Cravings and Portals

By Hazel Ebenezer

It takes me only 15 minutes to get to Le Levain today. I always start my day at this French boulangerie in Trastevere but this morning I am eager to soak up the atmosphere before my French test.

Despite the recent addition of sunset orange highlights to the glass-and-chrome door, Le Levain is still a sober affair compared to its neighboring cafes, with their outdoor seating and insistent waiters.

The entrance to Le Levain, instead, simply identified its name, showed off three sticker awards from this foodie magazine or that travel digest, and announced, at the very top, in capital letters, that it was a boulangerie for the French but a pasticceria for Italians.

The vitrine near the door displays an arrangement of various macaroons in shades of green, red, blue and yellow. No matter how hard I try, I can never associate all the colors with the correct flavours, which tempts me to try one more flavor – always just one more.

That’s how I feel about France in general – the language, the food, the place, all of it. Every time I encounter something French I can’t help but want more.

I started with the language. It was always my intention to learn French once I was fluent in Italian and had time to spare, there was nothing in the way. I’ve been studying French for just shy of a year now. I practice in the classroom, with friends, through websites and applications. I have even taken a trip to in the French Riviera. I have an accent that doesn’t quite roll over all the r’s and is always a pitch too high. But everyone assures me that more practice will fix that.

Le Levain was my step two. My knowledge of French cuisine was limited to croissants and macaroons. It was following a craving for macaroons and a quick Google search on a Friday afternoon that I found this lovely boulangerie near San Cosimato and all the French delicacies it held.

This morning I step into Le Levain – my little window into France – and I’m greeted with a smile reserved for regular customers. It makes me smile back. As I shut the door behind me, a cheery Bonjour accompanies the smell of fresh pain au chocolat and baguette avec céréales.

Yet I answer with a timid Ciao. Why? I’m not so sure myself. Maybe my reluctance to speak French has something to do with how sacred this little bakery feels to me. Too precious for my imperfect French. Yet speaking Italian at Le Levain feels wrong too, especially when the boulanger replies with her own Ciao and the spell shudders a little.

I order a pain au chocolat and a café au lait and move over to one of the high rise breakfast bar stools lining up the wall that overlooks the Vicolo outside. I should be going over my notes on Passé Composé and Les Professions for my French test but instead I dream about France.

I’ve got a habit of picking my crumbs long after the pain au chocolat is gone. I do that now while finishing my coffee. It’s nice to think I have a ritual here. That I have a regular order and a regular seat. Nothing about this regularity feels monotonous. When I get up to pay, the new receipt joins many others scattered in the deep dark corners of my purse. I prep myself, look up and shyly say “merci beaucoup” while reaching for the door. I pull it shut behind me as the words “de rien” float out into the street.

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