Watch out for the Butter! / Diwall–an amann!

I realize that I haven’t posted enough (or perhaps at all, really) about food in Brittany–certainly, an important topic. A rather odd event this week forced me to sit down and introduce this topic finally, although not in the way I’d planned. Rather than discuss a delicious Breton food, I’m going to tell you about something that’s where it shouldn’t be: the butter in the river.

It sounds like an old folk song, or perhaps the name of an indie ska band; however, it’s an industrial accident that occurred Tuesday. Yes, butter fell into a river. A bunch of it. Hundreds of pounds, actually.

While it’s very unfortunate, and I’m imagining that it has caused a lot of people (and perhaps a lot of fish) problems, I couldn’t help but chuckle when I read the news because–if there was going to be a butter spill somewhere, it makes sense that it would be in Brittany: butter is essential to Breton cuisine. Bretons use lots of very yummy butter in their cooking–and especially in their baking. More on this topic another day!

Here’s what happened: a dairy processing plant accidentally spilled the butter into the Odet river, just outside of the city of Kemper (Quimper). If you follow the link to this article, you can watch a video showing chunks of butter cruising down the Odet through the center of the town. I’ve often strolled along the banks of the Odet and crisscrossed the river right about where the footage was shot. It’s a very scenic area–the little bridges are lined with colorful flowers in the warmer months, and Kemper itself is a charming city.

“Pep tra a zo mat a zo mat da gaout”

So, one of the things to know about Breton is that it–like all of the languages of France other than Standard French–has historically been suppressed, ignored, and villified by the French government. Which is why I love this clip. Because in it, two members of the Assemblée Nationale speak in the Breton language. During an active Assemblée session. It would be the equivalent of a member of congress speaking a Native American language during a session of the U.S. House of Representatives. (Has that ever happened? Perhaps one of you can enlighten us in the comments section on that.)

For those who don’t speak Breton, in the course of his comment on an environmental topic, Assemblée member Paul Molac (0:22) quotes a traditional saying, “Pep tra a zo mat a zo mat da gaout”, which translates “Everything that is good is good to take.” Then, Marc Le Fur–who appears to be chairing the session–comments (0:53), “Marteze tout an dud n’o deus ket komprenet” (“perhaps everyone didn’t understand”).* He then translates into French himself and gives a little laugh.

Both of the men are Breton, not surprisingly. And Molac, according to Wikipedia, speaks both Breton and Gallo–the two traditional languages of Brittany, now both endangered.

This occurred in 2013, and I believe that it was the first time Breton had been spoken by its members in the Assemblée. Perhaps it was even the first time any minority language had been spoken in the Assemblée. The brief exchange did not go unnoticed by the French press–google the saying, and you’ll come up with a dozen or so French and Breton outlets reporting on this event. This was a wonderfully subversive act of speaking Breton in the Assemblée, smack dab in the halls of government where it had so often been reviled.

* I’m using Rafael Urien’s transcription of the text here, and I’ve seen the same transcription in news articles, so I don’t know who originated it. When I listen to the text, I don’t hear the past tense postposition -et at the end of Le Fur’s utterance, but it would theoretically be there, certainly.