To linguists, the origin of the Basque tongue is a mystery. Its vocabulary is linked to no other language in the world. Not so the Basque spirit.

A case in point is André Larré, a gardener, uniformed and sandy haired, a man in his early 40’s who quietly tends the indoor planters, dracaena, and fichus at Northgate East. Look closer; notice the barrel chest and two huge upper arms that could make Rambo blush.

That athletic body is a clue to Larré’s passion: the sport of pelota! Akin to jai alai and handball, the action in pelota centers on a ricocheting speedball, a hefty 95 grams of rubber and leather, the size of a hardball that whizzes back from the wall at speeds up to 40+ mph. The player must quickly angle into position and swing his bare, open palm in an arc of power that intersects the ball flat on the hard ridge underside the knuckles. I he misjudges, the ball might find a finger and snap it like a twig. The ball has found three fingers on André Larré’s right hand, two on his left.

Those misjudgments happened 30 years ago when Larré was a teenager in his native land, the French province of Basque, high in the hills on the border between France and Spain. The 20 yr old Larré showed promise in this national sport and has won a number of regional titles and was in training to go professional at the time but then Larré was called to spend the next three years in a nightmare called the Algerian War.

When he returned, his zest for the game was gone. He had lost the “edge”. In the meantime an aging uncle needed him in the United States and as the Basque people are fiercely loyal to their kin, Larré moved to Red Bluff, a remote agricultural town in northern California where he spent the next four years helping his uncle on a small, very quiet cattle farm, far from Pelota courts and farther from the tanks and the dark of combat.

When his uncle died, Larré gravitated to San Francisco and found among a community of 3,000 Basques a center to his life. Within a year, Larré was playing on the pelota team. In 1978 he represented the U.S. in the International Basque Pelota Tournament in France and aging in Mexico in 1982. He also began training youngsters on the game. The next year he coached the team that brought home two bronze medals from the pelota games in Uruguay. This success prompted his selection as coach again the next year.

Ask why he teaches pelota he’ll try to use his body English and his hands to help express what his vocabulary can’t. He seems to be saying: “It’s a joy to see a champion emerge”.

Indeed it is.

Note: “The Leader” is a magazine published by Fireman’s Fund, made available to El Bohemio News, LLC, by André Larré who is a neighbor and good friend of ours.
The exact dates of André Larré’s participation with the World Olympics were: 1978 in France; 1982 Mexico; 1986 Spain; and 1987 Bolivia was coaching the U.S. Team.

Rosalina Contreras-Rosado, Editor of EBN.