With the cold weather and icy roads I have been buying a daily baguette for our elderly neighbours. And it's when you buy bread for somebody else that you understand what an intimate part of French life the humble loaf of bread can be.
An outsider waiting in line to buy fresh bread may notice that each client mutters a few key words as a baguette is being selected for him or her.
"une baguette s'il vous plait, pas trop cuite" (one baguette please, not too cooked)
"deux baguettes, bien cuites, s'il vous plait" (two baguettes, well cooked please)
Regular clients don't even need to say anything about the bread, they just say bonjour, talk about the weather, and the loaf they prefer appears before them.
When I picked up the bread for our neighbours, I asked for our usual loaf then said I'd have "un pain" also, there was a pause ... a raised eyebrow, "ce n'est pas pour vous?", (that's not for you), upon which I'd say no, it's for Monsieur et Madame J, "ah bon! ..... alors voila - this is the bread they take, Monsieur J prefers a good crust".
And it's not just in the countryside that buying bread is so important. Parisians will make huge detours on the way home from work to buy the bread they prefer, rather than from the closest bakers.
Each year there is a prize discerned to the baker producing "la meilleure baguette de Paris" (the best baguette in Paris, I mean ... really?! can you imagine deciding on that one?!). This year it was won by a certain Pascal Barillon who bakes at Au Levain d’Antan . Besides winning the title and a cheque, he also has the honour of being the official baker to the President of France for a year.
So for the whole of 2012, twenty of his humble loaves will go from here ....
to here each day!
What do you think it says about a country, that a simple stick of bread can be so important?!