Les Poivrons d’Antan

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These are ancient peppers, the peppers of yesteryear.  Literally.  Of all the ways to speak of the past, the word antan, or yesteryear, is the one I find the most poetic.  And since these are the peppers heaped in front of the altar at last year’s piment d’Espelette festival, as well as being the descendants of peppers brought to France from the new world many centuries ago, the word works on every level.

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Last year when we went to the festival I didn’t write much about it, or post pictures, because I’d sold the story to Chile Pepper magazine and didn’t want to post anything they might print.  But since the article was published in July, and these images weren’t used, I want to share them with you.  It’s a poetically vague and misty day here, which is probably why I find these so appealing and timely.

A big part of the pageantry of the festival is a mass held in an ancient church for the blessing of the freshly-harvested peppers, which is accompanied by much dancing and singing.

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The church is very tall and my camera and I were up at a dizzying height, the only spot I’d managed to squeeze into after a long wait in a teeming throng.  The place was packed with locals and tourists, and many people were left out on the church steps.  Most of the time I couldn’t see what was going on far below me,  so I just held my camera in the air and pointed it in the direction of what I hoped was something interesting.

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Since I usually couldn’t see much of what I was shooting, it was truly a game of candid camera.  As a reward for my blind faith in the power of photography, I got an amazing number of pictures in which a certain little girl always had her finger in her nose.  I’m sure her parents weren’t very happy with their pictures either. 

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Mostly the kids looked angelic and behaved beautifully.  It was the tourists who behaved badly, often pushing in front of actual worshippers with their huge flash cameras.

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Even though I had a tiny camera and wasn’t using a flash, while I was clicking away the people around me were giving me The Look.  But then, amazingly enough, the singing started and I was able to follow along and sing out as though I belonged there and within a few minutes people had moved over to let me approach the edge of the precipitous balcony and get a few clear shots of what was going on below.

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Now, a year later, I have learned that acting at home, but not too much so, is half the battle in a strange land.  Choose your words well, sing along whenever possible, and keep your finger out of your nose.  That’s my motto.

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7 Comments on “Les Poivrons d’Antan”

  1. Paula Maack Says:

    H Abra,

    I’m sorry to post here (please forgive), but I couldn’t find an email address, and I wanted to include you since I love your site so much.

    I am hosting a semi-secret Santa exchange for the food blogging (and reading) community, and I would like to invite you and your readers to join in the fun.

    This is a great way to get to know your fellow food bloggers and readers, since you can peruse each other’s blogs or exchange emails and find out about cultural heritages, traditions, and special recipes, and to learn about the goodies they have available in their community to share with you, as well as their likes and dislikes, and what they have been longing for that you may have right in your own backyard. Think of all the opportunities for requests of unique homemade goodies, and exotic food and kitchen items!

    Why is it “semi-secret?”

    Visit my blog to find out that and other details, as well as to participate in the exchange.

    Cheers,

    ~ Paula
    (of Ambrosia Quest)

  2. Rona Y Says:

    Amen, sistah!

    Locals can always pick out a furrener (even if you’re a local furrener), but if you’re respectful and appreciative, and if you show you really want to learn about and experience their culture, they’ll be a whole lot more welcoming. It saddens me to see other “local furreners” who never seem to understand that.

  3. Nancy Says:

    “Choose your words well, sing along whenever possible, and keep your finger out of your nose. That’s my motto.”

    Actually, that sounds like a great motto for life when one is at home, too.

    I am continually intrigued by the costumes and pageantry in your posts. Aside from the sheer beauty of it, I think I’m taken with the age and lineage of the traditions. Here in the USA, where “old” is measured in decades, we are the progeny of the people who moved. You are living with the people who stayed, who measure “old” in centuries. If they think about it at all.

  4. Ray Says:

    what is Paula’s blog address from above comment?

  5. Ray Says:

    “we are the progeny of people who moved”…….thought-provoking phrase

  6. Laura Says:

    I am laughing out loud at your motto. Great advice! I try to behave like that when I travel.
    I found your blog via Kristin’s French Word a Day. I’m enjoying the recipes immensely. Here in California, families don’t cook or eat together much, so my “slow food” habit is a challenge. (And we grow potatoes too.) Thanks for the inspiration.
    ~Laura


  7. […] a funny thing they do here, blessing the most worldly of things. I’ve seen piments d’Espelette blessed, wine grapes blessed, and before the Pastorale just before Christmas even the animals were taken to […]


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