When I was fifteen, my family moved from San Francisco to the 17ème arrondissement. The best boulangeries were on rue de la Jonquière, two blocks away from our apartment. There were a lot of boulangeries on that street, but only two that we deemed good enough: one had very good baguettes but terrible viennoiseries, and the other had terrible bread but delicious viennoiseries.
In the mornings while my parents slept (a benefit of being on sabbatical from teaching: no early classes to instruct), I made coffee while my younger sister would head out to get breakfast. First, she’d go to the boulangerie with the good viennoiseries. Then she’d hide the croissants and pains au chocolat in her shopping bag while she went to the other boulangerie to pick up the good bread. She was diplomatic, going out of her way to keep one boulangerie from finding out that we were also dating the other one. We had the system dialed, she and I, and so we’d laugh whenever one of our parents decided to “help out” in the mornings. They’d always bungle the breakfast errand, bringing home bread from the mediocre place, and viennoiseries from the other inferior place, essentially destroying what it took the two of us a month of dogged research to figure out.
All that to say that if you want the best bread and viennoiseries, you will have to practice.
The mindfulness you bring to your yoga practice is the same quality you’ll need for uncovering your neighborhood’s best boulangerie. Without clinging to the one closest to you (we always want the one downstairs or next door to be amazing, but it seldom is,) take note of the boulangeries dotting the rest of your neighborhood. Which ones are crowded? Are there some that are busier at certain times of day? Which ones have long lines? Which ones attract the persnickety old ladies? As the French don’t muck about with mediocre bread, lines are often portents of quality and fair prices. And Parisians don’t mind walking an extra block or two for the best.
As you know from yoga, practice makes permanent.
As you know from yoga, practice makes permanent. The more you do something over and over, the more it becomes a part of you. This is the discipline you will need to cultivate in your boulangerie quest. You will have to be indefatigable in your research. It will take time. You will eat many middling chouquettes and éclairs and baguettes, and feel defeated as well as possibly fat. Do not despair! You will eventually locate “your” boulangerie, and when you do, you’ll begin forging a deeper connection to your neighborhood and to France.
This is the final state, the one in which you will be absorbed into the One, the one boulangerie that is the best. By frequenting the boulangerie daily, embedding yourself in the fabric of the bakery, you will slowly, over time, become as much a part of the community as the boulangerie itself. You will walk in and be greeted — possibly even by name! — you’ll say Bonjour when you enter, and Au Revoir or Bonne Journée when you exit. You’ll respect the unique French flow of boulangerie traffic, going through the In door when you enter and out the Out door when you leave. You may even be invited to skip the line of students grabbing lunch in order to get your single bread fix. You will make yourself tiny as you approach the caisse to order and pay with exact change and then if there’s time, complain about the bakery’s August closure, declaring the open-in-August boulangerie’s bread “inmangeable”!
In short, you’ll be In with the One.