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Opinion: The wand pulled off a diplomatic coup

Editor’s note: David A.Andelman, CNN contributor, two-time Deadline Club Award winner, Knight of the French Legion of Honor, author of “A Red Line in the Sand: Diplomacy, Strategy, and the History of Wars That Might Still Happen” and blogs at Andelman Unleashed. He was previously a correspondent for the New York Times in Europe and Asia and in Paris for CBS News. The opinions expressed in this commentary belong solely to the author. See more opinions on CNN.


French President Emmanuel Macron was all puffed up – in his element at the French Embassy in Washington, DC on Thursday. Surrounded by a crowd of adoring citizens who had twice elected him president, he was embarking on what he hoped would be a triumphant state visit to President Joe Biden. But above these achievements rose a singular recognition announced the very morning of his arrival.

The baguette, a French national dish, has just been included by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) on its list of “intangible cultural heritage of humanity”. For the French, however, it is far from immaterial. Although it is only a loaf of bread, it is much more than that.

Macron described it to his 8.9 million Twitter followers as “250 grams of magic and perfection in our daily lives”. And in front of a jubilant crowd during his visit to the community of French expatriates gathered at the embassy, ​​he waved a fresh baguette in sign of victory and said: “Here, in these few centimeters of bread, passed from hand to hand, there is exactly the same spirit of French know how.”

This know how was what UNESCO recognized as “craftsmanship” passed down from generation to generation to create a “unique sensory experience”. It is for this reason that the baguette is not just the simple common ingredients – flour, water, salt and yeast – but the deep experience and skill required to make them that explains the reality.

There are as many different baguettes as there are bread machines, and have been for generations. Indeed, there are long loaves that date back to France in the 16th century or earlier, although historically most French loaves have been round and fairly dense, according to Jim Chevallier, author of “About the Baguette: Exploring the Origin of a French National Icon”. .” BaguetteFrench for baguette, was used long before long, thin bread – up to 3 feet long – took the name. Magic wand, for example, has been for centuries a magic wand.

There are probably apocryphal stories that the baguette was baked in its present form for Napoleon’s soldiers so they could be put on their trouser legs without having to add a heavy round loaf to their backpacks. But the modern baguette, with its current name, really got its start after World War I, when the right flour and the right oven arrived in France. In the early 1920s it was adopted by France and the French everywhere they traveled.

Throughout French-speaking Africa, the baguette took hold in the French and Belgian colonies – and persisted throughout their independence. In Cameroon, when flour prices jumped after the Russian boycott of wheat shipments from Ukraine, bakers turned to sweet potato flour to satisfy the relentless demand for baguettes. There was an outcry in the Democratic Republic of Congo in April when baguette prices jumped – up 50% to 36 cents a loaf for the biggest ones, a penny for the smallest ones – and drove to fears that there are, more broadly, tougher times ahead. (This price, moreover, is barely a third of what the largest wand fresh at Gosselin, the famous bakery a stone’s throw from my house on boulevard Saint-Germain on the left bank of Paris.)

But frankly, I prefer the smaller one Chocolate Viennese, a baguette-shaped bun of a slightly softer texture with dark chocolate chunks throughout. Indeed, Vienna happens to have played an important role in the development of the modern baguette. It was the Viennese “steam ovens”, imported to Paris in the 19th century, that made it possible to quickly and reliably bake long, narrow bread with a thin crispy crust.

As for what makes a good baguette, Ian Botnick, a classically trained baker and pastry chef in Austin, Texas, told me in an email exchange that “the best baguette has a crispy crust that comes from baking well. steamed, and a soft interior with consistent holes big enough to fill my baguette slice with butter but not so big that the structure of the slice is lost. This can only happen in “a multi-day process to develop the dough and bake it.A mediocre baguette hasn’t been steamed in the oven, so it doesn’t have a very nice crust.

In the end, it took years of campaigning by a regiment of French bakers, or bakers, to convince UNESCO that their work deserved international recognition. And a little help from Macron, who certainly knows this French national dish well.

At La Rotonde, his favorite restaurant on Montparnasse, they order 70 every day. And they don’t even serve them in the first bread basket that sits on every table – only when specifically requested.

But more than 6 billion baguettes are made every day in France. Just this week, I had a crumbled toasted baguette in a bowl of delicious hot pumpkin soup at Brasserie Le Bourbon across from Place de l’Assemblee Nationale. Another bread was sliced ​​to wrap my “mixed sandwich” (ham, cheese, pickles on baguette) at Les Saveurs rue de Bellechasse.

And the wand followed Macron all over Washington. When he traveled to the State Department to visit Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who grew up as a child in Paris, Blinken “France welcomed me, educated me, inspired me – I doubt I would have been there if I hadn’t been there. This quickly taught me something that everyone in France knows but which since yesterday has been officially recognized by UNESCO: the French baguette is a world cultural treasure.

But then the secretary of state had another idea for Macron.

“As my mother who is here today can attest, I would probably add the Chocolate bread so that,” Blinken said. “So maybe we can work on that.”

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