Baguettes

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.

baguette aux grains

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.

pain1(mmm, avocados.)

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.).

Somewhere to Paris

Somewhere to Paris

by Richard Blanco

The sole cause of a man’s unhappiness
is that he does not know how to stay quietly in his room.
PASCAL, Pensées

The vias of Italy turn to memory with each turn
and clack of the train’s wheels, with every stitch
of track we leave behind, the duomos return again
to my imagination, already imagining Paris—
a fantasy of lights and marble that may end
when the train stops at Gare de l’Est and I step
into the daylight. In this space between cities,
between the dreamed and the dreaming, there is
no map—no legend, no ancient street names
or arrows to follow, no red dot assuring me:
you are here—and no place else. If I don’t know
where I am, then I am only these heartbeats,
my breaths, the mountains rising and falling
like a wave scrolling across the train’s window.
I am alone with the moon on its path, staring
like a blank page, shear and white as the snow
on the peaks echoing back its light. I am this
solitude, never more beautiful, the arc of space
I travel through for a few hours, touching
nothing and keeping nothing, with nothing
to deny the night, the dark pines pointing
to the stars, this life, always moving and still.

Lexicon and The French Touch

I’m amazed to realize how similar the English and French languages are.

Some words are even spelled the same, like flirt and fatigued (I know my f-words!). With other words its easy to suppose the recent common Anglo-Franco ancestor.  For example, the French verb “to read” is “lit,” which is the beginning of the English word literature.  The French word for “foot” is pied, think “pedestrian.”

Other times you have to use your imagination a bit more. Try sounding this word out:

boocherieNeed a hint?

meat

Its a butchery! Think boocharie. Try guessing this one:

chausser

Need a hint?

shoes2

Its a shoe store! Think chauuses.

Of course, not all French words translate directly into English. If they did, this store would be terrifying.

le pain

No, its not the house of natural pain.  Want to take a wild guess?

bread

Its a bread store! Pain = bread.

The distinct difference between French and English is the pronunciation.  It is very difficult to pronounce French words with my guttural American tongue. The French speak in a much softer and round way, its quite different.

This softness of speech translates into other aspects of French life. For example, I could not turn on the stove. My landlord showed me how, its simply a button on top of the stove’s surface, but I could not do it.

stove

It turns out, I was pushing too hard.  My French stove will only turn on with the right touch, a firm press with the palm of the finger.

It takes some practice.

I also could not get the door open with my French key at first.  The key does not respond to a forceful push.  The key makes a connection with the lock with a gentle, but firm, stroke.  Only then can you open the door.  I also had trouble with the windowshade in my room…you get the idea.

Danse

I promise that all of my French posts will not be about dancing…but I can’t speak for this one.  I just think its so beautiful that a bunch of strangers get together to dance in the street.

I keep going on long wander walks to get my bearings of my new neighborhood.  Last night I walked along the Seine and found three separate groups of people dancing.

Here’s people dancing a sort of samba:

And here’s two different groups dancing a sort of waltz.  Note the two strangers beginning their dance in the first clip, and the adorably awkward couple in the second.