Les Poivrons d’Antan
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.