Bayonne, France

Sep 17, 2017 - National Geographic Orion

Here are 14 fun facts we learned during our visit to the French Basque region today:

The Basque language is the only language in Europe that is not related to Sanskrit. It uses a lot of "x"s and it is impossible to guess what things mean when reading signs.

Jai Lai was invented in the village of St. Pee (yes, that's the name…we drove through it) when a young local decided to use his fruit basket to throw a ball against a wall. I was assured there is no village named St. Poo, much to my disappointment.

Jai Lai is the fastest ball sport in the world, with the highest speed ever recorded at 204mph.

The large, fluorescent yellow pile next to where our ship was docked was sulfur, which is mined nearby but is about to run out. The pile was a bit surreal and oddly beautiful.

The bayonet is named after the city of Bayonne, where it was supposedly invented.

A Basque man discovered Argentina and its first President was Basque.

The Basque people have a unique genetic makeup and the highest percentage of the O negative blood type in the world.

There are more Michelin starred restaurants per capita in the Basque Country than anywhere else in the world.

Tapas in the Basque Country are called pintxos. They are always on bread and pierced with a toothpick. The bar counts the empty toothpicks on your plate to determine how much to charge you.

Gateau Basque, i.e. Basque Cake, is filled with cherry jam or cream, and it is really, really delicious.

There is a Ferrari dealership on the outskirts of Bayonne.

The txalaparta is a musical instrument in which large batons are banged rhythmically against tuned wooden or stone planks. It was used traditionally as a method of long distance communication.

The Basque never had kings and queens; they were one of the few societies in Europe where farmers traditionally owned their own land.

Red peppers are very popular around here. Farmers used to hang them from the walls of their homes to dry the peppers until that was forbidden in order to prevent from getting dusty.

There are many mysteries regarding the Basque, and some of the facts listed above were told to us by proud local tour guides and are thus not necessarily true. Except the one about the cake, that one is definitely true. I tried it.

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About the Author

Jacob Edgar

Cultural Specialist

Jacob Edgar is an Ethnomusicologist, world music tastemaker and global explorer with an insatiable curiosity for the diverse ways in which people express themselves through music. Jacob’s adventures have taken him to dozens of countries, and hundreds of the world’s greatest international music festivals, showcases and performance venues in search of exceptional musical talents. Since 1998, Jacob has been the main music researcher for the acclaimed world music compilations label Putumayo World Music, contributing songs and liner notes to over 300 Putumayo collections that combined have sold over 15 million copies. In 2006, Jacob founded the record label Cumbancha, whose artists include some of the top names in international music. In 2009, Jacob embarked on a new adventure as host of a new music and travel television program Music Voyager. The series invites viewers to discover the exciting sounds of the planet and broadcasts on PBS and other stations around the world. While pursuing his undergraduate degree at Oberlin College, where he was a double major in History and Latin American Studies, Jacob conducted field research on music and society in Central America. His love of music took him to the West Coast where Jacob was awarded the Mellon Fellowship in the Humanities and graduated from University of California, Los Angeles in 1994 with a Masters in Ethnomusicology.

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