It’s New Year’s Day 1953, in the Basque city of Tolosa. A bertsolari – composer and singer of extemporized sung verses called bertsos – named Pedro Anaitio is recording some of his lines for Alan Lomax. Actually, maybe his name isn’t Pedro Anaitio, but that’s how Lomax notated it, and none of the experts who have retraced Lomax’s steps through Franco’s Spain in 1952 and 1953 have been able to tell different. Lomax took no photograph of him; one of the only remarks he made concerning him was that he hesitated slightly before singing “not because of shyness, but because he was composing the songs he was going to give us.”
The song, in fact, will probably not thrill you. Anaitio has a “just fine” kinda voice, and the tune is… nice, though not great by any means. But the translation of the lyrics provide – at least to my thusly-inclined sensibility – a fleeting but affecting, sympathetic, and wistful perspective into this fellow’s state of mind, heart, etc., in this moment of improvisation, before a stranger’s microphone, at some hour in the afternoon on New Year’s Day. What is produced is very beautiful poetry.
(Credit to Aintzane Camara & Juan Mari Beltran for the translation from Basque to Spanish; Judith Cohen for Spanish translation into English. Though too reminiscent of English As She Is Spoke for you, perhaps?)
Here people could live well, getting along well together,
Not because it’s easy, if it doesn’t come naturally.
Offering whatever one can, offering it freely.
It’s not good to get angry, without being able to suffer.
For someone who doesn’t know, I tell you, it’s inevitable.
We’ve really enjoyed the fiesta.
It’s time to start now.
I don’t really like going over the stories again and again.
Let’s make an effort now on one side or the other.
I value good will – thanks, young man!
I was born in Navarre, I grew up in Guipuzcoa.
I’d like to leave something for tomorrow, and not say everything today.
Why should we get tied up in this situation?
I offer you a life of many years, to all those present.
An unidentified man with cats in the Basque village of Arbizu, in Navarre, shot by Alan Lomax in August of 1953. Perhaps an arbitrary image, but I think a complementary one. Courtesy of the Alan Lomax Archive.