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Jul 17, 2014

Where Are the Berets?: Le Petit Pain de Ventadour

THE STORY:

You've heard it, seen it in films, imagined it: the snobby Parisian, in a beret and a scarf, smoking her cigarette at the café where she drinks a glass of wine. She leaves the café with her white poodle on a leash, lets it take a dump on the sidewalk, and walks away without stopping to pick it up. Stepping in her high heels over the mountains of dog turds left by previous passersby, she walks by the Eiffel Tower to buy an haute couture dress and finally arrives at the boulangerie, where she buys her loaf of bread.


photo from iphone of Anthony's co-worker

Nobody loves to stereotype and make fun of Parisians more than the French themselves (and especially the non-Parisian French), but that doesn't mean this is what life really looks like. Do they really make pouty lips? Yes. In his one man show How to Become Parisian in One Hour, Olivier Giraud makes fun of his own countrymen for it. But it's just one of many gestures -- including the shrug, the strong exhale, and the hand-flip -- that make their speech more colorful. It's not really a super-model thing.

Here Gigi is giving it her best pout. In a beret. With a scarf.

 
Interestingly, I'd say kids actually do wear berets more, and especially in the winter. Some of the girls' classmates -- who are pure French and not doing it for kitsch value -- do (but on rare occasion) wear berets to school. Yes, I know we should clean Gigi's glasses.
 

No, the French do not stink, although if you are here in the summer, crammed on the metro, you will not agree with me. But go anywhere in the summer, crammed onto a metro, and you'll see it's not just a French thing; it's a summer-time thing. And say goodbye to that image of a French woman with bushy underarm hair. While you used to see lots on a Frenchwoman 25 years ago, today, she is almost certain to shave. So, they look and smell much like Americans (but much less fat), as a whole.

Do people really walk around the streets holding their baguettes? Yes, they do. Not usually eight baguettes, mind you, but this particular batch Pippa is holding is for a big cheese tasting party. When my nephews visit, they are thoroughly entertained by the fact that there really are boulangeries everywhere, and that the French people really do walk around the streets with their baguettes. So, of course, my nephews enjoy buying, walking around with, eating, and taking photos with large loaves of bread.

 

This is especially fun to do with fake French handlebar mustaches. Which would fall in the old stereotype category. It's not like you see real ones like this walking around on Frenchmen.


Or, at least, not very often. But these dapper gentlemen might beg to differ.

 
 
Notice not just the mustache on the older gentleman, but also the beret, the fantastic chain-handled canne de St. George (cane, to you and me) and even the cravat tie. I want to take him home and frame him. The younger guy look more like he's trying for a British affectation, and I swear this is not part of a modeling shoot. But still, I must include him here, as he may be referencing a  neighboring country, but he's still more than living up to a stereotype in the middle of Paris.

 
 
Fun for all ages.
 

Do the French smoke? Yes. A lot.


And eat snails and frogs' legs? Yes, but not that often. The average French person eats a lot more hamburgers than both of those combined.

 

Do they go on strike a lot? Not all the time. But more than in the US, for sure. It definitely is "a thing" here. We've gone years without being affected, but only because we haven't needed to travel on the train when SNCF is striking, the plane when Air France is striking, or drive the streets when anybody else is striking. One of Anthony's co-workers has to work from home for nearly two weeks once when his train line is on strike, so it does happen.
 
  
And will you have to step over dog poop? Well, yes, on occasion, but frankly no more than in San Francisco. There are the responsible owners how scoop and the others who just don't give a crap -- or, rather, who give too many.


There are many things that are changing. Having spent time in France about 20 years separated, I see the changes. Parisians do not treat Americans who don't speak French badly (though they often used to, frankly). They often speak English, and sometimes even very good English.

They go out running and exercising far more than they used. Anthony says that when he first started spending time here on business trips 10 years ago, he never saw runners -- except other visitors. Now, we see French people running every day, in all weather.

THE CHEESE: Le Petit Pain de Ventadour

This little raw goat's milk cheese is from the town of Moustier-Ventadour in Corrèze, which is in Limousin, just to the East of the Dordogne. Le Petit Pain de Ventadour is a farmhouse cheese made at only one farm, by a farmer with the decidedly atypically French name of Sznajder.


The flavor of goat and farm is medium-strength here, and very pleasant, with lingering salt, nuts, and herbs. The texture is delightful: creamy, with just a hint of melting ooze on the outside edges. But it's the uniquely adorable appearance of this cheese -- along with the great name -- that really sells me: a soft, wrinkly, two-toned crust with the wrinkles of a shar-pei dog.


THE CONNECTION:

You know that stereotype of the Frenchman walking around holding bread? That one's true. And the dog turds on the street? Less true than before, though occasionally still true. So this "Petit Pain" (a little bread that looks like a dog turd) seems to speak to at least two stereotypes. Now if only I had thought to put a beret on it for the photo before we all devoured it.

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