Nuns and Bastards

November 14, 2009

I’ve left it to the last minute on market day so will have little choice.


“I’ll have two of those, please” I ask Adele,


“Les Religieuse?” she asks


“Those round ones with the smaller round blobs on top.  They look like round multi-story eclairs”.


“They are called religieuse, nuns,” she says, smiling her snaggle-toothed smile.


“And one of those”, I say, pointing to a long thin, sorry-looking baguette.


“Un batard?” she says


And I have to agree as it is the solitary stick of bread in the shop that if she says it is a bastard, a bastard it is.


“Two nuns, one bastard” she says as her petite fingers fly at the large calculator.


“Anything else?”


“No thanks, that’s enough for one day” I smile back at her.


“3 euros 60, please” she says and as I hand her the money, as always, it is as if she can’t believe her good fortune, as if she is singing within herself,


“Here comes ANOTHER 3.60!” and it tickles her pink.



I sometimes see Adele’s husband, Vincent.  He is as stocky and muscular as she is petite.  I know he works out in a gym every day and you can see it from the bulging biceps which seem to be permanently on display when I see him outside of his workplace.  They are made more noticeable by the smudged tattoos, reminders of his troubled youth.


Vincent grew up in the rough “banlieu” of Paris.  He started getting into trouble at an early age and  by sixteen was an accomplished car thief.  During his last trial as a juvenile he was offered a last ditch attempt to divert him from a life of crime.  He scoffed at it.  His uncle told him that it was either that or prison so he donned a frilly shower cap and went to work up to his elbows in flour, at the back-end of a boulangerie.


He loved it.  He excelled at it.  He could woo the soft, capricious dough into plump, golden baguettes and work in the warm cocoon of the bakery.  His day started at 3am, which was fine by him, those had been his previous working hours. This time though,he had the company of the father figure he had never had and the wondrous smells of domesticity he had never experienced in his own home.


But it didn’t stop there.  One fine day, Vincent was introduced to chocolate.  As the awards and pictures of him beaming from the walls attest, he is a Master Patissier.  Chocolate is his pliable mistress and Vincent has become a more dangerous man than he ever was. To see him work is to watch an artist.  He is totally absorbed.  Each creation is perfection and he is a hard task-master to his team.


Nowadays in France things have become very regulated.  There is always some EU nonsense directive to tell us what to do for our own good.  One of those things is that every job requires a list of qualifications and a primrose path of dalliance to attain it.  There is little room for second thoughts, for changes of direction.  To be a waiter one should have attended hotel school for at least a year and everything seems to be a tangle of red tape.  To become a boulanger takes 3 years, to become a patissier, more than that, and a Master Patissier qualification cannot be counted in time but rather the lightness of touch and the ability to communicate and coax your ingredients into a symphony.


So where has Vincent’s team sprung from?  His able assistant, Marco, is deaf and did not complete school.  He “speaks” in wild gestures and has a barking, joyous laugh.  Olivier, who I often see scooting around the village in a teeny, battery-operated car reserved for those without a licence, is debilitatingly shy.  He turns puce if you greet him and has a peculiar shuffling walk with his head listing to one side.  He can’t be older than 20 but inhabits his body as tentatively as an old man.  I have seen him scrubbing an polishing until bowls and machinery gleam.  He is always busy and does not like to be diverted from his task.


And last of all there is the lovely Laetitia, Vincent and Adele’s teenage daughter.  Her parents have leap-frogged her over the treacherous teens of their own youth into a school for boulangers.  She works for them in the holidays and will soon be qualified.


Vincent asks me if I know of any youngsters looking for a job.  There is only one requirement: they have to have a criminal record.


They are my heroes.


17 Responses to “Nuns and Bastards”

  1. sinkuenta said

    Once again your writing moves me! I insist on your talent for writing about the lives of those without a voice… Your heroes are the heroes of humankind, who teach us there is a way out for those who fight for it. I agree with you that we live in world that is so regulated that there is nothing left to improvisation, there is nowhere to go where you can be in isolation and beyond norms, as it used to be in past times. We have mistaken life for documents and diplomas that don’t prove anything but lack of experience. Go on writing and documenting the lives of the little ones!!

  2. Stacey M said

    I laughed at the beginning, two nuns and a bastard! How funny. The rest of the story took me by surprise. I would much prefer Vincent’s bakery over an “accomplished” bakery any time. What a tribute to someone who worked so hard to overcome, and a tribute to the uncle who gave him a second chance. Bravo Kerry!

  3. hope said

    This was such a fun read because you brought these people to life. I like that you found heroes in the everyday world…so many people over look them. 🙂

    I’ll be back. Hope you have a wonderful weekend!

  4. Chef Kar said

    Kerry ~ I am so pleased that I was able to spark you to recount your story. I read it with great interest and awe. As a chef myself, I can attest to the pure magic that must reside in the soul of those who work among the flour and cocoa. It was my least favorite area of study ~ the baking too precise for my wanderlust spirit, and the patience required to simply temper the chocolate more than my character could muster. Leave me to the spice and savory end of the spectrum ~ while Vincent and Adele take on the finer aspects of their craft.

    Again, the painting of your characters was pure art. I am inspired once again.

    As a side note, just the title of your story had me tugging on an olive bread beauty I was gifted by a friend yesterday from our local Patisceria. I have photos to prove it 🙂


    Chef Kar

  5. Chef Kar said

    Kerry ~ As I mentioned to you in the comments on my blog ~ I feel honored to have you in my corner. I feel I am in the company of true genius as your stories keep me so glued, waiting for every single word. To see you say, “you write so beautifully” is hard for me to accept (it’s okay, I’m in therapy for it!) but I’ll try to get used to it. I’ve always enjoyed writing as an outlet ~ usually emotional pain. Today, I write from a place of joy and adventure…of course, pain is a good muse and one that does manage to rear its ugly head from time to time.

    I am in Italy for another month ~ then back to the States for a month ~ then back here through, at least, the end of June. I have no plans for after that at this time. It will be revealed to me at some point, I am sure 🙂

    Thank you again for coming to my place.


  6. Typ0 said

    I love that this guy went from juvenile delinquent to Master Patissier. What a great story! 🙂 And i totally want to go that bakery and order two nuns and a bastard. Maybe even two bastards if i’m having a bad day. LOL

    • Hot off the press! I have been informed that there are now two kinds of bastard – a big bastard or a small one! If you are really hungry you can buy a 400g “restaurant” – big brother of the more famous baguette. Hope you’re continuing to find that wisdom you’re looking for, maybe this latest nugget of boulangerie-speak can be added to the book of knowledge. Thanks for stopping by.

  7. Liked this. A few punctuation issues – having to do with commas/periods going inside or outside the quotation marks, but overall, nice bit of prose here. Well done, Kerry.

    The Old Silly

    • Hi Marvin,
      thanks for your comments. I am soooo bad at the punctuation thing. I tend to just write in a rush and put it up there, hate to re-read it. It is a discipline I have to learn as I am very hazy on the rules of punctuation. I really appreciate your input.

  8. Monkey Man said

    I love this story and your writing style. Aiding young people to come out from the dark and live in the light of the world is a task for a true master. Your Vincent is more than a master patissier.

  9. First off, you made me hungry, I can smell the shop. Great writing can make you ravenous that way.

    What a tale of redemption.

  10. Peadar said

    Nuns and Basatards? Trés bonne!

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