The Day the Village had No Bread

Our life here has its Clochemerle moments (explanation below). I experienced one of them yesterday when our local village had no bread. Bread is not just the staff of life to a French person; it’s an essential accompaniment to every meal. Yesterday, there was a whiff of revolution, which I compounded.

Clochemerle is a novel by Gabriel Chevallier, published in 1934.  A TV adaptation was screened in the UK during the 1970s. The town council of Clochemerle decides to erect a urinal in the village, but this decision splits the inhabitants into two opposing camps. Eventually, the anti-camp blows up the offending convenience with dramatic and remarkably authentic-looking results. The series was a kind of leitmotif for French local life. Whilst it’s clearly over-exaggerated, it does have a certain relation to reality.

Some friends kindly invited our walking group for apéritifs following yesterday’s walk. When we arrived, we realised that this was not just a drink with a few nibbles, but a three-course meal.

Our hostess told us there was a bread crisis: both boulangeries in the village were closed. On a Wednesday? This is virtually unheard-of.

Normally, the tabac comes to the rescue, since it’s a depôt de pain for the boulangerie in the next village. Alas, the boulanger had forgotten to put salt in the bread, so the first fournée (batch) was no good and a new batch had to be hastily prepared. Sod’s law was operating with a vengeance.

French bread - PhotoXpress
French bread – PhotoXpress

So our hosts ordered four flûtes to be collected later. Having offered to help, I was duly despatched to fetch them. A group of disconsolate-looking locals had collected near the door of the tabac.

“Are you queuing?” I asked.

As one, they nodded balefully. The bread shelves were empty and it was ten to twelve: almost lunchtime.

Out came the lady who runs the tabac.

“Hasn’t the bread arrived yet?” I said, expecting an extended delay.

She shook her head. I explained that my friend had ordered four loaves and had sent me to collect them.

“Oh yes! I put aside some loaves from the earlier delivery.”

She handed them over. I then had to run the gauntlet of the folk queuing for the later delivery. I felt their gaze raking me and the bread like machine-gun fire.

Clutching the bread to my chest, I made it onto the street, only to be confronted by the local menuisier (carpenter).

“Has the bread arrived?” he said, his face lighting up.

“Not exactly,” I said, and explained why I had bread when no one else did.

“I’ll buy it from you,” he said, only half joking.

As other bread-less people descended the street towards the tabac, there was a distinct sense of discontent. I judged it prudent to beat a hasty retreat. I may leave it a few days before venturing into the village again…

You might also like:

French Bread
A Year in the Life of a French Commune
Five Curiosities in Caylus
Meilleurs Voeux Before the World Ends

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  1. That story certainly resonates with me, Vanessa. Our last boulanger opened seven days a week and this one closes on Mondays. What will they do? I wondered. Riot? It turns out they buy twice on Sundays and put a loaf into the second most important thing in their life – the freezer!


    • One boulangerie closes on a Monday; the other on a Wednesday. If the Wednesday one was away on holiday, there was no bread on a Monday. Now the tabac supplies it every day, I think. It’s clearly a serious matter, though.


    • Not at short notice, I suppose. And people tend not to make their own bread around here. We do, but that’s because we wasted a lot of it – it never keeps – and it was a pain going to the boulangerie every day.


  2. I can’t begin to imagine the horror! I imagine you needed every ounce of your British steel to walk that walk 🙂


  3. Now Vanessa, what is really worrying me is why did the boulanger forget to put the salt in? He’s probably hanging his head in shame in sone quiet corner…must be a story in there…boulangers don’t forget the salt unless there is a very good reason…


    • There has been considerable speculation about this and various possible reasons have been put forward (some of them less than generous). It does seem quite an omission. At the time, however, the locals were more concerned about getting their bread in time for lunch.


  4. Yes, I too ran the gauntlet of the most miserable looking bunch of locals in the Tabac. Fortunately, half an hour later the world started to spin on its axis again as the delivery of new bread arrived, and it was beautifully warm….


    • Are you sure you WEREN’T one of the miserable bunch of locals? I saw someone who uncannily resembled you. But I clutched my bread to my chest (nice and warm it was, too – the bread, not the chest) and charged through the hostile phalanxes. Not a good day to be a foreigner…


  5. That is pretty funny! Would never think that a bread-less town would make it hard for the French to function. We don’t typically buy baguettes here, it’s the pre-cut slices of loaves that are popular here. I suppose the Americans might riot if there were no peanut butter/cream cheese (what we like to put on our bagels here) at the grocery store?


    • It was almost a catastrophe yesterday. And, to add insult to injury, a foreigner comes in and walks off with the bread from under their noses! I guess every nation has its staples that it can’t do without. For the Brits, it might be marmalade (although I’m a bit out of date on British tastes).


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