Wednesday, October 3, 2007

The Baker

When we looked at houses in this area six months ago--or else a lifetime--we looked in at the local shopping district and I announced that this would not be the neighborhood where we settled. This shopping district consists not of a market street in a village but of a French interpretation of an American shopping center: long on parking and short on old stones. As usual, I have eaten my words, seasoned with herbes de Provence, and I now visit the Centre Commercial du Rond Point de la Font-Neuve (take that, Tyson's Galleria!) almost daily.

Two months into my regular visits to the boulangerie at the Centre Commercial, M. le boulanger asked me if I were English. No, American, I replied, followed by the usual doubletake. (When I told the girls' horseback riding instructor that we were American, and from Washington, D.C., she recovered from her doubletake to say "Washington, D.C.! Vous etes des vrais americains! You are real Americans!" I'd like to think so but sometimes I wonder.) The next day, M. le boulanger greeted me with:

Ah, Madame! How are things in New York?
Very well, I replied.
And how are things with M. Bush?
Ah, I said, they are not so good. M. Bush, he has very big problems.
That's true, said M. le boulanger, but it's your fault, the fault of the Americans who voted for him.
It's not my fault, I protested, I never, ever voted for him.
Ah, said M. le boulanger. I am going to write a letter to M. le President and tell him that you said so.

And so on. Every day a word or two of M. le boulanger's careful movie English (Good morning. How are you? Thank you very much) before we switch back to my shopping French: Good day. Two baguettes today, please. Thank you so much. Thank you. Have a good day. See you soon. (It sounds so much more sophisticated in French.)

This weekend I looked in on Saturday morning and M. le boulanger wanted to talk politics some more.

Your M. Bush, he said. He and Sarkozy, they are like this (interlacing his fingers).
Yes, they are, it's true, I replied.
I liked the other president you had better, he continued. Clinton (he pronounces it in the French way, CLEEN-ton). And I especially like his wife, HEEL-ary. I like HEEL-ary very much.
But yes, of course, I said.
(Here Mme la boulangere interjected: it's always like that, isn't it, the men like the women better, don't they?)
I said, My husband likes Hillary very much indeed. In fact, if he had to choose between me and Hillary, I think he might choose Hillary.
M. le boulanger tucked his chin in and looked over his imaginary glasses at me, shocked. No! You must tell your husband that if I had to choose between you and HEEL-ary, then I would choose you.

And he put his hand over the counter and shook my hand on it, as though we had agreed on a deal: if C. becomes the next Mr. Clinton then I will become the next boulangere. And then I paid for my two baguettes and went home.

Old stones notwithstanding, one could do worse than fresh bread with a side of gallantry.

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