An American in the French Languedoc
A Bigger Baguette
BY MARQUES VICKERS
Size matters at a French village bakery or boulangerie.
Within Fabrezan circles, Maryse, the baker’s wife constitutes the customer service department, measuring community stature by her unique standards. She’s an unelected institution who even the Mayor must wait in line before. The length of ones ordered baguette is her yardstick. She makes these executive decisions one client at a time.
If you’re passing through as a tourist, a foreign summer resident or simply lacking merit in her eyes, you’ll receive the short end, literally. The bread of life is emblematic of a healthy village in the Languedoc.
A village like Fabrezan with 1000 residents including stray and kept canines is fortunate to have its own bakery. Good fortune dictates its terms with a limited bakery menu. Jean, Maryse’s baker-husband determines the selections: plain croissants, croissants with a slice of chocolate wedged inside, apple pastries, baguettes and country-style loafs. All artisan bakers in France must be accomplished in creating an established product line, but creativity is typically limited to larger population centers.
Jean is not ambitious, so he flexes his creative impulses infrequently. He has a practical motive for not expanding his selections during the workweek. Baked products not selling the initial day of offering typically don’t sell. The market for stale bread and spoiled sweets is marginal especially within a village of consistent patrons.
Sunday is the sole day of the week Jean experiments with pastry offerings including Black Forest chocolate and custard cakes, fruit tartes, éclairs, brownies….yes, I’ve sampled them all. These items rarely sell out by the day’s closure. Curiously they do sell by day three when their priced is dropped fifty percent. Who says you can’t sell spoilt sweets?
The best hour to appreciate Jean’s baking prowess is between 6:30-7:00 AM when the dough is still warm and its aroma wafts out into the street front drawing ones stomach inside. By 8:30 AM, my typical waking hour, the dough has cooled and the products have hardened to normal commercial firmness. I long for the capacity to be an early riser, but tragically, my body rebels at the notion of evacuating a warm mattress prematurely. An early entrance into Jean and Maryse’s bakery remains my ambition each evening before slumber.
During the past two months my own stature has incrementally increased based on the length of my ordered baguette. Maryse has taken to greeting and thanking me informally in the familiar form of French, a liberty many tradition parents still do not extend to their own children.
I’ve become a steady client and well regarded for politely opening the door for the daily parade of humanity seeking artisan nourishment. Firmly closing the glass door upon exiting has demonstrated my sensitivity towards their utility savings. Each stray air current of costs them a croissant.
There is a substantial difference in texture and taste between Jean’s product and the mass-produced offerings of Supermarket chain bakeries. You do pay double for the privilege. This remains a modest price for preserving a tradition without preservatives.
I can’t imagine how lucrative a village bakery may be financially. Proprietors don’t embrace a corporate mentality. Starting the workday at 4:00 AM is a fast track to an afternoon nap.
Jean and Maryse had their first child together last month. Maryse missed two weeks of work and the Mayor’s part-time secretary filled in during her absence. Jean and Maryse named their child Flavey. I still don’t know the gender based on this name. Is it a boy, girl or flavor? An accurate response may be several baguettes away.
Marques Vickers will be contributing monthly columns sharing his experiences as an expatriate in Languedoc.
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