Friday, June 25, 2010

My Parisian vacation

At the library of the Alliance Israélite Universelle, it occurred to me that the best way to keep track of what I did when research-wise was to keep some kind of brief log of what I do when. Et voilà.

My dissertation, for the hordes of massively curious, is, and has been for some time, on Jews and intermarriage in 19th and early 20th century France. I'm interested less in the sentimental aspects of the question than in the role the question and at times reality of such unions played in how Jews and non-Jews alike understood Jews' place in France. I'm also less set on getting exact figures (both because I'm not a sociologist and more to the point because France doesn't seem to have kept the sort of records that would provide the complete info.) than on figuring out what intermarriage represented and how it was experienced when it actually occurred. Finally, whereas the bulk of scholarly literature on Jews and intermarriage that I've found (none centered on the French case during these years) takes a clear stance for or against, using the past to make a specific argument about the present, I'm not going that route. I'm neither celebrating the few who married out as the only true open-minded Jews of their era, nor condemning them as the foreshadowing of large-scale assimilation to come.

So that's the general idea. The log of what I'm doing probably won't go into the nuances of whatever arguments I end up coming up with, but this gives something of a background.


Withywindle said...

Just catching up on the pastries issue ... I asked my sister, who's lived in Paris for a few years, to comment. Here's what she says -- she gives me permission to post.

To answer the question in the blog--yes, pastry and coffee are an American thing. Or rather, they are not a French thing, but I can't swear America is the only country to eat coffee and donuts or a danish at breakfast.

[My partner's] brother [X] and his girlfriend [X] were shocked by and then converted to donuts on their trip to NYC. The idea of eating donuts, danishes, jelly rolls, etc for breakfast seems as strange to French people as eating a slice of chocolate frosted cake for breakfast would seem to us. Pastries are a dessert item or an afternoon snack item over here. From a nutrition standpoint, it seems completely culturally arbitrary--a bowl of CocoaPuffs, a donut, a bowl of hot chocolate with toast, croissant au beurre--they're all just variations on a flour, fat & sugar theme.

But aren't croissants pastries? you ask. Actually it is debatable whether croissants and pain au chocolat are pastry or bakery items. Both boulangeries and patisseries offer them, but it is usually to a boulangerie that the French man goes to get his morning croissant. Boulangeries typically open by 7am, patisseries not so much.

A croissant and a coffee are indeed typical morning fare. Croissants are usually available from the boulangerie, (the baker), as well as the patisserie (the pastry shop). It is true that many cafes do not sell croissants and let you bring them in to enjoy with your coffee. I guess this is because people like to buy them fresh from the bakery. And also bc croissants are tremendously time consuming to make and not cost effective for anyone except a bakery. (One of the most ridiculous scenes --and there's competition for that title--in the Meryl Streep movie "It's Complicated", is when she bakes fresh croissants or pain au chocolat for Steve Martin's character on a date and they eat them. Ha, ha, ha-ha, ha. Was that a 12 hour date? It takes that long to make croissants and pain au chocolat!) If you see croissants in a cafe or restaurant, they definitely sourced them off premises. So they are not as fresh. Which brings me back to my point about people wanting to buy them from the bakery.

Phoebe said...

Ignoramus that I am, I was aware of both the difference between a boulangerie and a patisserie, and of the fact that opera cake isn't typically a breakfast food. (My boyfriend's much stricter than I am on which baked goods do and don't count as breakfast foods, so I guess this is more of a rule in Belgium as well?)

That said, I haven't seen too many (any?) boulageries here that aren't also patisseries, with a wide range of beyond-croissant options, and believe me, I look in the window of all I pass. Aside from the truly famous ones (Poilane is definitely a boulangerie), I can't think of ever having seen this divide in action.

But thank your sister for passing on the info re: the acceptability of bringing a croissant into a cafe! I've spent enough time being glared at or chastised for ignoring social norms this past week, it's a relief that this is not the faux-pas of the century.