Tag Archives: Daily Post

Daily Bread

Early each morning children and housewives visit the Boulangerie to purchase baguettes, the long loaves of bread, we associate with French cuisine. The loaves poke from the string bag used by all to carry purchases from the market. Perhaps other treats are purchased from the Patisserie, the pastry shop, but a necessity in every French town is its Boulangerie. My initiation to the wonders of the bakery began soon after my arrival in St. Germain en Laye.

My father sprinkled centimes in my hand, the coin of the realm before the Euro, and gave me brief directions to the shop. He instructed me to ask for one loaf. His French was limited to the pertinent phrases he needed to navigate outside the NATO base where he worked and he struggled to translate the question for me. I left the apartment (another elevator ride to the street) and walked slowly up the cobblestone street, repeating the words he had spoken as a mantra. Bicyclists passed with loaves spearing like lances from the bags hung on handlebars. Housewives returned from the market weighed down with bags of produce and meat, loaves tucked under their arm. The loaves were long and thin, crusty outside with a soft sweet center.

I entered and stood inside the door of the small shop. The yeasty aroma of fresh bread mingled with the scent of fresh flowers perched on the glass case. Women stood near the case vying for the cashier’s attention. The rapid staccato of French gave the scene an urgent feel as I stepped forward to place my order. Suddenly, I was tongue-tied, the mantra deserted me and I stood, a young American girl surrounded by bustling French women. “Un pain s’il vous plaît,” I stuttered. My accent immediately alerted everybody in the shop and the hushed silence caused me to jingle my coins nervously. I stepped to the register, offered my centimes and grabbed the loaf. My face turned rosy with embarrassment as I made my way out the door clutching the bread to my side. Out on the street, I turned toward home and looked at my purchase. Instead of the long, thin, crusty spear of a baguette, I held a football shaped loaf. Clearly, I had made a mistake. Rather than face the same shoppers again, I raced through the alley, down the cobblestone steps and into the elevator. I had no idea what I had ordered, only that the loaf I brought home looked nothing like those common loaves of all the others in the shop.

Fortunately for me, there was a thick Berlitz guide to the French Language available. I admitted to my father the error I had made and searched the pages for the correct term. “Un pain” was an oval loaf, smaller in size than “un baguette” the more typical long thin loaf of every French household. It was a small yet crucial distinction, one I was careful to learn for my next foray into the Boulangerie of St. Germain en Laye. I also learned the difference between the Boulangerie (the bread bakery) and the Patisserie (the pastry bakery) although it would be some days before I developed the courage to explore the sweet wonders of the Patisserie.

Assortiments_de_Pt_11_petits_fours_assortiments

 

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A Young American in Paris

St. Germain En Laye

I was awake at dawn, ready to explore my new territory. I dressed in cut-off Bermuda shorts, a sweatshirt and my moccasins, the all American outfit of a thirteen year old. Through the hall, down in the elevator and out through the wrought iron gate to the wide sidewalk. To avoid getting lost, I decided to go around the block. Setting out, I noticed the high fences and walls surrounding the properties along Blvd. Victor Hugo. The streets were cobblestone and the sidewalks wide expanses of slate. Each building was right to the edge of the sidewalk with shutters closed against the morning light. My footsteps echoed as a sauntered past.

I arrived at the top of the hill and saw a small alley with a street sign indicating it was a real street. Narrow, with room for one car, the alley had a red sign with a big white dash in the middle. I had found the first of many international traffic signs. I later learned the red sign meant “one way, do not enter” but at the time it was merely a fascinating change from my former small suburban town. I walked around the block, past walled homes, peeking in the gates at century old buildings with cobblestone courtyards, past wrought iron gates painted black with gold leaf. I saw terra-cotta roofs, sagging forest green shutters and not one person. As I rounded the corner to return home, I met a woman carrying string bags filled with produce and long loaves of bread sticking out the top. Suddenly the sidewalk came alive with people, women sweeping their stone steps, men riding mopeds up the hill and a few girls watching from upstairs windows. Nobody smiled, nodded or acknowledged me in any way as I walked past but there were rapid exchanges in French after I moved along. My ears heard “American” and “fille”, “the American girl,” thanks to my 7th grade French teacher for that little bit of understanding.

I learned from my short walk around the block. The Bermuda shorts and sweatshirts were once again packed away, only to be worn in the comfort of our apartment. Never again would I venture forth without careful attention to my wardrobe. Shorts were not worn by anybody at any time. Sweatshirts were for sports players and not acceptable for young girls, American or not. During the following months, I walked along those same sidewalks on my way to the bus bound for Paris. I met many of those same people I had seen that first morning and after giving a long look at my outfit, I would receive a nod or a smile of greeting. I had been initiated into the world of French appropriateness and had learned a valuable lesson. Clothes were important and first impressions were lasting.

The French dress impeccably when going out and about. Tailored suits, caps and jewelry are seen on young and old, regardless of employment. It is later, when entering a shop and the same woman who was dressed in tailored cashmere now assists from behind the counter, covered by a royal blue smock, the attire of every working Frenchman. I learned that day to be aware of different cultures and traditions. I was no longer a small town American girl, I was now a young American in Paris and I wanted to blend with the nationals. It was an eye-opening experience.

The hanging gardens of St. Germain en Laye

 

 

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Still Family

Today is my sister-in-law’s birthday. At least, she was my sister-in-law for many years until they divorced. Does that make her my “ex” sister-in-law or does she just become another person from the past?

I am reminded of a conversation I had with my was-band prior to our divorce. We had been married for twenty years, had two great children and shared extended family during that time. Now we were separating and I planned a trip with the kids to his parent’s home. During our discussion, he told me to “leave his family alone and get my own.” What a surprise to discover the people who I’d entertained after our children’s births, visited in hospitals, shared holiday meals with and attended funerals beside were no longer “my” family. Twenty years shared do not make them family? How was that possible? When did the line break, the in-law become outlaw for me?

I recently hosted a dinner honoring our son and his fiancée. They were the guests of honor and chose the people to attend. They wanted their family to attend and so the invitations went to all those in-laws of mine from long ago. They are still my children’s’ aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents, although no longer my in-laws. Strange to make the separation.

It was a lovely dinner, with all those in-laws (and the was-band and his current amour) and I was glad to share the occasion with “my family.” Divorce cuts ties with spouses, not with family and that is the lesson we’ve shared with our children.

Happy birthday, sister-in-law, wherever you are, I hope it is a happy occasion and you are surrounded with love. You are still family.

'Ohana means family - no one gets left behind, and no one is ever forgotten.  ~ Chris Sanders & Dean DeBlois


‘Ohana means family – no one gets left behind, and no one is ever forgotten. ~ Chris Sanders & Dean DeBlois

 

 

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Alone But Not Lonely

New Year’s Day, the day of disassembling Christmas decorations, removing the detritus of late nights and winter break.

Happy New Year, friends and framily.

The new year starts with good intentions, resolutions and dreams of summer days.

Quickly the days have flown, good news and bad, birthday celebrations and holiday events all blur with the rapid turn of calendar pages.

Recount the events from 2012, month by month and be grateful for the many blessings of the year.

2012 was a good year.

Visiting friends, parties, college visits, a wedding, a house sale, travel and college acceptance letters headline, the kernel of the story. 

I wonder if the month of December is positive and bright does it affect the entire year or do I remember to be grateful for the happy events of August or May and realize the blessings of every day?

I listened to the self help gurus remind me to cherish myself, pick solid attainable goals and live in the present. Is it possible to do this when school schedules, work projects and daily living demand plans and reservations?

The present seems so optimistic and full of potential and the past drags me down with its heavy baggage.

I look to find balance of forethought and memory, a few words to offer to my daughter, words of wisdom to remind her of roots even as she flexes her wings.

The old song lyric plays.

Catch a falling star and put it in your pocket, save it for a rainy day.

Catch a falling star and put it in your pocket, never let it fade away.

I hope you find that falling star for 2013 and carry the blessing with you each day.

Bonne Annee, Gut Yul and Happy New Year. Blessings for the best life.

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