Article Published in THE HINDUSTAN TIMES

A Continental Breakfast

Navtej Sarna

“I’M just making an egg for you. Why don’t you run along and buy some bread?” With these words, my hostess gently hinted that if I wanted breakfast I would have to move a quick shoe down the long flight of stairs. The host, bless him, had vanished for an early morning appointment.

Armed with a French vocabulary only slightly longer than my shopping list, I moved down the steps and onto the cobbled street. I was confident. After all, I only had to say “En baguette, s’il vous plait”, hand over a fiver and bring back the change along with a long loaf of the tastiest bread in the world.

The morning was pleasant and sunny. Cheery pedestrians lazed along the narrow streets of Tours. All was well with this charming little university town in Central France. I turned the corner, and there, as my meticulous hostess had informed me, stood the shop- the patisserrie. All seemed to be where it should be except that it was closed. I turned away. And then stopped. Surely in this pretty town there must be more than one patisserrie.

Convinced of this I began to move along the streets. Past the old town with its magnificent buildings and little squares. A pleasant breeze blew in from the wine country not too far away. I began to pass one closed patisserie after another. But my conviction did not shake. Surely the wise citizen of Tours would not be going without his daily bread today. A quarter of an hour and many cobbled streets later, I began to have doubts. Perhaps the citizen of Tours did not like bread. Perhaps all the bakers had gone for a picnic by the banks of the river Loire.

And then, I saw it. A schoolboy with a long loaf of bread in his hand munching away as he walked. Not knowing enough of the language to ask him the source of his riches, I raced along the street that he had come. I turned by instinct at a couple of cross roads. Past fountains and merry market places, muttering “En baguette, s’il vous plait” so as not to forget it. When confusion began to dull the enthusiasm, I saw an old lady with a pink scarf on her bent head, heading homeward with the loaf clutched tightly. I rushed past her and almost missed the patisserrie.

Open as much as it was possible to be open, the shop beckoned. I walked in and stared dumbly at the cakes, pastries, breads and a hundred unpronounceable French delicacies. A smiling lady somehow deciphered my “En baguette, s’il vous plait” and handed me the desired object.

By the time I got back to the street the name of which I did not know, I had seen the rest of the charming town of Tours. I found a note at the door, scribbled by my frantic hostess, asking me to wait right there unless I was in the hospital or in the police station. By the time she got back I had munched through most of my baguette. In any case, they wouldn’t have to take me for a guided tour of the town.