Friday, April 4, 2008

my daily "pain"

i thought bread or pain (i.e. pain is the french word for bread) was pretty integrated into my life. i adore what sf bay area folks like to call artisan breads. these breads are baked by local bakeries (i.e., acme, grace, semifreddi’s, local bakers at the farmer’s markets, etc.) using all natural ingredients with crusty chewy outsides and soft spongy insides and absolutely …no sign of fructose corn syrup in these breads.

after a few months of trying many different locally baked breads, my absolute favorite bread is acme’s upstairs bread. such an odd name, no? the rumor is that the upstairs bread is named after the chez panisse upstairs cafĂ©. i have no idea if they still serve this bread there. it has been years since i’ve been upstairs at chez panisse. i don’t really care what it is called or where it served, i just care about where i need to go in order to buy it (i.e., elephant pharm or berkeley bowl are my two regular options…i don’t really feel like schlepping all of the way to their bakery on san pablo or the sf ferry building).

as the upstairs bread is my favorite…. there is always some in my house. all of the time. i love the heartiness and chewiness of it. i eat it about once a day. i thought bread was a pretty integral part of my lifestyle.

yet, it took the extended stay in paris for me to realize that it really wasn’t….bread isn’t integrated into my life as tightly as it is with the lives of parisians i saw on the street or the parisian homes i visited. as i mentioned in one of my older posts, there seems to be a boulangerie on every third corner. also, i lost count the number of times i saw someone walking around with a baguette, munching on a bread heel and going about their business….and this was at all times of the day.

then as i ate in parisian homes and in bistros with parisian families, i started noticing how bread is served and eaten at every meal. there are also small bread eating rituals that differ from what i am used to.

for example, bread is sometimes used as a utensil to nudge the other foods onto a fork…much like a knife may be used. i also noticed that parisians use tabletops as a bread plate. for example, in the states, i am so used to having bread plates in restaurants. there were no bread plates in bistros i went to. instead of resting the bread on the larger food plate with the rest of the food …parisians would temporary place their bread on table next to it. this is something i noticed in restaurants and in homes.

when i am traveling in another country, there are definitely moments where i feel very american. often times, these are small, quiet, and introspective moments. i try to be respectful of another country and their preferred manners…which typically means working hard at changing my own established manners. i prefer to closely observe and mimic host behaviors …particularly around food and eating. obviously, one can feel very american surrounded by people speaking french...yet, for some reason, the moments that make me pause and think "you really are quite american" are more subtle.

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