Fiction Fridays: Discord at Dance Practice

My main writing project at the moment is a young adult novel about a fictionalized Basque American folk dancing group.  Every Friday, I post excerpts from my novel draft.  Get caught up on the last installment here.

The following weekend at dance practice, Patrick delivered the promised DVD to Brigitte during one of their many water breaks at the clubhouse bar. Brigitte accepted it, beaming at his thoughtfulness and the opportunity to be a part of his life in some small way.

“You remembered,” she cooed.

“Of course. I told you, it’s only the greatest movie of all time.”

“That’s a bold claim.” Maia snatched the case out of Brigitte’s hands. “Reservoir Dogs?” Her upper lip curled into a sneer. “Never even heard of it.”

“You should watch it with Bridge then,” asserted Patrick.

“Pass.” She rolled her eyes and handed the DVD back to her friend.

Ignoring Maia’s rebuff, Patrick turned his attention back to Brigitte. “You have to watch it tonight.”

“Okay, sure.”

“Seriously. Let me know what you think.” His eyes connected with hers.

“Okay,” she laughed, a subtle blush creeping into her cheeks. Margo could tell her sister loved the attention. “Did you watch my show?” asked Brigitte, as she placed the DVD case on the bar.

“Oh yeah, I did.” Patrick nodded coolly, his eyes darting to the bottles of liquor behind the bar. “Watched a few episodes online.”

Brigitte took a sip of her water with an unsteady hand. “What did you think?” Her doe eyes studied his face, as he continued to avoid her gaze. Continue reading


Fiction Fridays: McDonald’s, Part 3

My main writing project at the moment is a young adult novel about a fictionalized Basque American folk dancing group.  Every Friday, I post excerpts from my novel draft.  Get caught up on the last installment here.

“Why don’t you have any friends?” Brigitte’s tone conveyed a deep concern.

Patrick furrowed his eyebrows in confusion and let out a soft, nervous laugh. “What do you mean?”

“Wow, that came out wrong. I’m sorry,” Brigitte quickly apologized, her face flushing a deep red. “I just mean that you get along with everyone and you’re super outgoing, but it doesn’t seem like you have many actual friends.” Patrick’s expression went blank, and Brigitte worried she had lost him. “I mean, you hang out with people, don’t get me wrong; it just doesn’t seem like you’re very close with any of them.”

Patrick sat in silence for a long while, looking out the windshield into the half empty parking lot. He squinted a bit due to the sunshine’s reflection on a nearby sedan, the only car near them at this point. The lot had cleared out in the time they had been sitting there. It was nearly three o’clock, long past the lunch rush.

“Yeah, I guess that’s true,” he finally mustered, dropping his gaze to his hands. “But Daniel’s my buddy. He’s really the only guy I trust.”

“What’s that about?” prodded Brigitte. “Didn’t you used to have more friends?” She searched his face for the answer but could not read his expression. His eyes darted around the cab of the truck nervously, as if he desperately wanted to escape the discussion. Yet he sat still.

“I did have a buddy all throughout elementary school—Jack Sanders. Once we got to middle school though, things changed. He started hanging out with these other kids, the popular crowd, you know. Completely left me behind, like I didn’t even exist. He acted like we were never friends.”

“I’m sorry. That’s really rough,” Brigitte sympathized. On the one hand, her heart went out to Patrick as someone who had also experienced the sting of rejection, but on the other she was thrilled by his response. This was the most information about him he had ever shared with her. This was deep and this was real. He was sharing his problems. He was vulnerable.

“It’s okay. What can you do, right?” Patrick shrugged off her sympathy. “That just sucked, so I decided to never let that happen again.”

“It’s not like it was your fault though.”

“No,” he agreed. “But I let myself think he was my friend. So now I just have lots of buddies, guys I can hang out with, have a good time. But if one of them gets busy or finds new friends, it’s not a big deal.”

Brigitte’s heart leaped at the breakthrough. She was beginning to understand a little bit more about this boy who had intrigued her for so many years. But the more she learned, the more she wanted to know. She felt sad for him. It did not seem to her that removing oneself from the possibility of friendship with others was the way to go, even with his sad tale about Jack Sanders.

“I guess that makes sense,” replied Brigitte with reserved approval. She was not about to tell him she thought that was a very sad way to live. “Something similar happened to me when I got to high school. One of my best friends from camp–well, you know her. Frankie from Salt Lake.”

“Oh yeah. That was the girl who got left behind at the water park during Reno camp, right?”

“Yup. That was her,” nodded Brigitte. “Anyway, we kept in really close touch after that camp. Called each other once a week and talked for hours. But then once freshman year started, she stopped calling, stopped texting, didn’t return any of my calls. Totally fell of the grid, like she was stonewalling me. And I had no idea why.”

“People suck,” Patrick declared matter-of-factly. He took the straw out of his empty cup and chewed the end of it. The red and yellow striped plastic tube stuck out of his mouth like a farmer’s stalk of hay.

Brigitte beamed at how simply Patrick summarized it all, yet she recognized the blanket statement as an attempt to end the personal nature in which the conversation had turned. His reluctance to talk about anything of importance amused her now that she had small piece of privileged information. She wondered if Daniel knew about Jack Sanders.

Patrick pointed out the time.

“When did it get so late?” Brigitte exclaimed in surprise.

“I know. Time flies,” Patrick remarked. “I should be getting home though.”

“Yeah, me too.” Brigitte felt like she could sit with him for many more hours, but she was not going to be one of those needy people. She recognized that Patrick probably had other, better things to move on to.

“See you next weekend.” Patrick leaned in for a hug, and they embraced in one of those awkward seated car hugs. Despite the odd angle, Brigitte was ecstatic. It felt like an act of charity for him to hug her—one that she wholeheartedly welcomed and appreciated. It was the perfect end to their illuminating conversation.

“Definitely.” They pulled away, and Brigitte dug through her bag for her car keys. As she held the handle to open the door, she turned to remind him to watch her show on Wednesday night. He smiled and assured her he would tune in.

© 2013 Anne Marie Chiramberro All Rights Reserved

Recovering from a Weekend at the Basque Cultural Center

A few days ago, the Basque Cultural Center in South San Francisco, California hosted its Jaialdia weekend. Here is the recap of events through my experience:


I arrived around 6:00 PM, in time to catch the last ten points of the handball game with the players from the Basque Country. First of all, there was no cover charge. I was pleasantly surprised by that! In the past few years the Center’s had us pay to watch handball, so thanks for the freebie.

The funny thing about the handball game was hearing my dad’s complaints. Usually Aita rags on “those Spanish Bascos,” but Saturday night he had nothing but criticism for the French handball players. He called them lazy, finding the game a little slower than he would have liked. According to Aita, pilotaris from Hegoalde hustle more.

My friends more in the know about the issue pointed out that these players were more accustomed to playing in smaller trinquets back home. So I told Aita to calm himself.

After handball, we headed for the bar. The Basque Cultural Center phased out the drink ticket system a while ago, but I always forget until I get there. I was a mooch all night, bumming Cokes off people nice enough to offer, because I was too stubborn to break my $20 bill for a soft drink.

Visiting band Baigura played on stage in the banquet room, but I refused to dance. The only people bold enough to dance in front of the large audience at the bar were mostly little kids and a handful of women. I hung back to chat with other people in the crowd, not wanting to join the fishbowl of the dance floor.

My friends and I eventually got in line for dinner. We jumped in the shorter line down the long hallway leading to the back serving line. In years past, the two lines used to be fairly equal, but it seems people forgot about the second serving line on Saturday night. We breezed right to the front.

serving line

When we got through the line, we were obliged to sit across from my parents, as they were on the end of the open table to which we were ushered. My parents even did that annoying thing where they sat side by side, so my friends and I had to sit in front of them, rather than across from each other.

Oh, the drama of family style seating! I actually had to sit with my family in the end. What a drag.

I kid, of course. My parents are wonderful people, but that adolescent attitude still takes over. You know the one where you don’t want your parents listening in on your conversations with your friends. Maybe they’ll hear something inappropriate. Oh goodness!

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Dance Floor Etiquette

With the Basque Cultural Center‘s big party this weekend (which apparently is a secret on the internet because I couldn’t find a link to the program), let’s go over some simple rules for the dance floor.

1. Leave your drink to the side

While cans are definitely less risky than cups, please leave your beverages off the dance floor. Especially if you have a cup, for the love of the children please set it down. Don’t be that person who spills their kalimotxo all over a middle schooler. It’s very bad form.

2. No smoking

By the same token, don’t bring your cigarettes onto the dance floor. Accidentally burning people is not the way to Carnegie Hall.

3. If you’re leading, lead. If you’re following, follow.

This may seem basic, but for some of us it’s harder said than done. Pushy girls like me often had to dance the boys’ parts at dance practice due to an abundance of girls, so it can be hard to retrain your brain and feet. I’ve literally had a boy yell at me in frustration, “Will you let me lead?” That was awkward.

Avoid moments like that if you can. Playing your part will minimize the chance of stepping on the other person’s feet or bumping into each other.

4. Young ones, try not to bump into old ones.

I know we all get excited during Polka Pik, crashing into friends like we’re in bumper cars. But do your best not to bash into people not playing the same game. Also avoid bumping into people you don’t know. Dancing is safer and more enjoyable for everyone that way.

5. If someone doesn’t want to dance with you, be gracious about it.

You already know why I turn people down, but there could be a million reasons why someone else would. Don’t jump to conclusions and take it personally. Just find someone else to dance with.

What would you add to this list?

12 Reasons to Go to a Basque Festival

1. Make friends


Basque festivals are a great place to meet people and strengthen ties with those you already know. Long afternoons give you lots of time to get to know people.

2. Eat delicious food

Gardnerville lunch

Try the lamb. It’s always exquisitely seasoned, and there’s usually lots of it. Meals are usually meat-heavy, so vegetarians proceed with caution and vegans stay home.

3. Have drinks you can’t find at American bars

Star Hotel T-shirt

Drink Kalimotxos and Picon Punches to your heart’s content at Basque events. The bartender will actually know what you’re talking about.

4. Speak Basque or hear it spoken

Need to brush up on your Basque? There will be plenty of people to converse with. If you’re just a linguistics nerd, come to listen to this language isolate.

5. Socialize with free day care

Chantal + Joana

Everyone looks out for people’s kids at these events. The little ones happily run around with their new friends, but they always come back to mommy and daddy if they get hurt, tired, or hungry.

6. Watch Basque dance performances

Like folk dancing? Think kids dressed up in traditional costumes is adorable? Then a Basque festival is the place for you, as virtually every one involves a dance performance.

7. Polka, waltz, and fandango the night away


If you’re old school at heart, Basque festivals are the place to release your inner ballroom dancer.

8. Play mus or learn how to play


Unless you set up your own card tournaments, you probably don’t get much opportunity to play this Basque poker-esque card game. It can be hard to play on your own since the game requires four players, but you’re bound to find others to partner up with at a Basque event.

9. Catch up on the latest gossip


Sometimes the most exciting part of a Basque festival is hearing what other people have been up to. You hear a lot of interesting things by sitting around all day.

10. Try your hand at the txingas competition

Photo Credit: Amaya Oxarango-Ingram

Photo Credit: Amaya Oxarango-Ingram

You think you’re a tough guy? Prove it! See how far you can lift those heavy weights and maybe earn yourself some bragging rights.

11. Sing at the bar

Let go of your inhibitions! You’re among friends. Basques love to sing, especially after a big meal and a few drinks. If someone starts a tune and you know the words, join in! If it’s new to you, belt out some heartfelt la-la-las.

12. Volunteer


There’s always plenty of work that needs to be done at a Basque festival. Help out with food prep, bartending, serving, selling tickets, setting up tables and chairs, and breaking it all down at the end of the day. Find out who’s running the show and offer your services!

Coming Down From Gardnerville

Gardnerville Picnic

For anyone interested in finding out about Gardnerville, Nevada’s Basque picnic this year, here’s my humble recap of what I got up to.


The drive from San Francisco to Gardnerville, Nevada took three and a half hours Saturday morning. I ditched riding with my parents to keep my friend company on his drive. He being the only close friend of mine (in other words, old dance group friend) from San Francisco making the trek, we decided on the car ride up to be each other’s home base.

You know how you usually go to a party with certain people, but you go around and talk to a bunch of other people and then make your way back to your original friends? That’s your home base crew. But this weekend, we only had each other to rely on.  Or so we anticipated in the beginning… We eventually merged with another home base crew to form one big home base team. (Hi. I’m horrible at sports analogies. Just run with it.)

My home base and I timed our trip so that we would arrive in the middle of mass, and we ran into a few other people skipping mass when we got there. We opted to chat in the shade of the park across the street from the hall until mass was over.

When mass got out, it was the usual daytime picnic routine. Get a drink at the bar, talk to people until lunch is served. You may be starting to notice that there’s a lot of waiting around at Basque picnics.

Saturday’s lunch consisted of chicken, lamb stew, lamb steak, beans, salad, bread, cheese, a glass of wine, and a fudge bar for dessert.

The smart ones brought their own tables and chairs to set up in the shade, since the park’s picnic tables got snatched up quickly.


I was lucky enough to sit with my family in the fairly air conditioned hall. While at first glance, all of my food looked delicious, upon cutting into my chicken I found it really pink and a little bloody in places.

With my history of vomiting in Gardnerville, I was not going to risk anything by eating it. But the ice cream for dessert made up for the nasty chicken in spades. I can’t remember any other club serving ice cream with lunch at a summer picnic, so props to the Mendiko Euskaldun Cluba for making this sugar addict happy.

Following lunch was a program of singing and dance performances by Gardnerville’s Mendiko Euskaldun and Reno’s Zazpiak Bat dancers. Organizers cleared all of the lunch tables in the hall and set up rows of folding chairs in front of the stage.

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I have to admit that I was one of the many obnoxious people at the bar talking instead of giving my full attention to the performers, but I still appreciated what I was hearing and seeing. Even though I was in a town new to me and barely knew anyone at the picnic, there’s something about hearing Johnny Curutchet do his bertsolari thing that makes me feel at home.

I think this would be too rosy a recap if I weren’t honest and mentioned that yes, unfortunately some of the singers were off key. But that’s okay. Basque picnics are a supportive environment. We applaud your efforts, because God knows I wouldn’t be brave enough to stand in front of a room full of people and sing into a microphone.

Throughout the afternoon, some people played mus, some hung around outside…


But I spent the entire afternoon near the bar.

1. Because that’s where my home base was.

2. Because that’s where these cuties were hanging out!

Alicia and Dustin's twinsies

Alicia and Dustin’s hella Basque twinsies

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Demystifying the Slutty Summer

As a teenager, when summer picnic season would come around, there would be a huge amount of anticipation around every picnic that had a dance. Those were the festivals with the magical combination of drinking, dancing, and darkness that made hooking up a more likely possibility.

As such, there would be a great deal of speculation among my friends–Who would hook up with whom? Who would I hook up with? Who would want to hook up with me?

If you read my last post on this topic, Real Talk: Why I Don’t Usually Hook Up, you know I never actually hooked up with anyone. But every year, the speculation would be there. My friends and I would make our predictions, place our bets. In our group, the daunting, elusive dream of the “slutty summer” hung over our heads.

The slutty summer involves hooking up with someone at each picnic, ideally a different person each time. I’ve heard other teenagers use different names to describe the same goal, but for many Basque American teenagers the slutty summer is a thing. Parents beware.

I’ve never heard of anyone having a true slutty summer. It takes a highly motivated, audacious individual to make it happen. Perhaps also someone with lower standards than most, as the person you want doesn’t always necessarily want you. I imagine a slutty summer means sometimes you have to settle.

So when your kids are awash in their post-picnic depression, keep in the back of your mind that it might be magnified by one of the following: 1) They’re sad to leave their hot picnic love, or 2) They didn’t hook up and really wanted to. I was prone to Type 2 post-picnic depression a lot as a teenager.

While not all young people want a slutty summer or accomplish one, it’s a weird sort of ideal for some young Basque Americans. I think the slutty summer lives in teenage hearts mostly because it’s fun to talk about–fantasies, what might be, other people’s lives.

Imagining the possibilities was always a fun way to pass the time, and the draw of the slutty summer for me was all talk. I didn’t actually want to hook up with a bunch of old Udaleku friends, but the idea was hilarious and I felt a little self-esteem boost talking about my boy in Boise, my boy in Chino, my boy in Elko. To think I had options, whether I actually did or not.

Maybe it’s boredom, maybe it’s hormones, maybe it’s curiosity. Whatever the reason for it, the slutty summer aspiration made my picnic seasons a lot more interesting as a teenager. And it makes me smile to hear the kids still talking about it today.