What was I looking forward to most, on my holidays? What was I thinking about most in the weeks beforehand, in the days getting stuff ready, on the drive to the airport, in the plane, on the drive out to Gruissan Plage? On those succulent days before a holiday?
Was it the sunshine, the warmth, the sound of the waves wafting up from the beach? Bare feet and sandals, no socks? The beach, stretching itself out long and lovely, exotic in sunshine? Non, monsieur. Non, madame.
Or was it the reading, the pure pleasure of just reading all the day long, without guilt, without having to justify it in some way, shape or form? Non, monsieur. Non, madame.
Was it wasting time, just sitting there, lounging, lying on a beach doing nothing, maybe having a snooze – a snooze in the middle of the day!? Non.
Not wearing a watch, not looking at a clock, nothing to do, no deadlines, no meetings, no days of the week, no weekend? Mais non.
Rosé with lunch on the balcony? Non. Breakfast, lunch and dinner on the balcony? Non. The taste of nectarines in the south of France, the flavour running dripping oozing out of a tomato? Non, non, et non.
Cycling amid the vineyards, through the forest? Non.
What then? (get on with it)
It was this: it was the act of strolling downstairs early in the morning, lightly clad, with the house asleep, unlocking the bike, and hopping up on it to cycle down to the boulangerie to get a fresh baguette.
And it wasn’t the cycle itself, it wasn’t the buying of the baguette (though that is pleasurable, the ding as you walk into the little shop, the little queue of mostly bellied men – moi aussi – the fine bellied baker himself, remembering to say ‘une’ and not ‘un’, the wrapping up of the bread with a little strip of paper, the taking away of the loaf), the putting it into the basket on the bicycle.
No, it wasn’t those things, it was just the moment after I unlocked the bike, after I pulled it away form the pillar, after I pushed it on to the path; it was just that moment when I pushed the bike forward, my left foot on the pedal, my right foot hopping twice on the road – just that moment when I lifted my leg over the saddle and set forth. And I was on my way.
And in reality myself and Der went cycling most days early and we collected the baguette on the way back a couple of hours later. But I did go myself the first day and, you know, that was enough. Just once was enough – I’d done it, we were there, it was happening.
What is it about the fresh baguette each day from the boulangerie?
I think it’s the fact that the baguette represents a new day, a new start, new possibilities, maybe the good things to come that day. And the hopping on the bike begins that process, initialises it.
And don’t get me wrong, eating it is very fine too, with some confiture, from apricots or myrtle or whatever the sun brings to us, and the blue sky and the heat.
But after eight or ten days we tried to be good and stay away from the daily baguette because once you begin one it’s very very hard to stop. And we don’t eat that much bread, to be honest.
But oh, that first baguette, which tastes so different in any other place except France. In fact it should be the French national emblem, not the coat of arms, nor the fleur de lis, nor le coq gaulois.
No it should be the baguette. The humble baguette – well not so humble, the French don’t do humble – not much.
Sorry, not the baguette, la baguette. See? I remembered.