It’s time to talk about the bakery across the street. NOT the place that sells tonipan; Jacob’s. Jacobs is a bakery/sandwich shop chain all over the city. Their food is moderately (maybe even fairly) priced, despite the super-chic, black white and chandelier-ed decor. Jacob’s baguettes would make you “smack yo momma.” Usually a french baguette is a “crustation” (haha, crustacean, get it?) with a hard crust shell and a soft, cottony interior. I’m actually not a huge fan. Jacob’s baguettes, on the other hand, are wider, softer on the outside, and doughy on the inside. And we often have to wait for them to come out of the oven.
But the most notable thing about baguettes is not what they say about French cuisine; it’s what they say about French hygiene. Here we are in the country where pasteurization was invented, where milk is so carefully pasteurized that it doesn’t need to be refrigerated before opening. We’re also in a place where people famously take full advantage of a good health care system and get treated as much as possible. For more information on the French health mentality, check out this funny article by a BBC correspondent: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/programmes/from_our_own_correspondent/7779126.stm
So what role do baguettes play in the national quest for bonne santé? None, unless it is only to expose people to germs that will help them later (see this article for more info on helper-germs: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/27/health/27brod.html?scp=2&sq=dirt&st=cse). Do French people bring home their bread in hermetically sealed bags the way Americans do? No. When you buy a baguette, its midsection is wrapped in a piece of paper the size of a napkin, and that’s where you hang on to it as you walk home through streets filled with smokers, dogs, cars, and other pollutants that are probably tainting your bread as you pass.
My guess is that bread, being a wholesome, traditional food, one of rustic peasants and simple farmers, is somehow immune to the dangers of modern life. Like germs, for instance. I remind myself of this when I go into Jacob’s for my daily baguette and count the health code violations I witness. Okay, I have no idea what French health codes are, and, despite having worked in a restaurant, I’m not sure I even know much about American health codes. But I did work in a lab, so I know about sterile procedure (plus I was raised by a germ-a-phobe. . . and just may be one myself). So let me tell you what I regularly see in Jacob’s:
1. The girls working there take your money and pick up your bread with the same hands. 2. Today the girl re-adjusted her pants (who knows where those pants have been!?!?) before picking up my bread. 3. The girl with the ponytail licks her fingers to better grab a bread-wrapping-paper before then using the same fingers to pick up my baguette. This was clearly the worst and I even mentioned it to her. Which did not make her want to be my friend and now I’m embarrased when I go in and she’s working there.
So why do we keep going back? Let me refer you to my first paragraph. And even though I hem and haw over their lack of asepsis, I secretly just enjoy complaining about it. And anyway, I’ve got an immune system.
(P.S. I got the picture from a restaurant guide website for Aix.)