Everyone knows the cliché about how a Frenchman – and woman – must have his fresh bread every day, and like many clichés it’s based on truth. Our local town Cadillac, hardly a metropolis at just over 2,500 inhabitants, has four places to buy bread – six if you count Le Mutant and the supermarket a kilometre away.
Nearest to us on the hill going into the town there’s Blondie’s, the boulangerie particularly favoured by my husband as Blondie, who’s really called Fabienne, is an outrageous flirt and flutters her eyelashes at every male between seven and ninety-seven. The older male customers’ pacemakers failed en masse when my daughter asked her if she and her assistant were sisters. ‘No,’ replied Blondie, putting her arm around the assistant, ‘we just sleep together.’ In fact, she’s her sister-in-law.
There’s an upscale patisserie which only ever has a few baguettes and pain just inside the old town walls, a Petit Casino, a mini supermarket with sliced pain de mie and pre-baked baguettes which is OK in an emergency, and in the medieval arcade in the main square there’s Cadillac’s other big boulangerie.
This one has probably the best bread in Cadillac – with prices to match, delicious wholemeal loaves and a pain à cacao which is so good it’s evil. (And a constant source of worry to me who is always afraid I’m going to swallow the “o” and ask for pain à caca – poo bread.) It’s staffed by a rota of laid back middle-aged ladies who don’t appear to have heard of multi-tasking, still less how to operate it, they stop in the middle of reaching for your bread to ask if you want it sliced. Service is consequently leisurely, but they’re very nice and given all the other places there are to buy bread there are never that many people in there so you don’t normally have that long to stand eyeing the pain à cacao, wondering if you can resist it.
It all goes a bit pear-shaped when Blondie’s lot go on holiday. The two big boulangeries cover for each other when the other is closed, opening all seven days a week and presumably reckoning that all the increased custom makes it worth having no days off for a couple of weeks. Blondie is easily capable of flirting for France and serving at the same time so the queue keeps moving and her husband, the baker, has grasped the notion when he has more custom he has to make more bread.
Not so the middle-aged ladies. At times when they’re covering for Blondie’s lot their shop grinds to a halt, particularly when there’s a family of children chosing penny sweets, each one will have a different mal serving them while twenty or more adults wonder if the bread will have gone stale by the time the last child has decided if her last five cents is going on a Carambar or a liquorice wheel. The head middle-aged lady, who owns the place, also seems incapable of calculating how much bread she’s going to need…
This morning there was disaster. My daughter went to buy the bread and walked into the middle-aged ladies shop to find it full with a chorus of discontent. It wasn’t even midday and they’d run out of bread. Completely. Those at the front of the queue were taking the last croissants and there was no other bread in Cadillac. Petit Casino was closed because of a death in the family, Blondie’s skiing and the patisserie never has bread after about ten o’clock in the morning. Luckily for us the queue yesterday, market day, outside the middle-aged ladies was so outrageous, there were at least twenty people on the pavement, about the same inside, that I went to the bio part of the market and bought a very worthy loaf off one of the knit your own yoghurt brigade. Nicknamed carpet bread by my husband for obvious reasons, it’s undoubtedly very good for you and one slice goes a long way which is why we still have most of yesterday’s loaf left.
I suspect that most of today’s disappointed customers won’t have been so lucky. Cadillac is a genteel place so I doubt there’ll be audible protests, still less taking up of paving stones and chucking them through the boulangerie window (which would be truly counter productive) but I suspect that more than one person will be begging Blondie not to go on holiday again.