The 2018 Law & Society meeting held at the Toronto Sheraton must have been one of the largest meetings of the association. It was an extremely well organized, massive conference with enriching panels throughout. However, one can get lost in the shear numbers of panels and bodies. I found myself circulating through the various hallways, winding up and down the many levels to find the meeting rooms—searching out a new bit of research, a refreshing new twist on method. By the end, hitting maximum conference saturation I was not sure I could meet one more person or discuss one more research topic. However, there was one dinner I would not miss irrespective of my level of conference fatigue—that was the Oñati gathering.
Irene Torres, our resident Torontonian, generously organized the dinner, and we gathered, most of us strangers, to drink a few beers and eat dinner together. In classic Oñati fashion, we did not remain strangers for long. As people trickled in, bags of Oñati paraphernalia kept materializing filled with t-shirts, chocolate bars, and book bags until Angela Melville decided she would conduct a quiz to distribute the Oñati loot. Santiago Amietta remembered some of the questions that were asked such as,
Name a professional cyclist from Oñati; How do you say red wine in Euskera; What is the capital of Russia; Name a gastronomical society you know
Over the chocolate bar Santiago won and shared with the group, I asked several people how they ended up in Oñati. My natural desire to document and categorize these stories led me to one anecdotal observation: many of the stories of the ways people passed through the Institute started with love. One person had to finish his military service before meeting up with his partner who was in Madrid and found Oñati as a refuge for him to be with his partner, another because of love of a mother who came from the Basque Country, and another because she fell for a Basque boy. These stories were compelling, but what was even more striking was that even the stories that started out by a chance encounter such as a flip comment that changed one's trajectory, turned into a love relationship in the end.
The stories of the institute kept coming back to love and the emotional ties that bind us to this place because of affection for the institution, the town, and the people we know or knew there. These are the bonds that make Oñati special and enduring. Lucero Ibarra Rojas very elegantly put it like this,
The Oñati Dinner was the social activity that I was most looking forward to in Toronto during the LSA, not only because it is a great opportunity to see old friends, but also because I got to meet some new Oñati friends. While the Oñati crowd does tend to look for each other in academic activities, it is my experience that since these dinners are organised we are more aware of who is around and it is very good to have a set time in which we are sure we will meet. It is also great to share a space in which we get together regardless of age differences or our roles. This is very much like Oñati: students, young scholars and very well established professors sharing anecdotes and fond memories of a place that gives us something in common.