Bastille Day

While patisseries and boulangeries are open in Paris late in the day, sadly it is not the case here in Pittsburgh. A couple of months ago I discovered an authentic French bakery here run by a French couple (the madam has ties to the region as her mom is from Pittsburgh). La Gourmandine opened in June of 2010 in Pittsburgh’s historic Lawrenceville neighborhood. It offers everything from the traditional baguette (along with other bread selections) that is baked fresh each morning to les viennnoiserie (danishes) which include the delectable pain au chocolat (chocolate croissant) to French pastries which tourists go crazy over such as eclairs au chocolat and tartelettes aux fruits (short bread crust covered with vanilla pastry cream and topped with fresh berries). When I realized that Bastille Day fell on a Saturday this year I thought it would be a perfect idea to stop at La Gourmandine for a traditional treat as a means of celebrating. Unfortunately for me, the bakery closes at 4:30 PM and so my hopes of getting a sweet French concoction faded. We ended up going to a bakery that while not at all French affiliated was opened well into the evening and so I was able to get something decidedly French-a macaron (no, not macaroon) which is a meringue-like pastry. I only got one but they are generally in all different colors and beautiful to admire from a store window. Our hotel in Paris actually had a macaron shop in the lobby which was incredibly neat. My mom is coming out to visit at the end of August so if I don’t get to La Gourmandine before then I will definitely go with her as I know she would appreciate it.


On my very first trip to Europe I visited the palace of Versailles and my opinion of it was mediocre. I don’t remember the day of the week that I went (this was back in 2003) but I do remember the mobs of people…in every room…no room to take a picture let alone admire any of the palace’s incredible features. I was also recovering from a tonsil infection (nothing says “bienvenue a Paris” like getthing a second tonsil infection in a month) and so I’m sure that contributed to my annoyed and frustrated mental disposition that day. It was only after I watched the Sofia Coppola film Marie Antoinette starring Kirsten Dunst did I learn about Petit Trianon. It is a small chateau located on the grounds of the palace of Versailles. After Marie Antoinette’s husband, Louis XVI ascended to the throne, he gave the chateau to her for her exclusive use and enjoyment; Marie longed to escape court life at Versailles and life at Petit Trianon provided her with the peace and solitude she was looking for. From pictures it looks like a beautiful spot and not as make believe as Versailles.


Although I’ve never been that interested in the history of French royals, the bulk of my knowledge probably rests with Marie Antoinette and her husband Louis XVI (as does others I’m sure). They were after all the last monarchs of France and killed for their lavish lifestyles and disconnect from the French people. On my last trip to Paris I visited La Conciergerie which is a former royal palace and prison in Paris located on Ile de la Cite, near to Notre Dame. During the French Revolution, hundreds of prisoners were taken from La Conciergerie to be executed on the guillotine including its most famous one, Marie Antoinette. The cell which housed Marie Antoinette before she was executed was converted into a chapel in her memory. Being there I couldn’t help but feel sad for a woman who never had control or say over her life but paid for it all the same.


Vive la France!
Eugene Delacroix “Liberty Leading the People”

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