by Patty Duffy
One of my favorite
sights in Paris is Parisians walking out of bakeries
or along the street, carrying nothing but a single
fresh baguette. I am always struck by how each of
these individuals has gone out for no other reason
than to buy just one loaf of bread, la baguette,
to accompany their breakfast, lunch, or dinner. And
this custom seems to be a common denominator,
cutting across different ages and ethnic
backgrounds: the young, the middle-aged, the
elderly, those who descend from Europe, Africa, Asia
One of the Parisians we encountered
with her daily baguette
It is fitting,
perhaps, that an early name for the centuries-old style bread was
pain d’égalité (“bread of equality”). In eighteenth century
France, the government decreed that standardized ingredients be used
in making baguettes so that all buyers would get the same quality
bread. But perhaps pain d’égalité has evolved in yet another
way, now expanding the sets of ingredients to create an assortment
of baguette types to please a new diversity of tastes in the
population from the classic baguette to a whole grain baguette to a
version inspired by Turkish bread.The baguette has proved its
resiliency by exhibiting that essential survival trait: the ability
to evolve, adapt, transform.
newcomers or “temporary” Parisians (i.e., travelers, those
studying/working in the city short-term) adopt the baguette-buying
practice before too long. During our precious two-week summer stays
in Paris, either my husband or I go out early in the morning to buy
a baguette from our local boulangerie.
a key daily event for us, standing in the queue, taking in
the wonderful aromas of freshly-baked breads, listening to
the stylized ‘musical' voice of the counter person,
“Qu’est-ce que vous voulez, Monsiuer/Madame?” (“What
would you like Sir/Madame?”). I look at the variety of
baguettes behind the counter: how much it has expanded since
I first started coming to Paris in the 1970’s.
The baguette has proved its resiliency
by exhibiting that essential survival trait: the ability to
evolve, adapt, transform.
This survival trait has shown itself
throughout the baguette’s centuries of history. The
baguette’s very shape is a mark of its adaptability. Why is
the baguette so long and thin?
poverty must both disappear from the government of equality. It will
no longer make a bread of wheat for the rich and a bread of bran for
the poor.All bakers will be held, under the penalty of imprisonment,
to make only one type of bread: The Bread of Equality.”
One story says the baguette‘s shape was designed to match
the sword holders of soldiers. In the eighteenth century,
Napoleon mandated that his soldiers be well-fed by carrying
two long baguettes that fit neatly into the sword cases they
carried on their hips.
As Napoleon wanted his
soldiers to be generously nourished, a baguette could be up
to two meters (six and a half feet!) long in that era.
Today, the typical baguette length is about two feet (2/3rds
of a meter) or just under two feet. The length and width
also vary depending on the type of baguette—and these days a
baguette buyer has many types to choose from.
Whether one chooses the baguette traditionnelle, or the
baguette aux céréales (whole grain), or the ficelle or
flute (particularly thin baguettes) -- to acquire and eat the
baguette is to take in one of the beautiful and alive aspects of a
beautiful, vibrant, and evolving city and its culture.
In our Paris quartier, La Butte-aux-Cailles,
in the 13th arrondissement, (a quarter noted for being
the last hold-out of the post-French revolution Paris commune) two
merveilleuses boulangeries are Lorette and L’Essentiel,
2017 Patricia Lynne Duffy. All Rights reserved.