France has seen its fair share of wars over the centuries. Its history is soaked with bloody battles against England, Spain, England again, Germany…not to mention the atrocities within its own country between Protestants and Catholics and then later when the revolutionaries took on Marie Antoinette and her peeps. In light of all this hardship over the years, I think we were all relieved when the local bakery lady and I finally buried the hatchet.
It’s almost as if we’d both made the resolution to wipe the slate clean for the New Year, honoring each side’s casualties by acknowledging that yeah, ok, maybe we both made some mistakes we regret. Things just never clicked between us. Not sure if it was my funny accent, my overly Anglo look, or the way I fumbled each time to figure out which coins I needed to make 45 cents. In fact one time she just sighed and grabbed the money out of my hand before I could finish. Then there was “Baguettegate” – my growing suspicion that whenever I ordered just half of a baguette she was secretly cutting me a 40% piece and saving the larger end for real customers. This particular investigation was never resolved.
Some of the blame was mine as well. I still fall into the trap of getting flustered in certain speaking situations, especially if I’m not getting any love from the other side. This woman is one of those locals who only dishes out a smile if you’ve really earned it, and while in English I might be able to charm her into some sort of truce, in her language I’m like that train with a square-wheeled caboose from the Island of Misfit Toys. As a result my confidence (and thus my mood) can deteriorate quickly and the whole thing flakes apart like a well made croissant.
But that was 2010. Whether it’s the promise of a fresh start or maybe the understanding that I’m not just another summer tourist, now she’s warmed up slightly to the point where we can make a normal starch-for-currency transaction. And that’s a good thing, because I’ve finally accepted a reality Charlotte has insisted on for months – this is the best bread in town and it must remain in our lives at all costs. The concept was alien to me at first but now I think I get it: quality of food trumps all, no matter what shape your caboose wheels are.
So dear bakery lady: here’s to an amicable 2011 of cultural sensitivity and mutual respect. I’ll promise to pre-count my pocket change once in a while if you’ll vow to cut me at least 46% of that slender loaf each time I order a demi baguette. We don’t have to love or even like one another, because we both know at the end of the day only one truth remains:
It’s galette season and we can’t afford to be apart.