Mar 9, 2014

$2,000 Ridiculous Hat: Selles-sur-Cher

When one wanders into the Bon Marché, one of the chicest department stores in all of Paris, in the 6th arrondissement, one of the swankest sections of the city, and one finds oneself in the hat section, one is trying on what are arguably some of the priciest hats around. And when trying on hats, it is always good to go with a friend, in this case Jen who is visiting us from the States. Even better if the friend looks good in hats, because I must say, I don't.

Or, perhaps it's the hats I've chosen, like this winner of a headband-hat adorned with feathers.  I know that I look like a cross between a Stay-puft marshmallow man and a Playboy Bunny. I am the Play-puft Marshmunny. According to the price tag dangling down the side of my head, I go for a mere 300.

Jen finds some that are perfectly acceptable, even a bit cute:


And a few that are not. And yes, you'll notice the black flower headband falls in both categories. I find it patently (pardon the pun) ridiculous yet oddly wearable. Of course, if you've seen what my girls wear regularly in their hair -- headbands with very large, brightly colored flowers, that they've made themselves -- you will understand that my perspective has been warped.

Jen's friend Medley, also visiting Paris at the moment, looks like a natural in the fur hat section. She could easily pass for a French woman: elegant, classy, so neatly put together. Me, not so much:
                                                                                     Help! I'm being eaten by a fuzzy Pacman!

Jen finds a truly unique knit headband with fur earmuffs attached. Here we see one earmuff. But wait one minute, she's laughing too hard to pose for the photo. Another try. But still, laughing too hard to stand still.


And finally, able to hold back the tears and pose in her Princess Leia winter headgear as long as she makes "crazy eyes" and doesn't look at me directly. Needless to say, she doesn't buy it. For walking around the streets and looking less like an American in a ski hat, Jen does buy a warm beret. But not at the Bon Marché and, therefore, not at Bon Marché prices.


The word for hat in French is "chapeau." By coincidence, there's an old French expression meaning "Wow!" which is "Chapeau!" So, if you have been wondering why I would title this posting "$2,000 Ridiculous Hat," just take a look at this Chapeau! chapeau -- actually a headband-hat with stuff attached -- for 1495, or US$1,982. Ironically, the word "bon marché" (lower case, as opposed to the capitalized proper noun) means inexpensive. The Bon Marché is definitely not bon marché.

And below, a headband-hat with stuff attached made for me by Gigi, at age four. Perhaps I should dredge it out of storage and wear it, to the envy of all, on the streets of Paris? ("Ooh la la, she must be rich to be so chic. Just look at that Chapeau! chapeau.")

Jen and I enjoy ourselves tremendously in the hat section with much decoration but, obviously, not much decorum. So, it may be a while till I am allowed back into the Bon Marché.
THE CHEESE: Selles-sur-Cher
Selles-sur-Cher is made from raw, whole goat's milk in the department of Loir-et-Cher, the name of two rivers -- the Loire and the Cher, in central France. It's an ashed cheese that's a beautifully silvery black on the outside and snowy white on the inside, aged for three weeks in a dry cellar.
While this is a cheese that is very easy to find, and therefore most people think of it as an ancient, classic cheese, whether it is or not is a mystery. Goats are not a big part of the agricultural scene around here, and families historically kept a few only for their own use and also to help maintain the land for other purposes with natural mowing, fertilizing, etc. In fact, the land around here is sandy and clay-filled, and those flavors come through in the goats' milk and resulting cheese.
There's no written mention of the cheese until the 20th century, though at the that point one farmer from the tiny commune (village) of Selles wrote that it was an ancient tradition to make this cheese with clay cheese strainers and then sell them in the area's main market town of Selles-sur-Cher. Still, it is ancient enough that it was one of the first cheeses to get an AOC, in 1975, later modified in 1980.
It's goaty, creamy, and the skin is just lightly furry in the most pleasing, peach-skin way. You can buy this cheese at expensive cheese stores and get a high-quality, artisanal version. Or, you can buy cheaper versions at many big grocery stores. Even then, it's got a mildly goaty flavor, with hints of earth and nuts, and it's delicious on a hunk of fresh bread.
The word "cher" means not only "dear" but also "expensive" -- basically two different uses of the concept of "treasured". Selles-sur-cher does not, in any event, have anything to do with sales or expenses. Actually, it's the name of the location where the cheese is made, in the Loire in central France. The cheese is not very expensive, either, and can easily be purchased very bon marché in mass-produced versions in the supermarket. In fact, we buy our sample in the Monoprix, cut it with a plastic knife, and eat it on a picnic while on a trip in southern France. So the only drastically over-priced, cher thing here is the $2,000 hat. Nevertheless, much more cher to me are my little co-picnickers.


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