It wasn’t really the Festival of Pain but the Festival de Pain (festival of bread). But I still find it curious that the word ‘pain’, pronounced ‘pahn‘ in French, can have two completely different meanings in two different languages.
Bare with me as I attempt to establish a connection between the two.
I was in pain after I walked into the tented makeshift bakery just outside Notre Dame to witness the festival of French bread bakers, because the smell of freshly baked pain hit my stomach and instantly rendered me starving.
This hunger pain, turned to physical pain as hundreds of people pushed themselves up to the counters eager to snatch up free samples. (In fact, I still have a very large black bruise on my arm). Nonetheless, in need of pain, I managed to squeak up to the front of one counter and my effort was repaid with a whole free piping hot baguette.
No pain no gain. Or rather: no gain no pain.
The artistry that went into making some of these loaves must have been painstakingly difficult. I mean, look at the ribbons and detail work made of just water and flour! Who knew such creativity was possible?
Perhaps these bakers should be called painters instead?
And then of course there’s the historical connection between pain and pain, The French Revolution, that left many nobles headless because of their failure to aid the starving working class. Those crabby peasants.
We all know that Marie Antoinette’s famous quote, “Let them eat cake” was really not in reference to a Betty Crocker gâteau but rather a tasty type of French bread that is cake-like, called brioche.
In theory the Queen’s statement, “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche” was really a good suggestion. Brioche is higher in nutritional value containing an outrageous amount of butter and egg yolks. In those days fancy breads were sold at higher prices and normal bread was price fixed (and still is to some degree).
The Queen’s idea to make brioche the same price as bread so the working class could eat well was probably better intended than history has suggested. Nonetheless, if you can’t buy bread at any price, fixed or not, heads are going to roll.
My head went happily back to my apartment munching my free hot baguette. Thinking, all the way home, of the significance one food item could have in a country’s history: the prestige and honor of the profession of bread baking today and the suffering and bloodshed that lack of the product has caused.
France has taken great pains to achieve it’s status as ‘best bread in world’ and I can’t think of a country more deserving of this title, all things considered.