We Are All French American Berliners

thoughts while baking for the world

chocolate-caneles

In an age where people have never seemed so alarmingly disconnected from one another’s reality, it is reassuring to go out and about in the world, stumbling into unexpected moments of grace that remind us, we’re all in this together.

At the Farmer’s Market, a petite woman paused at my stand and exclaimed in the most charming French accented English imaginable, “Oh, canelés! My papa made me canelé every Sunday, how wonderful the kitchen smelled!”

She clasped her hands together under her chin and inhaled deeply through her nose, her eyes closed, to demonstrate, and I looked around half expecting the lowering gray clouds to part, the sun to come out, and a man to propose to her on the spot, she was that charming, it was that much like a moment that should be in the movies if it hasn’t been already.

amelie

Her eyes popped open and she bent down to look into the case, cooing “Really I must call my mother and tell her!”

Her gaze was filled with such delight I felt I had indeed done something worth calling if not writing  home about.

But why me? she wanted to know. How? Was I a Francaise? No, I tell her, my husband taught himself to make them, and over time we all – myself and the daughters included – became expert.  We each even have our own favorite flavor, but I knew she wouldn’t ask what was the best seller. All of our canelés sell well, but among our French customers there is only one best seller, the original Classic Vanilla Canelé de Bordeaux. Even the fondant flowers we sometimes put on top of the vanilla canelés for weddings is unacceptable to the French, who vaunt the original and want no truck with changes or even improvements.

She beamed at me and exclaimed “But you are so charming, the canelés, they are perfection!” (which sounded sexily like but zey cahn-uh-LAY zey ahr pair-FECK-shun!) 

Ever since, when I make canelés and they have been in the oven for about forty minutes, just when the scent begins to drift beyond the kitchen and send tendrils throughout the house, I think of this unnamed woman whose memory of a country kitchen in Bordeaux is now intertwined with my own story. In fact it was her voice I was thinking of when we needed a recording for an event we were catering: 

Just two filaments weaving themselves together in the tapestry that is humankind.

I sometimes think of her when I see the news – in her country, an extreme candidate is leading election polls, something not thought possible before the 2015 terrorist attacks on a newspaper and nightclub that killed more than 130 and wounded nearly 400 more.

Were all her family safe? Odds are, probably yes – her family was from Bordeaux, not Paris.  And what of my former colleagues, people from Paris and Lyon and Provence and Marseilles, people I boarded airplanes with and sat down for meals with, people who  invited me to eat birthday cake in the break room with them,  people who showed me pictures of their vacations and their kids during our coffee breaks before we returned to the business of whatever work it was we were working on.

Are they still going about their lives, and what are they thinking as the spring vote approaches with their own Le Trump rising and casting a long, sunset like shadow from the right?

So many lives touched, fate like a bee pollinating us with traces of one another.

I’d like to think the concentric rings of family and friends rippling around each of them are if not untouched by the terror (that is not possible), then at least unharmed, but the statistician in me knows the odds are slim, and what of it anyway? The tears of strangers sting with as much salt as my own.  The French had it right the morning after the World Trade Center attacks in New York on September 11th:

“We are all Americans! We are all New Yorkers, as surely as John Kennedy declared himself, in 1962 in Berlin, a Berliner”                    ~Jean-Marie Colombani, Le Monde

We are all connected, all the time, in ways that may have yet to reveal themselves.

woven