Monday, May 4, 2009

france post #1: our daily bread

It seems appropriate for the first post of this series to detail a journey, and a small one at that. In all but the most cosmopolitan U.S. cities, American communities have rid themselves of neighborhood bakeries, at which families used to procure the fresh bread needed for the day, and possibly breakfast the following day. Sadly, the Wonder and Brownberry loaves that now grace American breadboxes travel many miles from their industrial ovens of origin to big box super markets, and as such, they must survive longer than pure, artisanal bread.

Truly fresh, wholesome bread (sans preservatives) has an extremely brief shelf life, perhaps 36 hours at most. As a rule, most French people see this as a right and privilege, rather than an inconvenience. Even in the smallest villages, such as Plaisance (population maybe 75), where we stayed during our recent vacation, residents have access to fresh bread and croissants. Rather than try to support a full time bakery in this small hamlet, the city has a delivery agreement with a bakery in a neighboring town. To buy bread each day, residents must place an order at the town foyer which is like a general store/cafe/bar that is open most days from 9 am until about 8 pm. If you place your order before the foyer closes, your bread will be available for pick up the following morning.

The small row house where we stayed is located up the hill from the main part of the village. While the house is accessible by car through a winding, switchback access road, the shortest route into town is a fantastical path that cuts between various houses and their ethereal backyard gardens. I recorded the following video to capture our daily ritual of hiking down the path each morning to pick up fresh baguettes, croissants, and the occasional pain au chocolat. Imagine walking this path with your toddler daughter, and her delight as you stroll past blooming flowers, local "doggies," to be greeted by the kind man at the foyer who insists on squeezing her cheeks and giving her a madeleine. I am not kidding. People live this way in Plaisance. What are we to do?

I have an idea: let's demand our daily bread by starting delivery programs in our neighborhoods. And in the American spirit of "low prices" we should learn from our French friends and ask for high quality bread at a fair price - most large baguettes in France cost about 75 cents. Again, daily bread is the hard earned right of civilized people, not the unique privilege of a few fancy-pants who enjoy "French bread."

If you'd like to see some pictures of the village, I created a photo set on flickr documenting our Easter weekend.


eriktmpls said...
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eriktmpls said...

Great post Mark. So true, so very true. Anytime I travel to Europe, I am reminded how Americans settle for their culinary delights too easily, and end up eating a bunch of crap as a result. Americans not only want things fast but we want a lot of food for our $$ as opposed to the long, drawn out culinary experiences of France and Italy (just to name a few) where the servings might be small, but they are so much more savory than their American counterparts. Plus, a meal is much more of an event in Europe as opposed to the fast-food culture of the US.

One of my favorite memories of Italy is seeing women, immaculately dressed in fur coats and all, riding bicycles, carrying baguettes as if they were children. They take their bread seriously there, as well.

I look forward to hearing/reading more about what I'm sure was a wonderful trip for you guys. Cheers!

Housekeepers said...

Amen, Eric. Thanks for the thoughtful comment. It is sad that we are so enamored at the thought of riding one's bike to buy a loaf of bread. Why not take the Hummer to Cub?