“All I have is a voice." (W.H. Auden)

In Search of Roots

As many others in my home country, our lineage includes Spanish connections established, most probably, through a member of the clergy.  That it is, according to the oral recording of our maternal family history. 

 

So when I chanced upon a framed document with the Ezpeleta crest and background (in Spanish) at a distant uncle’s home, I decided to follow up.  Through online search, I discovered the source of the document and promptly ordered a few.  Upon my receipt of the documents, I had one framed and attempted to understand its meaning.  Something about its location along the Spanish and French border and service to the King.  Then conveniently forgot about it.

 

Sometime in the mid 2000s, we took the opportunity to rent a holiday home in Catalan and to use this as our base to travel to SW France, specifically to Lourdes.  I mentioned to traveling relatives that there is a place near Lourdes whose Basque name is Ezpeleta.  In France, it was called Espelette and is well known for its peppers.  So a few of them decided to continue to this village after our sojourn to Lourdes.  They returned to our holiday rental with plenty of souvenirs. 

 

Two years ago, the four of us ventured to this village.  First daughter was distraught as she forgot to wear her Ezpeleta family reunion shirt given to her by her great-aunt.  She had wanted to show off her connection as we ambled around the village.  It was the height of summer so the tourist crowds were plentiful.  After the dutiful purchase of souvenirs, our stay was short as we had other destinations to explore.

 

This time, with a visiting aunt in tow, we spent two full nights in a local chambres d’hotes (bed and breakfast).  Our GPS did not lead us to the right place so we parked and walked around to ask for directions.  Most of the people we reached out to were French tourists with no inkling of the Basque named streets.  We entered one of the retail stores and asked, in French not Basque, for the location of the chambres d’hotes.  I showed the woman my booking form.  She shook her head and pointed to a souvenir store across the street.  Ask the proprietor, she said.  He was born here and he would know that street.  So we followed her instructions, walked across the street and politely asked for help.  Immediately, one of the store helpers hurried me to the door and pointed out the direction.  He asked if I would like for him to accompany us but I graciously declined.  I figured out the way based on his directions.

 

We spotted the house but no one was about.  So I told second daughter to stay with her great-aunt and to explain that I needed to move the car closer to the house.  First daughter accompanied me to get the car.  Upon our return, both second daughter and aunt were with Madame Marilyn.  Both had the “deer in the headlight” look!  Clearly, there was no two-way communication going on.  I introduced myself and Madame showed us around and asked us what time we wanted our breakfast served.  I inquired about places to see in the village and driving instructions to Biarritz for a day trip. 

 

 Our room was huge (and so was the bathroom) and overlooked a charming meadow.  The “centre ville” was a 5 minute walk from the house.  We arrived in the mid-afternoon and settled into our room.  We immediately explored the village taking stock of the many retail outlets.  It was cool and a bit windy but this did not deter us from the constant picture- taking.  The village is so small that one can walk within and around in an hour or so.  Add in a little window-shopping and souvenir-shopping plus refreshment break and one is pretty much done.  We had a simple, pleasant dinner in a local bar/café loaded with young French men (members of sports team from what I can gather) which made first daughter full of nervous excitement.  Sigh.  They were eager for us to stay and watch a rugby game on the HDTV but, alas, the female adults were much too tired and too old for flirting!

 

The next morning, at breakfast, Madame engaged us in conversation.  She was curious about our trip to the village and I mentioned that my visiting aunt’s maiden name was Ezpeleta.  I told Madame that our family had always presumed our origins were in Spain and were surprised that Espelette was located in France.  Mais non, she says.  This area was part of the King of Navarre’s kingdom and at, one time, annexed to the Kingdom of Castile.  It may very well be true, she concluded, that people here traveled oceans under the Spanish flag.   But she urged us to go to the tourist office and make inquiries.   I did ask her about the lack of souvenirs that had both French and Basque names.  They were all in French.  She told me that the Basque language was not yet fully adopted and developed in France, unlike the Spanish counterparts.  This meant that I could not buy any Ezpeleta named shirts!!

 

We were not able to make the opening hours of the tourist office on Tuesday but on the morning of our departure, we were determined to check this out.  This was fittingly situated in the old chateau of the Baron D’Ezpeleta.  The mairie, the administrative center of the village, was also housed in this building. The exterior was an impressive sight.  The interior mimics the layout of ancient grand buildings -- impressive staircase, high ceilinged and spacious halls, turret rooms and stone walls.  We were told to go to the grand hall because the Ezpeleta coat of arms was hanging on the wall.  This is the room where the mayor holds court and village council meetings are held.   We were excited to see this and took many pictures. 

 

We ascended to the second floor and entered the tourist office.  The women were friendly and spoke some English.  As I was perusing the available French history and Espelette books, my aunt grabbed my attention by pointing to a poster that was branded Ezpeleta (not Espelette).   It was a poster of an older, formal-looking gentleman with a beret.  Was it the Baron, perhaps?   Whoever it was, we claimed ownership and purchased a few posters to take home.  We did not pursue any inquiries about ancestry, the Baron’s history and the like.  We wanted to get on the road and on our way.  More likely, we were hesitant to discover facts that may not align with our romantic notions of royal family connections.  We found out a few days later that the last line of the Ezpeleta royals died in 1694 without any heirs.  Official, legitimate descendants that is.   As for the unofficial line of descendants?  There are, obviously, very many.  Just ask the Ezpeleta aunts, uncles, and cousins! 

 

 

 

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14.07 | 08:01

Beautiful! Vive la France!

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17.02 | 01:57

France is awaiting your return, Betty!

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16.02 | 10:07

Such a wonderful experience for all! Truly a beautiful region filled with lovely people, excellent food, and soothing wine! Am looking forward to returning.

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07.09 | 14:44

What a joy for this to be shared. I am reading several times, soaking it in and making my own movie in my mind of this adventure. So excited for you three!

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