We recently received this photo from a friend in the Vascos en México group (a must-read website for all those interested in Basques in general and Basques in Mexico in particular), and it got us pulling at the threads that bind Basques, and all things Basque, all over the world (just a little).
The photo is of Mario “Cantinflas” Moreno, with some cestas in his hands, in what seems to be a moment spent choosing equipment just before the second photo, just below, was taken, in which they’re playing cesta punta. Two names appear handwritten, that of the actor to the right, and that of a powerfully built man, Guillermo Amuchástegui, who, with his cesta already on, is observing the comedian getting ready.
For those of us who are rather far removed from the world of pelota, two questions immediately come to mind: what is Cantinflas doing in a match, and who is the person with him? We especially want to know because he looks rather larger than life. So we popped his name into a search engine or two and found an entry for him in the Auñamendi Encyclopedia, and also discovered a book, Neuk!, was written about him, including the following description on a bookseller’s website:
Guillermo Amuchástegui lived in a golden era: the pelota player played in Madrid, Florida, New York, Havana, Tijuana, Mexico City, Barcelona. He was a race car driver and played dominoes, billiards, the guitar, the piano, and the trombone. He was friends with famous people, artists, politicians, athletes, matadors. 276pp, out-of-text black and white pictures. In some photographs, he appears alongside Agustín Lara, Orson Welles, Cantinflas, Esther Williams.
He, and the book, were also mentioned by Juan I. Zulaika on his website about cesta punta, Txik-txak.
As you can see, this man’s ability to draw in celebrities was not limited to Cantinflas. For example, during his stay as a pelota player in Havana, we’re sure he got to celebrate fiestas with Ernest Hemingway, who enjoyed jai alai and the company of Basques who, because of work, or exile, were in 1940s Cuba.
Carlos Zuluaga shared this with us in his blog in Diario Vasco, in a beautiful article, “Ernest Hemingway tomaba daiquirís con los pelotaris en el Floridita“. In the photo, alongside the author and two American soldiers, we can see a smiling priest who seems to match a name in the article: Andrés Unzain, also known as the Red Priest from Mundaka.
And that piqued our curiosity even more. So we kept digging around, but this time to find out all we could about this priest. And then we came across a book written by Yuriy Paporov, “Hemingway en Cuba”. On page 26, we can find a reference to the friendship between the American writer and the Basques in Havana, including this priest. You can read the text here, but we can’t resist copying a paragraph which explains who, and what, this priest is.
In those days, Hemingway was friends with many Republican Spaniards, but his closest friends were Father Andrés and Juan Dunabeitita, better known in La Vigía as Sinbad the Sailor, or Mister Sinsky.
Father Andrés Unzáin, the Red Priest, as the right-wing Spaniards and reactionary Cuban press called him, was a priest in Spain during the war against fascism and, when necessary, the leader of the Gudari Basque machine gun battalion. After breaking with the Spanish Catholic clergy, after Franco came to power, Father Andrés went to Cuba, where he received a parish in the town of Melena del Sur. The priest’s liberalism, his hatred of fascism, and his special way with many mundane matters quickly brought him close to Hemingway. Soon, Father Andrés was a frequent guest at La Vigía.
He was passionate about jai-alai and, along with the property’s owner, was a regular at the jai alai court.
—”Hemingway en Cuba” Yuriy Paporov
So, a Basque priest who was an abertzale, anti-Franco, and chaplain of the Gudari battalion during the Spanish Civil War was a good friend of Hemingway’s. Indeed, at the end of the 1950s, the author even paid a visit to the priest’s tomb on the Biscayan coast, undoubtedly talking about everything that had happened in the Basque Country and Spain. This would reinforce the theory we stated in a previous article, when we talked about Hemingway’s relationships with Basque women while visiting Idaho: that he was undoubtedly an admirer and friend of the Basques.
Many readers are wondering where the news article about all this is. We could say that just having found a chain of links from a Mexican comedian to an exiled Basque abertzale priest in Havana was by itself worthy of an article. But there’s more.
The Vascos en México website has just announced that the DF Government is thinking about opening a jai-alai court, the Frontón México, the same place we imagine the photos with Cantinflas were taken. We found that in El Universal.
El Universal – 16/4/2013 – Mexico
Opera GDF reapertura del Frontón
El Frontón México reabrirá sus puertas antes de concluir el año, luego de que autoridades capitalinas intervinieron para solucionar una huelga que le impedía funcionar. El inmueble actualmente está en fase de “limpieza”; su estructura será remozada para albergar, entre otras cosas, un hotel, indicó Salomón Chertorivski, secretario de Desarrollo Económico de la capital.
Vascos en México – 23/4/2013 – Mexico
GDF busca reabrir el Frontón México
El Gobierno del Distrito Federal busca recuperar espacios públicos de interés, por lo que ha estado haciendo negociaciones para la reapertura del Frontón México, que cerró sus puertas en 1996 debido a una huelga. Se espera esté en funcionamiento antes de este año.
Find more international celebrities watching jai alai photos at Euskaletxeak