Thursday, July 29, 2010

Our Daily Bread

While Janet takes on the enormous, I take on the quotidian.

As every summer, I am in the French countryside until the end of August give or take a week. It's beautiful. And I am thankful for every day that starts anew. And each of those new days starts with a walk to the bakery, where we by our next 24 hours' supply of bread. Three baguettes if we are all here. Just one or two if I am here with my children and my mother-in-law.

As I've mentioned before, my mother-in-law lived here, in this town, during World War II. She lived with her severe grandmother. And they knew hunger.

One of the memories she has which seems to be clear and not rewritten by Alzheimer's is of her grandmother saying, "You must respect the bread." What she meant by this was more specific than you might think. She meant:

The bread should be cut and not torn. Tearing it is disrespectful of its fiber and its integrity.

The bread should be covered with a cloth to protect it from flies.

The bread should be handled with care, even with love, if you will.

The bread should be eaten with thanks. Great thanks.

And most of all, the bread should never be wasted.

I'm still often guilty of tearing bread (I feel like I become one with it when I rip into its crust enclosed softness), but I think about her words every, single day. About the depth and breadth of the statement. It goes beyond kitchen and table, into field and factory. If one is to respect the bread, one respects what goes into it. And one respects the earth that gives rise to all those ingredients. And one respects the hand that made it.

The man that makes the bread in this small town, wakes up every day at 4:30 or 5:00. He feeds everyone of the 375 souls who live here. He does not take vacation. His name is GĂ©rard, and he is missing some teeth. He greets me always with a smile and chatter that I have difficulty deciphering. He is covered with flour. His cat sleeps in the bakery on a stack of newspapers.

Tomorrow is another day. And another loaf of bread. I cannot wait to taste it. If there is a 'God Particle,' it will be baked inside it. —Charlotte


  1. i love that his cat sleeps in the bakery on newspapers. i love that he is covered in flour and missing some teeth and feeds every single soul in the town he lives in and that the God Particle is baked inside this bread, every day. beautiful, Charlotte. quotidian & enormous both. -- jannie

  2. Wow, that's interesting because having lived in France with my Basque grandmother and then later as a married woman and then later again alone... I was always told the bread should NOT be cut by a knife but broken with one's hands. It's true that in restaurants and stores it is cut, but at home it's broken. And funnily enough, for the same reasons you give, to respect it. Everything else you said corresponds to what I've known and experienced. Bread is something very important and always respected and every last bit used in one way or another.
    I love your description of the boulanger and his cat!
    love, Anna

  3. You know what? Maybe my mother-in-law IS forgetting...and maybe her grandmother DID say to tear it instead of cut it...Her memory is very weird, distorted and self-serving. She loves to cut the bread, so maybe she just remembers that that's what she's supposed to do, b/c that's the way she wants it. Who knows. Thanks for bringing this up. I think you are probably right. But the sad strange thing about Alzheimer's is that we only have to go on what we have to go on. I never know, anymore, if she's telling me the truth about the past or something invented. It's surreal. But still: respecting the bread must be a true memory, no?

  4. Yes, definitely. It's about life itself really.