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The Charming Mountain Goat – When Bernard the Baker Died

January 19th, 2009 · No Comments · Charming Mountain Goat, French Food

Two years and a few weeks ago, Bernard the baker died. Passing the closed wooden front door of the bakery in the Grande Rue, a cluster of burning candles lit the dark spot where the road turns slightly. Instinctively, we understood this silent vigil. The bakery had been closed for nearly two months, while Bernard had been in hospital. It was two days before Christmas.

Bernard had been famous and infamous well beyond the village boundaries. Stumble upon someone in Nice, mentioning your home village, strangers would immediately ask: “Do you know Bernard the baker in the Grande Rue?!” His fame was built on his mastery of the village-owned wood oven, which he had managed for years, producing croissants and bread artisanal, which tasted smoky and slightly hard, but like nothing else in the canton.

Surprisingly the new style bakery further along the road, run by M. Le Boulanger and Mrs Bakerlady, and Bernard the baker were not in competition with each other, although each of us always felt a little disloyal if we bought bread from one and not the other.

His fame was also built on his generosity towards children or anyone passing for that matter, sharing the fruits of his labour liberally. Using water from the local spring, the bread was so perfectly balanced that by the evening Bernard’s baguettes had turned to the consistency of a stone. The joke was always that if you hadn’t eaten his bread by the end of the day, you always had a handy weapon ready should anyone break into your property during the night.

His infamy however rose from a darker place. Catch him before 7am and he would be the most charming, intelligent and philosophical man you could meet. Any time after that, drink would transform him into an unpredictable, tormented, querulous character wrenched out of a Dostoyevsky novel and dropped into the bright burning golden sun. Somehow you knew it would not end well.

Throughout the day, as he was putting the used ash from the wood oven into the metal barrels behind the bakery, the mountain of empty beer bottles rose at the same speed. He walked around hunched and unkempt, would sit on his chair by the door of the bakery and mutter to himself. Should you pass on a bad day he was capable of berating you loudly, commenting on items of clothing and other unrelated subjects. Whatever anguish he tried to tame and dazzle with the poisoned liquid eventually defeated him.

Those who had known him over the years and had spent time discussing the more profound things in life all attested to his kindness, his high intelligence and his great heart.

His mother buried Bernard just after Christmas. You can still see her walking the village streets with her dog, her head slightly bent, lost in thought.

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