Le Pain Quotidien

Funny how some little things remain unexpectedly with you for years.

“You have to break the end off your baguette and eat it on the way home.”

Such was Roberta’s instruction to me as we walked back to her flat from Maison Kayser, an artisanal boulangerie a few blocks away from her Left Bank apartment, shortly after I first arrived in Paris for my school year at Le Cordon Bleu. My hostess, landlady, and tutrice of all things Francais, Madame Rivin’s voice still rings in my ears whenever I’m in France (occasionally at other moments, too).

Heeding her words, I tear the tip from the small, golden flûte (a short baguette, but not to be confused with a ficelle, a skinny one) as I step out of the boulangerie onto the sunny street here in Cannes, putting my sunglasses back on and tugging at the end of crusty bread, popping it into my mouth. The crisp exterior shatters into a slightly sour and yeasty interior, revealing a satiny crumb and open structure. The taste is so good, I actually pause in my steps.

“Oh my god…” I whisper, as a flood of tasteful Parisian memories come rushing back to my mind and palette. It’s heavenly.

As someone who has extensively studied bread baking, both in France and in the States, I know a thing or two about artisan bread (and pastry, in general). How sadly ironic that I seldom eat wheat in America these days. Our modern grain has become so intensely hybridized to promote higher, industrial yield—even organically grown wheat—that it’s no longer easily digestible. The wheat we currently consume is entirely different from twenty years ago, and it’s a world away from the wheat that our grandparents ate. I feel poorly when I eat it. (For an eye opening and potentially transformative book, read Wheat Belly: Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight, and Find Your Path Back to Health, by William Davis, MD.)

After a couple decades of lackluster, commercial bread, France is undergoing its own bread renaissance, and when I encounter an artisanal boulangerie on my travels, well, I can’t really resist. Paleo diet be damned. And oddly enough, I don’t feel poorly or have digestive woes with European wheat. Quel mystère.

Crusty loaf extending from its long, narrow paper sack in my hand, I resume my steps along the bustling thoroughfare, turning right on busy Rue d’Antibes, still chewing the oh-so-flavorful, slightly tangy, tip of bread. At the risk of being overly dramatic, it’s so good, I could almost weep for joy.

The past days of roaming, window shopping, and sitting at crowded sidewalk cafés, LeSuquetobserving the international crowd here for the film festival, have left me feeling a bit restless. Ungrounded. I realize that my soul is hungry. Not simply for food (the gods know I’ve had plenty of it here) but for simple, rustic nourishment, the kind that sustains me at home. The daily bread of my existence, le pain quotidien, is a quiet connection with earth and nature, writing, little rituals, and a home cooked meal with fresh ingredients––food that is prepared with love and gratitude, and then shared ideally with my beloved or friends.

There is no denying that I’m a cook at heart. More than a week away from a kitchen and lacking the creative, sensory, soulful nourishment of cooking le bon repas, I start to feel disconnected. A bit flat or wilted, like a tender plant in a drought.

So today I’m headed to the large market, the Marché Forville, “the belly of Cannes” in the heart of town. Truthfully, I made a bee line for it on my second day here, eager to be once again in a fabulous French street market; the only reason that I didn’t go the very first day was that on Mondays it is a brocante market selling all sorts of ‘bric-a-brac’, which doesn’t really interest me. I’m here for the food, thank you. One of the most renowned markets on the French Riviera, the Marché Forville sits at the base of Le Suquet hill in the old part of the city—le quartier le plus ancien de Cannes. It occupies a covered but open air building that was built in 1880 (replacing a cluster of old market shops), altered in 1934, and restored in 1993. The market sits in a zone piéton (pedestrian only), surrounded by cafés, boulangeries, and various shops.

The spring day is gorgeous and warm, and I’m dressed in a rumpled shirt of tan linen, some green trousers, and a favorite pair of loafers, feeling comfortable and at ease. Blissed out with my baguette. Stepping through the large arched entrance of the pink building, I’m greeted with a bustling hive of activity—long rows of merchants selling colorful displays of vegetables and fruits, fresh flowers, herbs and spices, olives, meat, cheese, fish, and more. I smile, thrilled to be here, all my senses open to the multi sensory experience. Few things bring me as much joy as a fabulous market, whether a farmer’s market or a vendors’ market such as this one (apart from a few purveyors and beekeepers, the sellers haven’t grown or made their products, they have purchased them wholesale).

Inside the marché, it’s noisy and neighborly. There are tourists roaming about but mostly marchethe patrons are locals, doing their daily or semi-weekly shopping. I smile at the sight and slightly argumentative voices of the French housewives haggling on price, while others exchange recipes or gossip with the vendors, whom they know well. It all brings back memories of living in Paris and my twice weekly shopping at the open air marché at Place Maubert, just a few streets from Roberta’s flat. In some ways, the Marché Forville reminds me of the bustling Atarazanas market in Málaga that I frequented when we lived in Spain, though the building in Cannes is significantly smaller and far less crowded (read another way, far more manageable). Sometimes I think I could chronicle my travels and adventures by the markets I have visited.

Leather ‘man bag’ slung over my shoulder (with notebook, fountain pen, and iPad Mini stashed inside) and still carrying the partially eaten baguette in hand, I slowly walk the aisles, absorbing the colors, scents, and commotion with wonder and delight. The smell of fish, fruit, and cheese all mingle in the air. In my typical style, I wander through and look at everything before I make a single purchase. I want to see what’s on offer, noting the various prices for items I might be interested in (they vary a surprising amount), comparing freshness (quality varies as much as the pricing), and considering the vendors themselves—whether or not I like their look, who is friendly, etc.

What a wealth of riches, this pavilion.

I’m tempted by the little cardboard baskets of glossy, ruby red cherries and plump little berries—myrtilles, fraises, framboises. The allotment of vegetable vendors all carry the staples generally available year round (even if grown in a far away locale)—onions, garlic, peppers, carrots, celery, aubergines, courgettes, tomatoes, leeks, cabbages, potatoes—but I am drawn to the heralds of spring: small purple artichokes, favas in their long pods, fresh peas, and asparagus. The French adore white asparagus and piles of them are everywhere in the market; the thick pale shafts with bulbous tips look decidedly phallic, all the more so because of their length and size (and because they are not green). I linger over open bins of delicate loose leaf lettuces that I adore, heaping mounds of mesclun, mâche (lambs lettuce), and roquette (baby, Italian-style arugula). Too, I pause briefly at a vendor’s stall of earthy champignons, at least a dozen different varieties of mushrooms, half of them are ones I’ve not seen since living in Paris, most with price tags that are rather dear.

Some of this bounty is local but much isn’t. Just as California and South America supply the States with produce that is otherwise out of season, Europe’s year-round fruit and vegetables come either from southern Spain—where it is grown in giant, long poly-tunnel greenhouses called invernaderos that have covered coastal Andalucía—or from north Africa. I’m only interested in what is local, snappingly fresh, and preferably organic, though there seems to be nothing in the market that meets that latter criteria.

In the refrigerated glass cases with meat and poultry, the skinned rabbits have their heads on, as mandated by French law—an old edict from the food scarce war years, proving that the long lean body isn’t a cat, to which it looks quite similar. I’m tempted by the plump, free-range chickens—poulet fermier de Landesyellow skinned (jaune) or purple (noir), noting that some are ‘bio’ (short for biologique, the French term for organic). The fishmongers have their own section of the market with large, tiled, rimmed tables, where the daily catch is piled on ice, nearly everything sold whole: dorade, snapper, eels, squid, rascasse (scorpion fish), turbot, monkfish, mullet, mackerel, tuna (essentially the only one sold in smaller portions), and more. The glistening skin and clear eyes of the fish reveal their freshness, and nearly beg to find their way into a tasty bouillabaisse, the classic Provençal fish stew.

Oh, for a kitchen! Of all the things that I adore and miss about France, the glorious open markets are top of my list. Alas, after a shuffle of apartments within the HIFF team, my partner and I have landed in a small studio sans une cuisine. So despite this fabulous abundance of gorgeous things to eat, I have no means to cook, and we are reduced to dining out for nearly all our meals. For me, it’s definitely part of the Cosmic joke—which, dear reader, is always on us. C’est la vie.

After a good while of simply browsing, dreaming of the spring-inspired suppers I could create with such lovely ingredients, I content myself with a minimalist purchase: a crottin de Chavignol (au lait cru) from a friendly young fellow selling at least thirty types of French cheese; a bit of dark, local olive tapenade from a couple who are boisterously handing out samples on little bits of baguette (I try at least five); and a petite box of fresh French framboises from a dark-haired girl whose eyes remind me of a shy doe. The small strawberries that she offers smell temptingly fragrant, but I’ve eaten a good share of fresh, organic strawberries in Carmel during the past weeks, and I’ve always had a weakness for raspberries.

Leaving the bustle of the market with a final, longing look back over my shoulder, I stroll down the hill towards the marina, where I park myself again on a sunny bench—the very dejeunersame one where I sat early in the week, observing the festival crowds surging to and from the Palais. Seated alone, I remove the small, round cylinder of goat cheese from its paper wrapping, take the little punnet of raspberries from their bag, and proceed to tear the (somewhat diminished) baguette into chunks. I realize that I’ve come on this trip without my pocket knife (always quite handy to have on culinary adventures), but I make do with breaking the disc of chèvre and mashing it with fingers into the hunks of bread. I contemplate opening the plastic sack of thick, black tapenade as well, but decide that I will save it for later… and another baguette.

The combination of tangy goat cheese and fresh, rustic-style loaf is nothing short of sublime. I chew it slowly, allowing the flavors to unfurl, suffusing me with a sense of wellbeing. Les framboises are sweetly tart, a near perfect foil to the bread and cheese. Warmed by the sun, surrounded by the sounds and sights of busy Cannes, it is a meal of utmost simplicity, purity, and good taste. It is food for the soul—simple, unfussy, authentic—and I feel an openness and expansion in my body as I sit, savoring the taste. I swear that I could eat this every day and never grow tired of it.

My body and spirit feel well fed, not only by the utterly satisfying little meal in the square by the old port, but also by my trip to the market. Indeed, beyond the bread itself, the morning has offered le pain quotidien… of a soul sort. Watching the large gulls, the drifting white clouds, the noisy and colorful crowds, the expensive boats in the harbor, it all simply adds to the moment of goodness.

Wherever they are, Soul Artists seek out true nourishment for body and soul. Just as they celebrate beauty, practice gratitude, recognize that everything is relationship, and seek to expand past their limitations, such individuals create little soul rituals that keep them grounded in their core essence—mindful, pleasurable experiences where their senses are dilated, heart unlatched, and their soul expansive. Tending to body and soul is a personal path of practice, and even if they drop or briefly lose the thread, Soul Artists always circle back to the path that leads them on towards their gift and offering to the world.

Certainly one needn’t travel to France to find beautiful food. Or to enjoy a simple moment of soul nourishing delight. Beauty is everywhere. In every moment, the Soul of the World reaches out, inviting us to notice, admire, celebrate and commune with it. Are we paying attention? Listening? Gentle reader, wherever you may be, here’s hoping that you’ll take a moment to savor le pain quotidien of a different sort, your daily bread for the soul, and let a sense of wellbeing fill you.

I wonder, how will you choose to nourish yourself today, and for what will you be grateful?

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