Architect and urban planner by training, Philippe Trétiack is a journalist and writer. He has been a reporter for thirty years and collaborates with several magazines, including Vanity Fair, ELLE Décoration and Air France Magazine … As an author, he has published some twenty books including Faut-il pendre les architectes ? (Seuil, 2001), De notre envoyé spécial (Editions de l’Olivier, 2015), and L’Architecture à toute vitesse (Seuil, 2016). In AA’s pages, Philippe Trétiack decodes, with a certain sense of humour, the architectural jargon in the Quid ? column. In AA 430, he dives into “Bread publisher”.
There once was a time when bakers tickled hot cross buns rather than the muse. Gobs covered in flour, they kneaded, fondled, and shoved big bâtard loaves and bread sticks into hot ovens, rejoicing at the sight of golden brown crusts, curvy loaves and flaky apple turnovers. However, tormented by the tax man and glazed with VAT, they were losing sleep. Suddenly, one bright and sunny morning, they woke up and were authors! Ever since, shop signs no longer signal to customers the weight of baguettes but instead, of words. At every intersection shops managed by poets are popping up like mushrooms. This one here swears he’s a “bread publisher” (organic of course). That one over there loudly proclaims the forthcoming opening of a “cakes of emotion” pastry shop. Yet another has opened a pub christened a “thirst merchant” and the next door neighbour is inaugurating a “Macaron Boutique”. There is so much emotion pouring out of their shop windows, it wouldn’t take much for these artists to launch a campaign for a Booker Prize or even a BAFTA Award. Nowadays, doing one’s shopping is like going to the theatre because The Seagull is buried right underneath that loaf. Chekhov in viennoiseries, who would have believed it? These rolling pin intellectuals, wizards of wheat stooks and poetasters of cream puffs, have confused their millefeuilles for a volume of the Pleiade Library.
Though it is true that compared to the price of a tartlet, the complete works of Marc Levy are a steal! But that’s just the way it is. Snobbery swept along by the tsunami of urban gentrification. And business is booming. With their “dining cellars”, their “inventive bistros” and their “amazing sandwiches”, city shopkeepers have discovered in their gilt-edged clientele a gold mine to match their ambitions. With Jean-Luc Mélenchon now a self-styled avatar of Robespierre, the bread publisher imagines himself a Gallimard. He wants us to flip our fingers through his flaky pastries; that is his main goal.
Far from deserving sarcasm, these shopkeepers are a symptom. Facing the juggernaut transforming our neighbourhoods into candy boxes and miniature gardens of Eden, they are adapting. A revanchist General Boulanger is dozing behind every oven, ready to take by storm any remaining authenticity in our glossy cities. Between the filthy kebab and the 18-carat Paris-Brest there is nothing, other than rubbish bins, speed bumps, headless scooters and bicycles without headlamps. But so what! If the most mundane act is now paired with the magic of a trade name like Hugo’s The Legend of the Ages, each will puff out his chest and raise up high his honeycombed banner: a “traditional” baguette. Every age salutes the flags it deserves. So how does one recognise a gentleman? By the fact that he knows how to play bagpipes but refrains from doing so. It would be well advised to do likewise with all this hokum. Overdoing it leads to the same negative effects: starting with headaches and ending with stomach aches. But that is merely wishful thinking. Grandiloquence is like dough, it swells. When it finally explodes, we’ll be gobsmacked.
Find Philippe Trétiack’s Quid in L’Architecture d’Aujourd’hui Nr. 430, available here.