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Chapter Thirty-seven – Pelota (part two)

Pelota (part two)

As you see, it has all the attributes of a monotonous game, especially when we use such elementary and common phrases as ‘catching the ball’; but in reality the process is not one of catching, but involves rather a species of magic.

The pod, known as la cesta is no more than a hand’s breath across, and the ball flies at about the same speed as a meteor; apparently on a recent occasion it bounded off the wall and flew among the onlookers, whereupon all four players took to their heels, as they felt sure the ball must have killed someone in the crowd.

So to catch a ball like that is very much like catching in a spoon the bullet from a rifle; and the pelota players catch every ball wherever it may hurtle, with that same dead certainty as that with which a swift catches flies. They just stretch out their arms, and they’ve got it. They just take a leap, and they’ve got it. Compared to pelota, tennis is like chasing flies with a fly-clapper. And on top of that, they perform their tricks, the leaps and the somersaults, without any display or exertion, very much like a bird hunting gnats.

There’s a bang, the ball crashes against the wall, and the thing’s done; not a sign of the brawny strength with which it must have been hurled. That’s the sort of game it is, queer and monotonous.

This game is only played by the Basques and the men from the hills of Navarre; the Basques, who have introduced to the world the beret (they call it boina); the Basques, who, as Professor Meillet informed me, are the original inhabitants of the whole Mediterranean basin, and akin to certain tribes of the Caucasus.

Their language is so complex that is has not yet been fully investigated; and they make their music with a clarinet reed-pipe, called duzaina, accompanied by a small drum. They are one of the tiniest nations in Europe, perhaps they are what is left of the vanished people of Atlantis. It would be a crime if this dauntless remnant also vanished.