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Entries: Round Twenty

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This country has very strange customs. One of which is April 19th, a holiday, a stink to high heaven holy holiday called Aillée.

It all starts well before dawn. The braiders have been at work since midnight, constructing wreaths and laying them out to air. When the sun comes up, as the legend has it, the last of the vampires will have been blocked from their passages back to darkness, and will be caught and killed as the first ray of sunlight reflects from the golden statue of the bird atop of the cathedral of St Irene, which was the first Christian temple built in Lyon in the year 242 AD by disciples of St. Jean the Baptist.

The city of Lyon budgets close to 1.8 million euros each year on this event alone, amassing so much garlic and hiring so many artisan braiders in witch costumes that they have to provide alternative routes to and from the city, because the tunnel leading to route A7 in the direction of Paris has been blocked by an intricate woven structure of solid garlic. It’s a logistical nightmare, but these people won’t have it any other way. No one’s working anyway. The garlic stuffed chickens to feed the faithful after the enactment are on the spit already when morning hits, and the perfume hits us as the first rays of yellow dawn bleed through the curtains. By sunrise, they have already gathered to watch the spectacle, knowing the exact location where the flash will take place.

Every year they re-enact the death of the legendary vampire Zorbeskel, who plagued the cobblestoned streets of vieux Lyon back in the days when it was Nouveau Lyon. We don’t go to that. We listen to it on the radio. I tried our first year to get some shots of the enactment, but even my press pass wouldn’t get me close to ground zero. I would have had to be air-lifted in. It was a solid wall of people. Last year the vampire was played by Johnny Hallyday, and not only were there people, but stampedes of screaming middle aged ladies (complete in witch costumes and some dressed as vampiresses) running through the streets and acting crazy. For a little while we thought something terrible had happened, but on the radio they explained that the fan factor was riling things up a bit.

There’s anticipation in the air the moment we open our prickling eyes, though, on Aillée! The Promenade d’Aillée transpires throughout the morning hours, as everyone gathers in bunches to buy their woven wads to prepare the afternoon meal, which begins as garlic nibbles with the neighbors and wines infused with herbs and garlic, followed by veloutés of various sorts but always consisting principally of the perfumed bulbous delights in purée form with fresh cream and a grind of black pepper, usually followed by a roast sanglier or lamb, depending on the family, which has been lovingly smothered in garlic and truffle butter, and served with wilted chickory salad with garlic vinaigrette, fresh hulled peas and the likes, with the obligatory side of country bread smeared with the pulp of roast garlic.

The cheeses served at the end of the meal are quite special, since they are produced for this day and this day only, from the milk of carefully bred cows that feed exclusively in fields of garlic shoots that have been cultivated in a special zone in les Monts d’Or consigned by the city government of Lyon since the year 1471. There are a couple of exclusive shops that claim to have permits to sell garlic from a patch of this field, but I’ve heard it’s really not worth all of the hullabaloo from someone who’s tasted it. The stinkiest cheese is called “Brin de Z”. It has been first soaked in ilky brine the origins of which is a closely guarded secret, and then rinsed daily alternately in eau de vie and pressed fresh garlic juice for 8 months in the golden city caves. It is really knock your head back incredible. It puts époisse to shame. Try as you may, there is never one morsel of this ever available except on the 19th of April. In fact, it is illegal to buy, sell or consume this cheese outside of Lyon on the day Aillée. In the year 2000, the national police investigating force broke up a ring of cheese smugglers in a massive sting operation, and we also know that Madame Artaud of the fifth floor of our building once received a hefty fine for having spirited away a loaf of this fabulous cheese and having tried to hide it in her chimney. She was just asking to get caught, though. Apparently it was a neighbor who complained of the odors coming from his own fireplace. She said it was for relatives who were to arrive on the holiday but had been delayed on the road, but they still fined her.

On the day Aillée, there are lots of things to do. The bandstands have been set up, decorations hanging from all lampposts, lights, carnival rides, craft shows down near the train station, kissing contests, no one works on Ailée. We wouldn’t think of leaving town on that day. It’s a local holiday not to be missed. People generally stink for about a week following the holiday, but no one really notices. This is a true story. For more information about last years enactment, you can see the website.

edited for a misspelling.

Edited by bleudauvergne (log)

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I know, I know, what does poetry matter in comparison to food? Poetry does matter! It does! It does! Especially poetry about food!


April 29

Twas the night we made scampi

And through windows all starlit

Came beams of white moonlight

That shone on the garlic.

The shrimp were in piles

On ice in the fridge

In eighteen or so hours

They’d be a midriff-based ridge.

We got out the butter

The wine with a clatter

Sprang back for a shallot

And a towel for spatter.

A bit nervous we were

For shrimp overcook in a trice

We wanted them rosy and hot

And buttery with rice.

When what to our wondering

eyes did appear

but a battered old cook

holding an icy cold beer.

He set his beer down on the counter

and heated up the pan so quick

we realized in a moment

it must be St. Shrimp!

He threw in the shrimp

with the shells all a-clatter

Looked at our worried eyes for a moment,

Said, “What the f—k is the matter?

“Set the table, you civilians,

Make yourselves good for something.

Get the soup plates and the napkins

But forget the good linens.

“Scampi you eat with your hands

And get plenty of bread

To mop up the butter,

So quit worrying your heads.”

The butter sizzled and spit

We feared the shrimp would be tough.

But he shook the pan briskly

With a hand that was calloused and rough.

The shrimp were crisp and juicy

The garlic pungent and sweet

It was all bathed in butter,

And wine and the sea.

We cared not for the shells

But peeled away like the blazes

And he laughed at our messes,

Called us pigs for the ages.

We begged him to stay

This cranky old lout

But he said he had to go

To see to his gout.

We heard him exclaim

Ere he lurched out of sight,

“Happy Scampi to all,

And to all a good night!”

Edited by ingridsf (log)

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I'm afraid I missed the 16th, but there's always next year. And I suppose this is almost equally appropriate to the 23rd - or perhaps to any other day whan that Aprille with shoures swete... oh well, you know.


EDIT to add: an encounter with an off-list heckler has reminded me that I meant to post a disclaimer, to the effect that the good saint apparently possessed every virtue except an intimate knowledge of porcine anatomy and butchery - else he would have known that Canadian bacon is actually cut from the loin. (So there is no cause for concern about the pork belly industry.)

Edited by balmagowry (log)

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I always hated Pig in a Blanket Day when I was a kid. Schlepping the damn pig around was hard enough on any other day of the year, but once you add the blanket, you may as well just grease the critter. And whose brilliant idea was it to schedule the holiday when the weather is just warming up (on the east coast, at least)? We JUST got the pig out of the snow pants...now this?!? Yeesh.

I just wanted to be a normal kid and celebrate Festivus like the rest of the world. Was that SO much to ask?!? :laugh:

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First off let me say that I really do love Zucchini Bread, just not as a food. For me it is more of a symbol, sort of an All-American baked good (apologies to Apple Pie) that symbolizes the homely frugal spirit that made has made America (and the questionable baking skills that highlight our British heritage). It's not the kind of baked good that one finds at a bakery, it's really more of a way for home gardeners to use up excess overgrown spongy zucchini. Of course I've never actually made a zucchini bread and as far as I know no one close to me has either. This leads me to believe that, like fruitcakes, all the worlds supply of zucchini bread was made as World War II emergency rations and has been passed around ever since.

With all of this in mind my vision for Zucchini Bread Day is more of a celebration of non-culinary aspects of the much maligned loaf. It would start of course with the Large Zucchini Drop and Run (or LZDR) a sort of fun run that begins with the dropping of the largest possible zucchini on your neighbors porch and running away as quickly as possible. This a necessary part of ZB day, seeing as it is considered bad luck to make zucchini bread with your own zucchini (or, I hasten to add, to consume your own - and perhaps anyone else’s, for that matter). Also it is important to get the running out of the way early, before that first (ill-advised) slice of the finished product, the digestive half-life of which is a good forty eight hours*

Now of course comes the all important baking of the Zucchini bread. I don't really have much to say on the subject, suffice it to say that like laws and sausages perhaps the making of Zucchini bread is best left unseen.

Once you've got one (or more likely a good dozen or so) zucchini bread(s), you are free to participate in any number of traditional activities - the Zucchini bread toss, Zucchini Bread carving, Zucchini bread time capsules, zucchini bread home construction projects, etc. By the end of the day all of the breads have dried out sufficiently (those few that weren't already sufficiently dry from the get-go) for the traditional twilight Bread fire, a time at which the whole community comes together to enjoy each others company and give thanks that it will be another year before the next ZB Day.........................

*as determined by the Zucchini Bread Research institute (ZBRI)

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I hope and pray I'm on time and not too late with my contest entry:


The major principal gala festivity happens and takes place in New York, New York. An alternate secondary celebration party is in Pago Pago, and another possibly maybe in Bora Bora.

Twin lookalikes are specially and particularly famously celebrated this day-long 24-hour period. A male boy is crowned with a coronet as the Prince King-to-Be, and a female girl the Princess Queen-to-Be of Shrimp Scampi. They -- the two of them -- are given and receive a free gift of a pair of two stuffed filled plush velveteen representative depictions of shrimp scampi as toy playthings.

Pastime games include and comprise:

- double-rope jump skip rope

- the telling and relating of knock knock jokes

- two-on-two doubles ping pong table tennis.

This set of these fun entertainments are observationally viewed with and through binocular telescope spyglasses from a long distance far away (unless the watching viewer has and suffers from double vision diplopia. Then in that case merely just one single is necessary and needed.).

Traditional customary edible consumables, besides and in addition to Shrimp Scampi:

- double beefburger hamburgers or bison buffalo burger patties

- old-style old fashioned Popsicles

- large grande café au lait coffees with milk

- Gavi di Gavi or Luna di Luna viniferous wines (Est! Est! Est! for the militant hardcore imbibing drinkers)

- and, of course, Doublement Gum.

By the way and for what it's worth, this is really truly the single sole festival holiday on which people can mail and send each other St. Valentine greeting cards.

Edited by Suzanne F (log)

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