Our life here has its Clochemerle moments (explanation below). I experienced one of them yesterday when our local village had no bread. Bread is not just the staff of life to a French person; it’s an essential accompaniment to every meal. Yesterday, there was a whiff of revolution, which I compounded.
Clochemerle is a novel by Gabriel Chevallier, published in 1934. A TV adaptation was screened in the UK during the 1970s. The town council of Clochemerle decides to erect a urinal in the village, but this decision splits the inhabitants into two opposing camps. Eventually, the anti-camp blows up the offending convenience with dramatic and remarkably authentic-looking results. The series was a kind of leitmotif for French local life. Whilst it’s clearly over-exaggerated, it does have a certain relation to reality.
Some friends kindly invited our walking group for apéritifs following yesterday’s walk. When we arrived, we realised that this was not just a drink with a few nibbles, but a three-course meal.
Our hostess told us there was a bread crisis: both boulangeries in the village were closed. On a Wednesday? This is virtually unheard-of.
Normally, the tabac comes to the rescue, since it’s a depôt de pain for the boulangerie in the next village. Alas, the boulanger had forgotten to put salt in the bread, so the first fournée (batch) was no good and a new batch had to be hastily prepared. Sod’s law was operating with a vengeance.
So our hosts ordered four flûtes to be collected later. Having offered to help, I was duly despatched to fetch them. A group of disconsolate-looking locals had collected near the door of the tabac.
“Are you queuing?” I asked.
As one, they nodded balefully. The bread shelves were empty and it was ten to twelve: almost lunchtime.
Out came the lady who runs the tabac.
“Hasn’t the bread arrived yet?” I said, expecting an extended delay.
She shook her head. I explained that my friend had ordered four loaves and had sent me to collect them.
“Oh yes! I put aside some loaves from the earlier delivery.”
She handed them over. I then had to run the gauntlet of the folk queuing for the later delivery. I felt their gaze raking me and the bread like machine-gun fire.
Clutching the bread to my chest, I made it onto the street, only to be confronted by the local menuisier (carpenter).
“Has the bread arrived?” he said, his face lighting up.
“Not exactly,” I said, and explained why I had bread when no one else did.
“I’ll buy it from you,” he said, only half joking.
As other bread-less people descended the street towards the tabac, there was a distinct sense of discontent. I judged it prudent to beat a hasty retreat. I may leave it a few days before venturing into the village again…
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