Upon returning to Paris from the US last week, my first stop was the local bakery. This description is not really accurate. It makes it sound as if it is the only bakery for miles around. In this city, local (for me) means ‘closest’ because, really, there averages a bakery every 100 meters. In fact, on my 7-minute walk from the metro to the lab, I pass three.
Due to the touristy atmosphere of my neighborhood, there tend to more sidewalk cafés and fondue restaurants than artisan bakeries. Yet, there happens to be one right at the bottom of my hill that does the trick. I am relatively easy to please, but I do have two criteria: (i) open somewhat late – I usually return from work around 8pm, so to know I can still pick up fresh bread is essential – and, (ii) pain complet. I like baguette as much as the next girl, but I was raised on whole wheat and nut breads, not-so-fondly referred to as “the hard bread” once I realized that my classmates had their peanut butter & jelly on Wonder Bread. Like broccoli (and all those other things your parents made you eat because they were good for you), wheat bread grew on me and now I crave the nutty, dense crumb. Sometimes a baguette just does not hit the spot.
Anyways, this was what greeted me when I returned last week. Sadly, I do not actually know his name, but he is there when I stop in every other night, already prepared with the pain complet (or pain aux céréales, if they are out). What even topped the big smile and eagerness to have his photo taken (despite his worry that I might be leaving the neighborhood, for which I immediately reassured him I was not) was his exclamation that I must have been on vacation, as he had not seen me in a week! I think this means I have arrived – when the baker recognizes that I have not been around. I was delighted.
I shared this excitement with The German, but had a hard time explaining what was so warm and fuzzy about such a small encounter. First, the French are not the warmest people, not even superficially welcoming in the service industry, so for him to take an expressed interest made me feel special. Second, and most important, it made me feel like part of the community. I know that I speak broken (at best) French with a horrible American accent, but even so, he seemed happy to see me and knew that I belonged here and not amongst the droves of faceless tourists that pass each day. Somehow that makes this place, which used to be so utterly foreign, feel even more like home.
I practically skipped back to my apartment with a giant smile on my face. Shoulders back and chin high. This was my place now too. Spring was in the air (crisp, but birds were chirping) and I made myself a simple salad for dinner, with some hummus and the pain complet, of course. It was delicious.