Starting three weeks ago, Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays I now get up earlier than anyone I know to go to the other-side of the Parisian universe to work at the patisserie Fournée d’Augustine. When I get up in the morning, I open up my blinds in the hopes of seeing some glimmer of sunshine, some small fragment of the day that is to come. Usually all I see is one lone light coming from an apartment building to the left of my room. One. One other person awake in the entirety of my window-scape. I must be folle.
Being the cheapskate that I am, instead of investing in a bag of deep-roasted caffeine-filled coffee beans that taste like glorified gourmet dirt, I’ve been splashing a sachet of green and a sachet of black store-brand tea in a coffee-mug and hoping that somehow, magically, it will give me the power and the presence to walk out my door at 6:15 in the morning to catch the metro by 6:22.
So far I’ve noticed that this can fuel me till about 10 a.m. by which point I start yawning and dropping things left and right and by which point I reach for the coffee pot, pour a glug of it into my mug, and drink it straight, black, and dark in one amer shot. Five minutes later, I am almost fully-functioning again and almost bouncing off the walls. Probably a huge indicator that I can’t handle caffeine and that it is most definitely a stimulating drug.
But anyway, the first day at the patisserie, and pre-coffee consumption, consisted of Monsieur Bernard handing me a blow-torch and waving towards a pile of mini-tartes, “Crisp the tops of the tartelettes and then let me know when you’re done.” And leaving me with a highly-explosive devise and a lighter, M. Bernard went off to focus on more impressive works of pastry wizardry.
After several failed attempts, there was finally a WOOSH and out came the flame, tickling the top of my hand.
“Ooh oww oww,” I yipped, licking and wringing my hand simultaneously to try and cool it down.
“Ah Kathryn, you put the gas all the way up. Here, turn it down and it won’t fly out as fast,” said M. Bernard reaching for and adjusting the canister of gas. After that, I just concentrated on dusting the tops of the tartelettes with cane sugar.
But progressively throughout these past three weeks, I’ve gone from almost lighting myself on fire to becoming a mild pyromaniac that jumps at the chance to handle la torche. I have also now rolled croissants, made cookies, garnished gâteaux, piped out chouquettes, and even learned how to work the fancy dough-rolling machine, albeit pressing the “go” button just a little more than necessary so that the dough ended up flying off the conveyor belt and onto the marble countertop.
During breaks, we ascend the stairs to the real-world to see how much Up Above has changed from the few hours that we’ve been below ground in the sous-sol turning out patisseries. It’s always a shock to see that in a mere few hours, the sky has gone from dark to sun-streaked and filled with bustling people on the way to work.
The bouchers across the street are usually my favorite to gawk at, primarily because they wield massive cleavers and chop off huge hunks of meat at a mile-a-minute while shouting across the street to us, “Hey pâtisiers, why are you so lazy and taking a break? Look at us! We’re really serving the public here!” To which my two patrons feel obligated to reply in lots of witty banter that amounts to the bouchers waving their cleavers around in the air in faux-aggitation while grinning ear-to-ear.
Back downstairs, we continue the banter and the pastry-making—Monsieur Bernard whistles and hums while prepping the croissant dough, Monsieur Gérard and I talk about new art exhibits while rolling the croissants.
At the end of the day, they send me upstairs in my sweater-coat-scarf ensemble, past the boulangers that look like flour-covered ghosts, and to the boutique where the dames load me down with tartelettes and bread to bring back home. I give a quick wave and a salut to everyone, and then descend back into the metro, repeating my trajectory, this time in reverse, to head from metro to home to bed.
Once home, I crack open a baguette, throw open the door of the mini-fridge, and devour lunch in approximately five seconds. And nibble on one of the tartelettes that I made that morning. Sometimes working at a patisserie has its perks…