Monday, January 7, 2008


The day before New Year's Eve we went to do our shopping. It was cold and rainy, and the barometric pressure was changing; my personal barometer, the one that I carry in my sinuses, was throbbing hard with the effort of recalibrating. The grocery store was busy with extended families--grandparents who live here, parents and their children who had just arrived to spend New Year's--and with vacationers. (If someone is dressed for the city and has more than two bottles of alcohol, not wine, then he goes in the rented-a-house-and-came-down-for-the-holiday category.) From the atmosphere, any American would have deduced that snow was predicted. There was a sense of urgency, of buy it now, of stocking up. But there was no snow in the forecast--just more rain, and a fermeture exceptionelle for the holiday. New Year's Eve--la Reveillon--seems as much an event as Christmas Eve and Christmas Day; in fact, the stores are closed longer. And so the rush.

I left everyone in the grocery store and went next door to the bakery hoping for a little less jostling. The line was to the door. Strangers, mostly: a well-turned out woman in city shoes ordering all the pots de creme in stock in clipped, abrupt Parisian French; a German man pointing to the eclairs; English visitors ordering one of most everything. There were one or two locals, an elderly lady in her old cloth coat, sons or husbands who had run out for baguettes for Sunday lunch. Supplies were dropping; the bakery would close for the day within the hour. When it was my turn in line, the boulanger, my friend, took charge of me.

Ah, Washington. Ca va? He has taken to calling me Washington. Qu'est que vous voudriez? What would you like?

I ordered two baguettes and we both turned to look at the baguettes bin behind the cash register. Two overcooked loaves leaned in the corner, the only ones that remained.

The baker turned back to me. Do you have other errands to do? He checked his watch. The fresh bread will be ready in just a few minutes, you could come back...As he spoke, there was a commotion at the back of the shop, and the fresh bread came through the door. Our bakery does its baking up the hill, and so the fresh goods arrive several times a day by truck.

Ah, here it is now. The baker smiled. Vous voyez, madame, je pense toujours de vous. You see, madame, I am always thinking of you.

I smiled, handed over my coins, and took the baguettes, so warm that I felt their heat through my gloves.

Outside, I found C. He broke off the end of a baguette, tore it in half, and we walked back to the car in the rain eating bread that was half a hillside out of the oven. The weather was still changing--my sinuses still ached--but at least I was not a stranger. I belonged, in some fashion, more than the others, more, even, than the Parisian lady with her pots de creme. The baker, he is always thinking of me.

No comments:

Post a Comment