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Eclairs and Existentialism

photo: charlotte poire verveine

This is a Charlotte Poire Verveine, in case you wondered.

Paris Life - No. 16

by Laurel Avery

Paris:- Friday, 12. September:-I may have broken the world record in sugar consumption. Yesterday I met with friends at the tea room, Ladurée, which has been in business since 1862. As I walked in the door I was accosted by row upon row of diabolical confections whose only purpose is to keep Dr. Atkins and his ilk in business.

According to the information on Ladurée's web site, they use 60 tons of butter and 30 tons of chocolate annually. They neglected to list the tons of sugar used, no doubt because they would be hauled off to prison and accused of high crimes and misdemeanors.

Of the four salons located in Paris, we visited the one on the Rue Bonaparte in Saint-Germain-des-Prés. Onephoto: prussian blue room can have tea and pastries upstairs in a parlor that seems to have come right out of the pages of a Victorian novel. It is a 'Prussian Blue' room, full of low, comfortable damask-covered chairs and round tables in the Second Empire style that encourage intimate conversation, and indeed, we were there for over two hours chatting, surrounded by walls hung with 19th-century nature photographs.

The 'Prussian Blue' room.

The famous cafés, 'Les Deux Magots' and the 'Café de Flore' are just down the street, and I couldn't help but think that Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir and their other existentialist companions would have had a much more positive view of life if they had just hung out at Ladurée instead - had there been a branch there in the 1930s and '40s - but the rue Bonaparte location did not appear until 2002.

How can one be an atheist when confronted with a 'Religieuse au Chocolat,' a round, two-tiered pastry filled with chocolate cream? And pessimism goes right out the window after a few bites of a macaroon.

The existentialists, believing there was no predestined moral order, asserted that each individual must make every choice according to his own personal dictates and take full responsibility for that choice.

It's understandable, then, why they may not have enjoyed spending time at Ladurée, a place where, oncephoto: religieuse au chocolat the difficult choice is made between the 'Bayadère' - a crushed almond biscuit with vanilla cream and soft and candied apricots - and 'The Black Symphony' - cocoa biscuit layered with thin slices of Madagascar chocolate, chocolate cream, and sprinkled with chocolate bits - one must live with the fattening consequences.

A Religièuse au Chocolat.

Come to think of it, Sartre may have snuck in there when nobody was looking, because he wrote a novel titled 'La Nausée' - Nausea - caused, no doubt, by his inability to make a choice among the 40 cakes and pastries on the menu, and, by choosing both the 'Rhum Millefeuille' and the 'Chocolate Eclair,' had to live for at least a few hours with the consequences of this choice and thus, the title of the book.

I'm not sure who invented the éclair, but the word in French means 'flash of lightning.' When I discovered this I was struck by - pardon the pun - the vision of a bunch of long puffy 'choux' pastries filled with chocolate and coffee cream floating around in the sky.

It's possible that the first recipient of this pastry just dropped dead on the spot from pleasure. So if you visit Ladurée, be sure that your health insurance policy is up to date!

Text and photos, Laurel Avery © 2003
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