uniquely Chino sight.

I noticed in the walk up to mass that Chino’s klika sounded really good. Maybe they actually practice? (*Ahem* Step it up, San Francisco. SoCal’s bugles put us to shame.)

Other than that and the appearance of the Biotzetik Basque Choir from Idaho, mass was standard.

Although there was one awkward moment… The priest was about to move on to the Prayers of the Faithful when a group of singers interrupted him by belting out Sinesten Dut. The priest was flustered but admitted he had forgotten the song.

Now maybe it’s the years of mass I sat through in all girls Catholic school where you’re expected to sit there and shut up, but I thought they had a lot of nerve to correct a priest in the middle of his mass. Was the song really that important? To some people, I guess it was. I just thought it was a shame it made mass longer.

Afterwards, lunch was standard, the same as usual. The line went way out the door.

lunch line

On the menu: steak, chicken, mashed potatoes with gravy, salad, bread, and cheese. The salad dressing was delicious, and the cheese was strong.

Next came the long wait. For some reason, the dance performance program started an hour later than usual this year, at 4:00. Having finished lunch around 1:00, I had a lot of time to kill.

I watched my friends do whiskey shots at the bar with a couple of pilots from Bilbao.

whiskey shots

Drinking Consultants

I got some free swag from The Drinking Consultants. They were passing out little plastic sleeves with unique quotes on them to store your drink tickets. Such a cute idea! I definitely used mine all day and all night. Thanks, Anna Marie and Pierre!

I hung out with the dancers in their exclusive back room, watching them hem skirts, paint their nails, and enjoy some quiet time under a table.

That is, until my buddy the Gauden Bat dance director (and part-time pirate) kicked me out when they had to change back into their costumes. He wouldn’t let me be a creeper and watch, so I rounded up a couple of people to go to the skate park with me.

We sat and watched older skaters tell a group of little boys on Razor scooters they weren’t allowed in the VIP area, that they needed tickets to use the pool section. That lasted all of ten minutes. The little boys just came back when the older guys took a water break.

skate park

I love getting away from Basque festivals for at least half an hour during the day. In Chino, that means going to the skate park across the street from the fairgrounds. There’s something relaxing about watching dudes sweat it out doing repetitive movements. They try the same tricks over and over again, rarely landing them. The little trip broke up the monotony of sitting around, waiting.

Mentally recharged, we returned to the fairgrounds and I bought an overpriced root beer float from the Ben & Jerry’s table. Because it was freakin’ hot! 97 degrees!

Supplies gathered, my friends and I climbed to the top of the bleachers and settled in for the performance–which ended up being over two hours long. I feel it’s necessary to point that out first, because it was a little ridiculous.

But I suppose a long performance goes hand in hand with having so many young people in the dance groups. It’s a blessing for the dance in the evening but a curse during the afternoon program, when all you really want to see is the wine glass dance and you have to wait until 6:00 PM for it.

Even the dancers themselves were a little miserable.

Gauden Bat dancers

Anyway, the pictures I took during the performance aren’t excellent, so check out Euskal Kazeta’s pictures of the performers.

With the wine glass dance finished (and wine glass still intact), I was free to go back to the hotel and change. My daytime dress wasn’t structured enough to permit spinning of the dance floor, so I had to slip into something a little more comfortable. Femme problems. Sigh.

The dance music at the fairgrounds started up around nine, and I was instantly ecstatic that the band got things started on the right foot. Carnaval, Polka Pik, and Ryan’s Polka all in a row. So epic!!!

Throughout the night, the band had an excellent ratio of group to couples’ dances. There were so many young people on the dance floor that the energy was nonstop.

Even when they played the chicken dance, a dance many people sit out pretending to be too cool for, the floor was filled with people. And the roar of cheering at the end of the song was so unexpected it was comical.

Sunday night’s dance was so lively that people were pumped even for a little kids’ dance. Now that’s an accomplishment!

I danced with Aita, because he loves to dance and I learned in Gardnerville that he will resort to picking up teenage girls as dance partners. I took preemptive measures to save my friends the trouble and danced with him myself. That little guy turned into a dancing machine!

He kept yelling weird things I didn’t understand, but I yelled them right back at him. He spun like a top, I followed, and it was a hilarious time. I live for moments like that.

Chino dance

Throughout the night, I only sat on the bleachers twice. I know from experience that the bleachers can suck you in. Before you know it, you’re a wallflower. I chose to be a social butterfly instead.

I knew it was an excellent night when I reflected the next day and couldn’t pinpoint who I had been hanging out with. The fact was that I hung out with everyone on Sunday night. I flitted from group to group, from dance to dance, and time flew by.

At one point my lovely Taylor had me translate her flirting with one of the Elgarrekin actors (the one who played Patrick, the idiot nephew, for those who watched Domingo Ibarburu). She had me tell him in French that she thought he was nice. He had me reply, “That’s because you don’t know me well enough yet.”

Barf. Gag. I giggled like a school girl. It went on from there.

At midnight, I hustled the parents back to the hotel so that I could have the car. I got back to the fairgrounds just in time for the band’s last few songs.

dance floor

Usually at the end of the night, people fizzle out when the music stops, but this year’s dance was freakin’ magic. The Drinking Consultants busted out a throwback iPod playlist, and everyone stayed on the dance floor for a good ol’ American dance party. “Footloose” by Kenny Loggins, “Summer Nights” from Grease, “Don’t Stop Believin'” by Journey. I was amazed everyone kept dancing. Click here to check out some video footage.

At one point a van tried to cross the dance floor to get to the parking lot, but the driver had to leave it in park. No one would get out of the way! Everyone was too busy dancing to care that headlights were shining on them.

Like all good things, the dance had to end eventually. Around 1:00 AM, the scramble to figure out the location of the afterparty was in full effect. The big tragedy of the night: Centro Basco’s bar was closed.

Why, Centro, why??? I love you, but why did you do that to us?

The members of the Elgarrekin theater troupe were especially distraught at this news. Knowing I spoke French from my previous work as flirtation translator extraordinaire, they gathered around me and my friend, looking to us for direction.

Them: Why is Centro Basco closed?

Me: I don’t know.

Them: Is there a nightclub we could go to?

Me: Not that I know of.

Them: Is there a hotel or house party?

Me: Not that I know of.

Them: Could we all party at your hotel room?

Me: No, my parents are sleeping.

Them: You sleep in the same bed as your parents?

Me: Hardy har har.

Now, these dudes were persistent. Aggressive, even. They complained to me that they flew twelve hours from France to party and how could we not have a party for them? It was only one o’clock! As if I were personally responsible for their party planning…

These dudes were whiny, rude, and entitled.

And then one guy (actor who played “Mr. Bean” the notary) accused my friend of spitting on him. Taken aback, I assured him it was probably an accident. They insisted it was a personal attack, asked me what his problem was and if he wanted to fight. All of this in French while my friend calmly smoked his cigarette, oblivious to the escalating situation.

They asked if he was my boyfriend. When I replied “no,” they proceeded to talk a lot of shit about him. I felt I needed back up, so I told my friend in English what was going on. He said something and all of a sudden the Basque guys were pacifists. They didn’t want a fight, it was all a big misunderstanding, it was cool.

They still wouldn’t let up, so I finally yelled at them for being assholes about the whole afterparty situation. They all went back to their hotel without a party, seemingly disappointed and disgusted with our poor hospitality.

I asked my friend what happened, and he freely admitted he spit on the guy’s shorts because he was being an asshole.

I laughed my head off.

view of Chino

What followed that night is deeply personal. Some memories are too beautiful to be shared, for fear that it might tarnish the image. So suffice it to say my Chino afterparty was one of the highlights of my year. That means a lot since I’m usually not big on afterparties.

It was awe-inspiring, life-affirming, spiritual, surreal. Another one of those moments I live for, where I’m fully present, engaged, and filled with gratitude for the world and the people who come into my life.


Three hours of sleep later, I had to be up for Centro Basco’s breakfast. We got there right when it opened at 9:00, because my aita is really intense about wanting to beat the rush.

Centro Basco

Usually the Monday morning after Chino picnic, my voice is gone and I feel like death. But this Monday, I felt fully alive, alert, ready to start the day. It was a highly unusual and most welcome experience.

We ate sausages, bacon, fried eggs, french fries, piperade, and bread. Basque breakfast makes my life.

Centro Basco breakfast

And that was it. We headed out into the LA traffic and arrived back in the Bay Area eight hours later.


I can say without a doubt this year’s Chino picnic was my favorite of all of the Chino picnics I’ve been to over the last ten years. I stayed away from gossip and drama and just had a great time. I usually feel massive Chino withdrawals the week after the picnic, wallowing in post picnic depression. But these past couple of days, I haven’t felt that.

This year’s Chino picnic energized me in a way it never has before. I feel that’s due to the fact that this year I had no regrets. In the past, there was always that one thing I wish I had said or done, that one person I wish I had talked to more, that one person I wish I had talked to less, or that one thing I wish other people had said or done.

But this year, I conquered Chino. I saw everyone I wanted to see, did everything I wanted to do, and more. This year, Chino managed to do what I never thought possible: it far exceeded my expectations. Thank you to everyone who helped make it so special.


2 comments on “Coming Down From Chino

  1. […] This past weekend in Chino, a woman I had just met wanted to know if I had my eye on anyone. She asked me if I wanted to marry a Basco. I joked with her, “Sure! But I haven’t met any worth marrying!” […]

  2. […] and reunited with my Chino boys. Even though I had seen them all a short six days before at Chino picnic, it’s always cool to hang out with Basque kids outside of a Basque event. It’s a […]

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