Marks of Cain: Other Locations
The Basque Country
The Basques have unusually shaped skulls, flat faces, and very long earlobes. They have eccentrically high rates of rhesus negative blood, arguably making it hard for them to interbreed with non Basques. Their language and culture are entirely unique – unrelated to any other forms.
They have lived in the same corner of northern Spain and southern France for at least 5000 years, and possibly 30,000 years. Some scientists have speculated they are directly descendant from Neanderthals, unlike the rest of homo sapiens.
Wikipedia has a good article on the Basque People, with some details on their mythology, and their pagan past – utilised in the book.
I spent several weeks in the Basque Country researching the people and their wonderfully preserved traditions. Here are some pictures of lauburus, singing Basques, dancing Basques, protesting Basques, and some Terrorist Sugar: the slogan on the sugar means “bring Basque prisoners back to the Basque homeland”, and refers to terrorists/freedom fighters from the Basque terror group ETA, who are incarcerated across Spain.
At the end of the war many Nazis fled Berlin carrying money, gold, and precious works of art – the loot from five years of conquest. Some of them took scientific data – research into jet engines and nuclear weapons, for instance. The fugitives hoped (often correctly) that such valuable booty could be bartered with the Allies in exchange for freedom or jobs in the postwar era.
Many of these Nazi treasures were dumped in various inaccessible places, such as Alpine lakes and salt mines. One of the most curious locations of alleged Nazi “treasures” is Zbiroh Castle, in Moravia, in the Czech republic. During the war this medieval citadel was an ultra-secret SS headquarters, bristling with antennae.
At the end of the war the Germans supposedly concealed vital items in the huge caverns beneath the castle. The caverns were then sealed over with many metres of concrete and steel – forming an impenetrable carapace. In 1960 the communist government of Czechoslovakia ordered the army to blast its way into the dungeons, to unearth the hidden Nazi loot, but the attempt was a failure. No one knows, to this day, what lies under Zbiroh Castle.
I visited Zbiroh Castle in 2009, where I had a lovely lunch of lager and another lager. I also took a photo of a peacock on the crumbling terrace. And a photo of the notorious rocks on which Zbiroh is built, and which may contain…. Who knows what.
Between 1941-1944 the German concentration camp at Gurs, southwest France, housed many Basques, gypsies, and Jews. It was one of the largest Nazi camps in occupied France. Here’s a photo, and a Wikipedia link if you want to know more.
I flew to Foula, the most remote inhabited island in the British Isles, a few years ago. It’s a gut-wrenchingly austere and daunting place. Even more astonishing is Saint Kilda, which was previously the most remote inhabited British Isle, until it was evacuated in the 1920s. My journey to Hirta, the main island of St Kilda, took place in 2009.
The book’s descriptions of life on Foula are actually an amalgamation of my experiences on Kilda, Foula – and Harris in the Outer Hebrides.
Crucially, the story about Kildans evolving longer toes is true. Because the islanders were totally dependent on seabirds for daily life: as food, oil for lamps, bedding, even footwear – they used dead fulmars as slippers – they developed notably prehensile toes so they could climb the cliffs and net the birds with greater alacrity.
Here is everything you could possibly want to know about wondrous, wild, and wistfully tragic St Kilda.
Here are a few photos of Kilda and Foula: just to show I Was There.