I have been coming to Paris and staying in apartments since very late last Century.
I have documented elsewhere how unlikely that turn of events in my life was.
Which is perhaps why I have savored every minute in ways that I have savored few other things.
The grossly-unexpected often leaps ahead of the wonderful-but-sort-of-part-of-things, components of one’s life.
The longest sojourn has been five months; there was a four and lots of ones and twos.
One of the recurring deliciously mundane components of those stays has always been the daily – usually mid morning – trip to the boulangerie for the day’s bread.
Early in that deliciousness I thought I knew that that long, long baguette - of which there are usually an awful lot on display, and from which a constant stream of guys with huge brown paper bags fill those bags and go off someplace, presumably to a restaurant where the bagful is the daily supply necessary to provide the never ending baskets of bread that accompany most of the plats that the restaurant’s customers consume – was baked according to a government recipe and sold at a government controlled price.
That mythology included the belief that that baguette and its government guidance dated back to the French Revolution.
In the intervening years since 1998 I have occasionally thought about researching what, if any, truth there was in my long held baguette belief; I just never got around to it.
Today for no apparent reason I did a computer search and found the following on David Lebovitz’s blog:
“La baguette ordinaire by law, can only have three ingredients: flour, yeast, and salt, and must weigh 250 g. These guidelines were set up a decade ago to prevent the quality of bread from deteriorating and to maintain the standards of this all-important staff of French life. But in spite of the fact there’s literally a bakery on every block in Paris, it can be difficult to find a good one. Some of the fault lies with the bakers since the price of baguettes are also controlled by the government, and there’s not much profit to be made in something that costs a pittance, around 80 centimes. And a half a baguette is 40 centimes. Can you imagine getting someone in America off their duff for a fifty-cent item?”
Find the rest of that post at baguettes.
I am interested that he uses the term “baguette ordinaire” which has been a term that I thought that I had invented while standing in the bread line one Sunday morning, after having said “une baguette, sil vous plais” – this being said in the cases when I want the government issue (I believed according to my myth) item, not the “traditional” or other named baguettes, like la Monge - and got the reply “pardon?”
When I said “une baguette ordinaire” in response to that “pardon” I got again, “pardon?”
So I pointed.
That frequently works.
I ask for the ordinaire when I want to make a sandwich poulet and take it and a demi bouteille de vin rouge along with my travel wine glass to Parc Montsourris for lunch by the little lake, hoping to see some parrots; the ordinaire is a perfect sandwich platform; the sour dough variety – la Monge, la Tradi etc. - are too dense for a comfortable sandwich; but they are great split into quarters and slathered with butter for breakfast.
It turns out, according to David, most of what I had thought about there being some guidelines, and there being an “ordinaire”, which I had begun to believe that I must have imagined, and there being a controlled price is true; however, the dates involved are much more recent than I had thought.
The price is now one euro, with the demi half of that (French symmetry).
In 2006 l’ordinaire cost 92 centimes; I don’t remember what a demi cost, but a bet would be 46 centimes.
If that is true, an interesting economic corollary may be that a baguette ordinaire can only be priced in even numbers of centimes – a euro being a hundred.
So I guess the economics haven’t changed.
When I ask for “une tradi, sil vous plais” they say “pardon?”
It doesn’t matter, it turns out, what I say or how I say it.
My most successful open ended encounter during this stay was when, in a bricolage, I used my talking French dictionary on my iPhone to buy a sewing kit.
I guess Siri’s accent is better.