The oddest thing about our apartment in Paris is that it is located right beside one of the most famous bakeries in the world, Poilane. Yes, we live beside Poilane, the original one, no less. When I started researching apartments I never dreamed we would live beside an icon of a French bakery. When I called Monsieur F, the owner of our apartment, to inquire about the place, he mentioned the name of the bakery as you might mention a famous movie star living next door, the pride and joy of the neighborhood, as they raise the real estate value.
Poilane is that much a symbol of the beloved traditional way of life here. In a certain sense, it has made moving onto this stylish little corner of Paris more comforting. What could be more comforting than sensible matrons in white aprons wrapping up warm bread in paper, twisting the ends so none falls out and handing it over to you with a nod. Yes, you can purchase a Hermes scarf around the corner for $748 euros (yeah!) but this good sturdy P bread goes for about $2. This keeps things down to earth, what with the ingredients being stone ground flour from small farmers, sea salt from Guerande, all thrown into a 16th century wood-fired oven. Pretty traditional.
Apparently, it was also a tradition of Pierre Poilane (the founder) to accept paintings of bread as payment for the real thing from the impoverished artists of Montparnasse. You wonder if this kind of generous spiritedness contributed to the establishments’ long ranging success? I like to think so. I like to think that a sense of humor and a sense of generosity pull the tides of this world, even if it’s not always so. Story is, when these artists became famous, like Salvador Dali, they remained long time friends with Pierre. So, you see why it’s fun to pop over for some apple tarts and the daily loaf. There is history and art and relationships embedded in the crust of the thing.
Speaking of, our dog likes Poilane too. Whenever we pass, if we are heading south, she noses the patrons legs and pulls on the leash wanting to stop at the door which is often open. If we’re on our way somewhere else, it’s almost always a game of dodge with fancy coats and scarves as people go in and out. If we happen to be stopping after being out for the day, our dog often must wait for us tied to the hitch outside while we get in line which is sometimes out the door onto the narrow rue. Sometimes she barks, especially if she can’t see us. But she knows eventually there might be crust.
As I was walking back along rue Dragon today after running up to the store to pick up apples and cheese and chocolate (the other essentials!) after a morning of unpacking our sea shipment which had finally arrived (!), I was thinking about the sweaters in piles and the stuffed animals that had taken over the beds, about our belongings that had suddenly been restored to us. For the past six weeks, we’d been living with what had fit into three small suitcases. We’d each brought about a weeks worth of underwear, outfits, a few books. Today, we’d be re-united with our other shoes, coats and personal favorite bed sheets. There were my boxes, the ones I’d randomly collected that I liked to keep my jewelry in, there were the bins of Playmobil that had acted in a hundred plays. Like photographs reflecting a small trace of a sunny afternoon in June, we’d rediscover ourselves in the boxes and bins.
Then we’d need to dust.