First up in my thesis, Plato.
The most important Platonic work for my purposes is Phaedo. This dialogue a reflection on the last moments of Socrates’ life, his nearing death looming over the scene.
In Phaedo, Plato explains his theory of the forms, a theory of absolutes. Plato believes that there are universal ideals, such as the universal ideal of knowledge or justice. As you may recall, my thesis is on dualism, the separation between the material and the theoretical. Well, Plato says that material forms can never wholly embody these ideal forms. A material form is limited, while the ideal form is unconstrained. The material form can contain an essence of a universal truth, but as long as it within this world, it will be restrained.
One of these restraints is perspective. In court, we need an impartial jury because we are unable to rise above our limited perspectives and access equality. The definition of equality and justice also changes throughout cultures. Although the perspective of equality and justice may change, its permanence remains.
So what on earth does all this have to do with baguettes you ask? Well, I’ve been trying to figure out what exactly is the perfect baguette. For one, it all depends on the perspective. Many French people say that boulangers (bakers) have begun to focus on non traditional breads and have let the quality of their classic baguettes degrade.
Admittedly, I’m partial to this baguettes aux grains (with grains) I buy in the Moufftard section right by my house. It has this perfect crunchy crust with a doughy center and is filled and topped with toasted flax, poppy and sesame seeds. Its incredible.
Others might go for the more traditional baguette, without grains and with a doughy inside and crunchy crust. This too is incredibly delicious. Others still prefer the pain, its sort of a cross between french bread and baguettes.
Lucky for me, I think that in order to understand what is a good baguette, I have to try lots and lots of different kinds of baguettes from a variety of bakers. In other words, to gain a true understanding of what is, I think we have to understand what it is not.
Fortunately, there are about 15 boulangeries (bakeries) within a 7 minute walk from my house. Literally. And so, I’ve been eating every kind of baguette from all different boulangeries. I think its just as important to experience a bad baguette (is there such a thing?) as it is to experience the most perfect baguette. How else can we understand range?
Of course, the same baguette from the same bakery tastes different from day to day. Subtleties such as the freshness of the baguette, the difference in dough and of course my own outlook that day effect how a baguette tastes. Just as people are similar to who they were the day before, but distinctly different with each added experience, each baguette is unique.
And so, I aim to uncover, for me, what links the good baguettes to each other. Through the link itself I can realize what exactly is the perfect baguette. Maybe there is no such thing as the ideal baguette, or maybe I’ve already experienced perfection but couldn’t realize it without knowledge of the imperfect baguette. Or perhaps the perfect baguette is waiting for me around the corner at the next boulangerie.
As a side note: you may notice that the pictured baguettes have bites taken out of them. This is because I have one rule when it comes to eating baguettes. I eat baguettes in different places and with different things. Sometimes je dejeune (I eat lunch) along the Seine, other times I eat in the Jardin of Plants. Sometimes I eat the baguette alone, but usually I eat it with avocado or olive oil. However, I ALWAYS take a big bite out of my baguette right after I leave the boulangeries. Yummy.
**Update: Since posting this I HAVE had a bad baguette. In fact, I don’t think it qualified as a baguette, as it lacked the pivotal essence of a baguette. Only the shape remained. Its interesting, because in America the “slow food movement” is improving the quality of the food. In France, I think that its lessening the quality of food, as boulangiers are turning away from the traditional and towards a la mode (that means of the times, although I’d totally eat a baguette with ice cream.).