by Hilda Cochrane
Bread! The good food of life. The much loved staple of France. Boulangeries are plentiful, always busy and often with customers spilling out on to the street. Bread of all sizes and shapes, from the humble paysanne to the elite light as a feather baguette. Its importance cannot be doubted and its participation in the French Revolution an historical fact!
Our town has three artisanale bakeries at its heart. One catches the eye. It has an Italianate style roof and four large, arched windows. Two marble pillars grace the entry.
Standing outside and looking in, each large window tempts the customer with a tasteful and changing display of seasonal themes. This is a Boulangerie-Patisserie where the chatting, cheerful customers within can breathe in the aroma of fresh bread and regard the goodies displayed in and on the long, rectangular cabinet beside them.
On top are the piles of chocolates, nougat and jelly-sweets. At certain times of year and for anniversaries and events, masterpieces appear. Chocolate creations, marbled white and brown and in the most fanciful designs imaginable.
Some take the form of tilted worlds on pedestals supporting objects such as planes carefully placed as if taking flight; precarious shoes on worlds also and some standing alone – chocolate ladies shoes with high chocolate heels; exquisite artistry to amaze.
Below and within the cabinet are pastry goodies. Mouth-watering creamy delights; meringues, marzipan filled delectables … so much temptation! Tucked in a corner and inviting customers to take coffee, a small round table is set with delicate china on a cloth of Catalan colours; four vacant chairs await. Seated, one can gaze through the yellow and orange draped windows or admire the pictures by local artists which adorn the walls – culture, and a baguette!
The queue itself moves slowly. No one is in a hurry. Two nicely dressed ladies pass the time of day with each other and one of them has two small, big-eyed children at her side.
Behind the counter the wife of the boulanger bustles about. She is a one-man-band, taking the orders, cutting loaves, in charge of the till.
On the counter at one side is a spare baguette. Now it is the turn of the two ladies, but they do not break off their conversation, indeed the server, the wife of the boulanger, joins in. Now, in her one-man-band expertise, she is participating in lively conversation!
Meanwhile, the children look expectant and when the trade and the chat are done, the server turns to the baguette beside her on the counter. She slices off two pieces and hands these to the waiting children. Clearly it is the best treat and their delight is transparent.
Ah .…. so much nicer than the spectacle of strategically placed sweets that we find at checkout desks in supermarkets; no tears, no hassled parents, just a happy queue chatting among themselves and observing with pleasure a child’s joy at a not unexpected gift!