Saturday, April 28, 2007

Bringing Home the Bread: My Greatest Life Triumph

I may only be 24 years old (soon to break the quarter century mark, but let’s not get into that now, it makes me cry) but I’ve already achieved the impossible. After over two and a half years of living in Paris, France, I can proudly say that I have accomplished feats even I never thought myself capable of. I have gone where no human – or at least, no American I’m quite sure – has gone before. I have, in just a few short years, finally won over the mean, mean lady in my neighborhood bakery. Not only did I make her crack a smile (already worth thousands of points in the game of life), but also laugh, joke around and – gasp! – put aside the breads and pastries I like in the morning so that, not only are they waiting for me when I arrive, but they are piping hot having been kept warming in the oven! This may just seem like something nice that one does for a client who visits every day (okay okay, usually twice-three times, hey there are three meals in a day! Or four when you stay out until 6 am, but I’ll save that for when you’re old enough), but let me tell you a story about a Baker named, well, let’s call her Marie-Pierre to protect the innocent. I first moved to this neighborhood (read: the BEST neighborhood, Paris’ St Germain-des-près district aka the 6th arrondissement aka Sofia Coppola and Karl Lagerfeld’s hood among others) almost two years ago. Every day, I headed to the Eric Kayser boulangerie for delicious breads (Alain Ducasse uses Kayser bread for his restaurants if that tells you anything), morning croissants, freshly made sandwiches or late-afternoon tarts. I smiled, sometimes even cracked a joke or two, occasionally asked about the contents of a new kind of pastry, and, without fail, Marie-Pierre, known among the community as the Pastry Nazi (well, I actually didn’t poll the community, but I certainly called her that) would glare back at me, refuse to laugh at my wisecracks (well ok, that didn’t bother me that much, I’m used to it after 24 years) and throw my change on the counter. “May I have a plastic bag for the bread? It’s raining.” “Non!” “Can I have a more well-done croissant?” “Non!” “Can I just buy half of the white chocolate brioche? It’s enough for 8 people and it’s just me…” “Non!” So, while some strive for job promotions, others work hard to rescue innocent children from poverty and abuse and still others fight for political justice, I made it my mission to make Marie-Pierre smile. My smile broadened, the wisecracks got wiser and I always arrived with exactly the right amount of change. It was a hard fight, but Mission: Make Marie-Pierre Smile was accomplished. And then some… Now, when I arrive early in the morning, tired and hungry, Marie-Pierre (or MP for short, we’re BFF now) greets me with a smile, comments on the weather, and sometimes even cracks a joke or two before heading downstairs to grab my special stash from the kitchen. I can have all the plastic bags I want even when there’s not a cloud in the sky, my walnut-raisin breads are always waiting for me hot from the oven in the morning, my croissants are well-done and – well, I still have to buy the whole white chocolate brioche, but there are worse things in life, right?
Other incredible life triumphs since crossing the French border:
1) Getting my carte de séjour. Yes, after almost three years of waiting on line for hours at the Prefecture, then leaving in tears emptyhanded, my carte de séjour has been approved. I am completely, officially, 100% LEGAL to live and work in Paris, France. (well at least until January, 2008 at which point I’ll need to equip myself with a French husband … any takers? I’m not very picky, I’m just looking for French, tall (preferably at the NBA all-star level), intelligent (preferably at the Albert Einstein level), funny (preferably the Woody Allen-Will Ferrell level) and, well, extra points for Jewish, wealthy (preferably at the Bill Gates level) and English-speaking. Please send all applications to
2) Being invited to press screenings, conferences and movie premieres and after-parties. Now, of course I’ve been GOING to such events since I arrived, but now I actually go equipped with an invitation (addressed to MOI) and don’t have to pretend my name is Fifi LaFoo from French Vogue, jump through windows or spray tear gas in the bouncers’ eyes to get in. Only sometimes =)
3) Being able to successfully polish off an entire bottle of white wine by myself (well not by myself like by myself sitting in a room alone – jamais! – but by myself like I drank the whole bottle just me while everyone else had red at dinner) and still function.
4) Being the proud owner of a Café de Flore pin – given to me by one of the waiters in honor of my unwavering fidelity (“Café Deux Magots you say? Never!”) to the historical establishment. Sure, Sartre and De Beauvoir went, but did THEY get pins I wonder?
5) Being able to finish the steak and enormous plate of frites at 20 de Bellechasse … AND still have room for dessert and a bottle of wine (see triumph #3).
6) Guillaume Canet not only recognizing me, but also saying hello upon seeing me. (Stay tuned for triumph #6: Marrying Guillaume Canet ;)

Crazy French expression of the day: “J’ai envie de fraises.”
Literal translation: I want strawberries.
What people will understand you to mean: I’m pregnant.

French Dessert of the Day: Well, I’m not sure if it can really be qualified as a dessert – it’s a brioche, so it’s supposed to be eaten for breakfast and is delicious with some jelly and tea in the morning, but I’ve had it for dessert, warmed up (with ice cream or yogurt on top) and it’s also quite good. Whatever time of day you choose to eat it, Kayser’s white chocolate brioche is truly wonderful. It’s just what it sounds like: a fluffy brioche filled with white chocolate chips. I really don’t know what else to say – I think the history of the white chocolate brioche went a little something like this. Eric Kayser: “I think I’ll put white chocolate in my brioche and sell it.” And then it was born. Fascinating, huh?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I am currently eating a Kayser baguette and loving every minute of it! Also, the white chocolate brioche is my favorite dessert in Paris (that and Berthillon...although they just opened a Grom store (gelato) in Saint Germain which is also delicious). Anyway delicious and funny post - if MP ever gets grumpy again, try the Rue d'Assas EK - they are quite friendly there.