Let me tell you about one of the most magical moments I’ve ever experienced in Paris…
It involves a cave, a little old man, and (the best part) bread!
I was very newly pregnant with my son, and I was taking a last hurrah trip to Paris. I was a flight attendant at the time, so I got wicked-cheap tickets. We’re talking scandalous. And we even went Business Class. Mmmm, delicious!
I took my mom, my best friend, and her mom. Girls only. Well, except for my little nugget– he was the only boy, but he was in utero and not even the size of a peanut yet, so he was allowed. 😉
Anyway, we had beaucoup adventures on that trip, which I plan to tell you more about. But today, I want to tell you about Poilane. It’s a bakery (boulongerie) but it’s not just any bakery. It’s THE boulongerie. It’s a third generation bakery that still bakes the old fashioned way. Let me show you…
So, here we are, four Americans in Paris, four women who each have had our love affairs with France, four women who were there to soak it all in. We’d heard about Poilane and were excited to go there and pick up a warm, fresh, chewy, yeasty, crusty boule of bread. But, oh, what we got was so much more.
We were lucky enough to visit when the bakery was quiet. There was only a couple people in front of us, and we perused the offerings while we waited impatiently. I’m sure, despite our best efforts to “look French”, we stood out as foreign tourists immediately. The kind woman behind the counter looked to us and said in French, “Would you like to see the ovens?” My best friend and I both knew the language, and enthusiastically nodded our heads YES!!! She gestured to us to follow her, and we eagerly obeyed.
She led us through a doorway and down a narrow and winding staircase. Where we were going, we could only guess. The ovens were in the dungeon? Well, ok then… Soon, we reached the bottom and it was immediately obvious that our trust in this woman was being rewarded. In front of us were shelves upon shelves of fresh dough and steaming bread loaves. Between these shelves was a woodfire oven and a little old man. He raised a hand in salutation and began to speak.
He had been a baker all his life, and it was clear he took great pride in his work. The cave makes the bread, he told us. The moisture, the natural yeast in the air…it all combines to make the bread for us. Every day creates a different loaf, nature decides what the bread will taste like. He believed he was simply the facilitator for this amazing process. As he spoke, we were all fixated on his appearance: small, attired in a traditional baker’s apron, and covered from head to toe in flour. Yes, covered in flour as if he’d taken a bath in it. Even his eyelashes were thick and white– coated in flour! He looked more like a cartoon character than a real person. He was the bread fairy, right there in front of us! We were under his spell.
When he finished his speech, we heartily thanked him and left him to his work. Ascending the stairs, we were speechless. Did that just happen? Were we just invited into a subterranean oven? Did we just learn the secrets of French bread from the Lord of Dough? It was amazing. It was magical.
So let me just leave you with this– they say that “man cannot live on bread alone.” But I assure you, Woman Can!