The Hardest Working Man In France: Your Baker
Sometimes we make travel mistakes.
Our most recent? Arriving in Bordeaux on April 30, and crashing thoughtlessly into a deep sleep.
Why was that a mistake? Because the next morning is May 1. May Day. When every French worker doesn’t.
The ticket machine won’t vend because trams aren’t running (Thanks programmers!). Restaurants are closed. Groceries are shut. Yes, the woman in the tourist office at the train station is there to tell you everything you came to do in Bordeaux can’t be done, but she is German, so of course she’s working.
Where shall we eat? What shall we eat?
Wander the streets. Even in the rail station district, so abuzz yesterday, is like a ghost town. Pass shuttered restaurants, closed bars. A few hungry taxis haunt the streets because the bus, metro, and tram aren’t moving today.
What’s that? In the distance? A sidewalk sandwich board?
A plain little boulangerie–blue collar to the core–is open! Hooray! The French must have their bread. And we shall have it too.
Inside it is bare bones: one simple cold case of stainless steel and glass, a beverage cooler behind the counter, a cash register, a wall of nearly empty bread racks, and one smiling man we expect to be of North African lineage. There are two tables and a total of six chairs.
“Croissant? Cafe au lait?” We are hopeful.
“Non croissant,” his smile dims and he waves his hand sadly at an empty box on the counter.
But lo! Next to the empty box is a not quite empty box: six pain au chocolat.
I hold up two fingers. “Deux cafe au lait? Deux pain au chocolat?”
“Of course!” And in one shake of a flour sifter, we have two steaming cups and two splendidly brown rolls whose centers are filled with chocolate.
And none too soon!
We are not two bites in when suddenly the shop has a line out the door. It appears the natives have also discovered that no other bakeries are open today.
In a handful of minutes he sells out the few baguettes remaining in his racks.
When he explains to the crowd that more will be out in five minutes (My French is that good: “Cinq minutes,” he says holding up five fingers.), some of the crowd is incensed and departs. If they can’t have their bread now, they will find it somewhere else!
When the bread is out there are more departures, as this type of baguette is not the specific one they had a yen for. (I have since counted at least six types of baguettes in another bakery. Bread is IMPORTANT in France!)
Even with finicky eaters leaving the line, in only ten minutes his shelves are bare of baguettes again.
He dashes back to the kitchen to shove more dough into the oven. And as soon as he heads for the proofing box, the line is snaking out the door.
He’s calling to the line, “Just a minute! Just a minute!”
He’s the hardest working man in France!
In appreciation of his ethic,
Had this happen to us on certain German holidays (there are a lot of them!). Happiness can indeed be a paper package of crackers and a can of pate!