About the only thing that can get me out of bed at seven in the morning occurs in France. It's the time when the bakeries open, and fresh, just-out-of-the-oven baguettes are available. So fresh and hot are they that there will be a burn mark across the fleshy part of your arm from carrying it back home. Iove that burn mark; it's badge of honor, a mark of good taste. A baguette tattoo.
Having grown up in New Orleans where the ability to pick out the freshest French bread in the store forms the right of passage from child to adult, ensuring you're buying the freshest baguette available is as easy as getting out of bed - provided you're doing so at the break of dawn.
But the extra effort is worth it. As you approach the just opening doors of the patisserie, the intoxicating whiff of oven hot bread hits you harder than the most seductive women’s perfume. You swoon, your eyes water, your heart palpitates. Even the line already stretching out the door doesn't bother you; it's merely proof you are a gentleman of taste and refinement. People who stand in long bakery lines first thing in the morning have their priorities straight. An extra hour of sleep is meaningless to them when it comes to bringing back a loaf still warm enough to melt butter on its own with an outer crunch as firm as the thinnest cracker and an inside as soft as the cool side of a pillow.
In Avignon I reprised a breakfast sandwich I'd originally invented for Carolyn in Paris a couple of years ago. Carol has virtually eliminated bread from her diet believing it a main component of weight gain. But even she could not resist the baguette's siren song. My sandwich consisted of baguette slices fried in olive oil, then a melted slab of a creamy, rich, soft cheese (Saint Albray) that has a perkier bite than brie, and all slathered with fig jam. Carol’s resolve weakened by the second helping, and she gave up the bread fight until she got stateside again.
Of my scientific inquiry into bread and weight gain, I can only say this: the typical French fast food consists of a small baguette filled with various combinations of cheese, ham, butter, salami and hard boiled egg. They are for the most part condiment free and eaten on the move between classes, jobs, trips to the market or to meet friends. Almost no one I observed consuming these sandwiches or carrying a baguette or two home with them had anything near what could be termed a weight problem.
French people walk a lot and ride bicycles. In between arriving in the next town by train, Carol and I walked everywhere. We ate baguettes everywhere too. The French breakfast is almost all bread and baked items. No meal is served at a cafe or restaurant without a basket of cut baguette that is generally refilled when emptied.
Many of the revolutions throughout French history have started over the price of bread. It is my understanding that the € 1.20 price of the standard “baguette traditional” is fixed by government fiat in recognition of those past revolutionary sparks. (I've not confirmed this with any research; it's one of those “facts that are too good to check.”)
I believe that I will return home from France without having gained a pound, I believe that is also a fact that is too good to check.