Monday 16 May 2016

We have our own monsters #FaeVisions

Guest post by Arrate Hidalgo.

I’m from a land most people know as Spain. But my sea is not the Mediterranean Sea. I grew up 20 minutes away from the Cantabrian coast: that’s the same waters that lap around Britain, the island I currently call home. But when northern Europeans hear me complain about the London heat, they assume I come from a warm place, with palm trees, perhaps.

I am from the Basque Country. Our days are grey, wet, gently bleak. (Or they used to be: climate change is taking care of that.) Stereotypically rebellious, or perhaps just a bit out of the way, the Basques were left pretty much alone during the pre-modern invasions and settlements from the Mediterranean, aided by our uninspiring agricultural potential. That means we kept our own language and, until not that long ago, our own religion—goddess and all—and creatures such as the river-dwelling, duck-footed lamiak who would build a bridge for you overnight every now and then. Especially if you left them some food.

We have our own monsters, too. Or do we? There is a giant called Tartalo, or Torto, who lives in a cave and herds sheep, which he eats alongside the occasional human. Legend has it that he was once fooled by a young man who escaped from his lair by hiding under a sheep. Did I mention Tartalo only has one eye? Ring any bells yet? This story carries the scent of an inland sea, warmer waters, pungent flowers that open at night, sardines charred on coals nested in the sand. It’s impossible to know when the Cyclops was transplanted into a story about Tartalo. Just like with Scandinavian myths, most of what we know about pre-Christian Basque beliefs was retrieved in Christian times.

Whatever the case, the truth is that our mountains might have been a deterrent for ancient foreigners to make a life in them, but not for stories to find a way in, transforming in the process. The Mediterranean reaches further than we think, surfing inwards as well as outwards on travellers’ tongues. And right now it rushes in with stories that we refuse to hear.

The horrors of the Mediterranean are far from supernatural for the thousands who are leaving everything behind in order to reach a safe haven from a man-made hell. Thousands of lives are perishing in high sea or stranded in the very real islands of mythical Greece, unaided and ignored. Fortress Europe is allowing for families to be divided, for children to be abandoned at their peril, facing all too human dangers.

Fae Visions may be an anthology of the marvellous and the strange, but in the process it has created a real space that brings people and places together. Its pages speak many languages, they reach out and gather us around them. It reminds us that the borders that keep us apart are as strong as our will to wish them gone. Of course, some will take more work to break than others. But in the meantime, we share the wonder of story, and that is no small thing.

Arrate Hidalgo is the translator of “El baile de la Hipacotora” in Fae Visions of the Mediterranean

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