Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Mid-January Miettes

Okay, let's start out the year with some good news. As you remember, there was a rash of bakery closings around here, starting with the famous Fournil Ste. Anne and (gulp) including Ortholan, the one on my corner. I'm not nearly the consumer of bread that the average French person is, so this was only a minor inconvenience for me, but there did come the day when I whipped up a big pot of minestrone using "dirty carrots" (yup, that's what the guy at the market had them labelled as), which have been left in the ground instead of harvested immediately. I was curious if this would make a difference. Boy, did it make a difference. No wonder they're a Euro per kilo more than clean carrots. The sweetness and, um, carrotyness of them was astounding. And with such a soup one wants some good bread.

Now, as I mentioned, there are a lot of bakeries around, but most of them are no good. They don't make the bread on the premises, and they actually belong to chains. Ortholan is actually part of a mini-chain, and I discovered during this closing that their fabrication is done out by the Grand M, a traffic circle that sorts southern- and western-bound traffic. Sure enough, on our latest trip, E and I passed it (it's at the end of the Avenue de Toulouse), and there was a portable cooling unit in their parking lot, no doubt keeping their yeast cultures alive while work was being done inside. But at least they're local. I'd been eyeing another bakery nearby on the Clos René with the unpromising name Aux Gourmets, and decided to give it a shot. It was a decidedly ordinary-looking baguette, no doubt of that, and I wasn't overly excited by the prospect of trying it, but I was having minestrone one night and went in and grabbed a loaf. Not only was it cheaper than Ortholan, but the baguette was remarkable: crisp, nutty crust, and a crumb that was notable by being a bit salty, which really fits in not only with the soup, but makes it ideal for eating with cheese.

Ortholan re-opened shortly after the new year, and yet last night when I defrosted a tub of minestrone, I walked down to Aux Gourmets for a baguette. Sold out. The bawdy old ladies who run the joint gave me a lot of attitude for having waited so late in the day and then said "sorry." "Me, too," I said, and they all cracked up. The place displays the logo of the Conféderation Nationale des Artisans Pâtissiers, so despite the kind of goofy atmosphere, they're serious. They have a huge chocolate factory in the rear, and I know they also make their own ice cream, and I bet all of this is delicious. And so the neighborhood opens up a little more...

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The year sure got off to a good start for one guy I saw. I was coming back from the market and one of the many people you see going through the trash (the unemployment here is among the highest in France) had found a box, unopened, from La Poste. He opened it, and it turned out to be one of those "gourmet assortments," with jam, pâté, honey, a couple of bottles of wine, and so on. He was pawing through the excelsior, and his eyes bugged out every time he hit a new treasure. I'm sure there's a back-story as to why this expensive gift was thrown out unopened, but it turned out to be good for someone, at least. Hell, I would have done the same if I'd gotten there before he did!

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Stupid t-shirt season has definitively been over for a while, but there's still stupid business names. It's kind of a truism that in Europe, if you're trying to appeal to young people, you do some of your advertising in English, although in France, you have to add an asterisk with a French translation down the page. (This doesn't always work: in the early internet days, the Paris subways were plastered with huge ads that said DO YOU YAHOO?* which were answered with * Êtes-vous Yahoo? -- not at all the same thing, of course). Anyway, this being a slow news month, I thought I'd report on some other misuses of English I've seen around. There is, for instance, a nearby cell-phone shop called Internity. I've tried and tried to figure out what that's supposed to be -- is the word "internet" involved here? Eternity? Internal? Hard to figure. A bit clearer is the decorators' firm over in Ste. Anne which bears the name Interior Living, which, these days, sure beats Exterior Living, although you don't want to be too interior or people will think you're antisocial. (There's also a sport called Body Fighting, but I haven't investigated it in hopes that I can train for some Mind Fighting). And some business names are totally inexplicable. On the way to E and J's place is a cafe called Le Snake, which I thought was a misspelling brought on phonetically by the way French people say snack, but no, it's got a picture of a snake as well as multiple examples of the word snack. (Snake isn't the French word for snake, if you were wondering). And finally, there was a store on the corner by me for the longest time purveying cheap knockoff sportswear and shoes called Editions ED. I was relieved when they moved on, but the landlord had no problem re-renting the place to a purveyor of awful women's clothing. Its name may explain why I haven't found a French girlfriend yet, though: it's called Crazy Feminity. Feminity? Crazy French people is more like it. 

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I've posted before about the paper graffiti artist who calls himself Al Sticking, who has posted his stuff all over France, but lives here. The "enlèvement des tags" guys go after him as virulently as they do hoodlums who just scrawl their names here and there, but he's also invited by real businesses to do work, as the bike shop on the rue Four des Flammes shows. A friend of his has a jewelry business which sells postcards of his work, as well as some of his motifs made into jewelry, and just before Christmas, he managed to do a nice piece all over the front of the place. 

I assume the sculpture out front is by someone else, but the two stuck characters are real nice. 

Given the city's inability to distinguish between street art and graffiti, I almost hate putting up the pictures I have in this post (except for those immediately above, which I assume were commissioned and will remain up for some time) because these pieces enliven the streets without harming any of the historic beauty of the town. But I spent a lot of time in Berlin shooting street-art, too, and I have to say I get a kick out of it. 

Next up will be a raft of short restaurant reviews, dating back to mid-November when my friend John was in town. But I have to get out and shoot these, too, so that'll take a while. Tune in, though; it won't be long. 


  1. I assume you have tried the bread at the bakery in the Rue Marioge (Thierry David) during a market excursion? Very much made on the premises, and has won a prize or two I believe. Not that you would want to hike out to Celleneuve to buy bread, but the bakery next door uses one of the few wood-fired ovens left in France (most are gas or electric), plus they use organic flour. They have also won a prize or two. Good bread is definitely out there! Celleneuve alone has 3 boulangeries where bread is baked on the premises (and 2 where it is not).

  2. Oh, yes. They provide the breakfast for the Hotel des Arceaux, which was where I stayed on my visits down here before I moved. Best baguette I'd had up tl then. I believe the Ste. Anne place used a wood-fired oven, too. I didn't mean to imply there's no good bread here, but it's probably not as common as some people believe.

  3. Internety has to be a mix of internet and eternity. At least, I hope it is, otherwise I'm completely stumped on that one.
    And why oh why would you name a place Le Snake?! That's just dumb.


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