Exploring cultures and communities – the slow way

The memory of Julián Gayarre, the accomplished nineteenth-century tenor, is perpetuated in his home village in the Pyrenees by a larynx preserved in formaldehyde. Karlos Zurutuza, who is a regular contributor to hidden europe, took the bus to Erronkari to unpick the tale of a local lad whose voice was revered in Europe's great opera houses.

article summary —

It is not often that one travels to view a larynx. “Call ahead and speak with Marta Zazu. She’ll open the door for you,” were the instructions. And thus everything was in place for a journey to Erronkari, a community of just two hundred souls in a mountain valley east of Pamplona. This is a part of the Basque region where the hills become ever steeper as one moves north towards the border with France.

Erronkari turned out to be such a slip of a place that calling in advance was hardly necessary.

Everyone in Erronkari knows Marta. When she is not busy in the Zaltua restaurant that her family runs on the southern edge of town, Marta can always be tracked down by having a word with anyone you chance to meet in the maze of cobbled alleys that make Erronkari.

Marta is always in town. Well, almost always. Every two years she makes an excursion to Pamplona, a regular foray undertaken only so that experts can inspect the larynx and check it is still in good condition. “Tuning,” says Marta, adopting a turn of phrase that seems peculiarly appropriate for a larynx.

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Karlos Zurutuza has been covering human rights and conflict along parallel 33 (from Western Sahara to Eastern Baluchistan) for the past 15 years. Other than in hidden europe, his work has been published in prominent media outlets such as Al Jazeera, IPS News Vicenews, The Middle East Eye and The Guardian, among many others. He has also published several books, his latest being Tierra Adentro (Libros del KO, 2018), which covers seven years of ground reporting in Libya.

This article was published in hidden europe 31.