Ritual of return

How you experience any place is a complex tapestry woven of many threads. Weather. Light. Language. Culture. Food. It’s the last of these—what I eat—that puts the finishing touches on coming back to France. When I go to Italy, it’s the first proper Italian cappuccino that lets me know I’m back in my adopted home. When I come to France, it’s the bread. And the butter.


The baguettes made by the town baker, Gérard, are my favorite. I’ve never had one I like better than his. Crusty on the outside. Soft, airy and full of the flavor of wheat on the inside. Given the reputation of “white bread,” his is a miracle. There is nothing—nothing—insipid or weak or undecided about it. It tastes like “the staff of life” should taste.


After Day 1, I try not to indulge too often in the combination of bread and butter, but I have to give in during the first hours. This is, after all, a ritual, and a ritual loses meaning if it’s not performed properly. The butter is to this native bread what a fine olive oil is to pasta back home. But this isn’t any old butter. This is Breton butter aux cristaux de sel de Guérand. The secret, although it’s no secret at all, lies in the salt—large crystalline grains—embedded in the creamy, sunny mass.

If feeling loved, safe, warm and happy had a taste, it would be this. No wonder it is impossible to resist…at least every now and then. At least to celebrate being back.

[If you liked this post, you might also like “Salt.”]

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4 Responses to Ritual of return

  1. bagnidilucca says:

    I’m with you on the first cappuccino in Italy. It means you are home. That bread an butter looks too delicious for words – I can almost taste it. When I go to Finland I know I am home when I eat my first flat rye breadroll.

  2. Neal says:

    Great post. Food is definitely one of my favorite reminders of place. For me, when I arrive in Italy at my family’s home, a small chunk of parmiggiano, bread, and a tumbler of red wine is the warmest welcome I could ever imagine.

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