Thursday, July 8, 2010

Harold Jaffe's Paris 60, part 4

One cannot spend any time in Paris - not one day, not one life - without attending the baguette.

4.11 Baguette

Van Gogh, who lived most of his fated life in France, shot himself in the chest, but somehow couldn't kill himself correctly.

He managed to stand and walk to his cot, where he died a few days later, head to the wall.

His whispered last words to Theo, his brother, were reportedly: "La tristesse durera toujours."

Sadness will last forever.

Consider the baguette which, it seems, has been with us forever.

Only in France; imitations can't rival it.

Perhaps the Italians come closest, though their "baguette" is prepared differently.

Unlike, say, Chartreuse, the liqueur composed by monks with its undisclosed ingredients, the ingredients of the baguette de campagne are eminently simple: flour, yeast, water, salt.

The alchemy is in the preparation, and perhaps the physical context.

A baguette purchased in the Montorgeuil quartier of Paris is not likely to taste the same in Glasgow, Prague, or Beverly Hills.

The baguette itself is rarely bagged.

Ordinary paper, even a strip of newspaper, wrapped round its center, or no paper at all.

Hot from the oven is best, but even unheated, the trick is for the purchaser not to devour it before reaching his apartment.

The admonition applies to children, adults, and seniors.

To bankers, gangsters, politicians, the unemployed.

Have your chauffeur lock the baguette in the limo's trunk.

Break it in half and stick it in your bicycle bag; make sure you zip the bag, and whistle all the way back to your flat.

Break it in thirds and fit them into your pockets.

Stretch it around your head like a halo.

(Un ange passe)

Light a cigarette and keep it in your lips until you reach home with baguette intact.

Make a vow to fast for the seven minutes it takes to walk from the boulangerie to your flat.

You're back home at last.

Sit at the plain wood table, such as Vincent would paint, and break bread with your lover or alone.

Have some vin de maison.

Like the young priest in Robert Bresson's 1950 Journal d'un Curé de Campagne, adapted from the Bernanos novel.

The priest, unjustly maligned by his parishioners, takes nothing but bread and red wine.

Imitation of Christ.

Contre la tristesse.

Sadness that will last forever.

Please tell me, pale reader, how Bresson's introverted young priest, with a sensibility much like Vincent's, rejected in his country parish, unexpectedly diagnosed with cancer and soon to die, whispers these last words to a seminary friend: All is grace?

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