A specter is haunting Paris - the specter of automotive culture war.
Okay, okay - my adapting the opening line of the Communist Manifesto may be a tad hyperbolic, but the battle being waged in the streets of Paris is rather interesting nevertheless.
Driving in Paris is not for the faint of heart. The streets are small, confusing, and jammed with thousands of motorists - all in a very big hurry. But driving is nothing compared to the challenge of parking.
People will park anywhere there is a space in Paris. In-fact, the city has taken to placing cement barriers on many sidewalks to insure they remain walks versus parks. And while the most common adaptation to this dilemma for many Parisians has been to simply choose a motor-scooter, the car driving population has gone in two opposing directions; big versus small.
The big usually means something American or German; the small something Italian or French. Mercedes versus Renault. Cadillac versus Fiat. But the overwhelming majority of cars in Paris remain small.
Indeed, seeing a big Mercedes or Cadillac still kinda' jolts me when I'm walking down a Parisian street. It's kind of like seeing a big oil tanker in the pond at your neighborhood park. But incredibly, they're there. And usually circling around looking for a parking place.
I don't envy either of them - but in my very unscientific poll, I noticed many more parked Fiats and a fleet of circling Mercedes.
I think I know who's winning the war.
The ambassador from France
It is nearly impossible to find a bad baguette in Paris. And this really shouldn't be too surprising since, next to the Eiffel Tower, the baguette may be the most universally recognized symbol of France on Earth. In-fact, it is the French cultural ambassador par excellence. Some form of the baguette can be found in every corner of the planet, no matter how remote.
Yet, even though you can find a baguette everywhere - nowhere is it as good as it is in France. A good bakery in any other part of the world usually boasts that their baguettes are baked fresh daily. In Paris, most boulangeries bake fresh baguettes twice a day. At least.
To a Parisian few things are more disagreeable than to find oneself at dinner with only the morning batch of baguettes available. Quelle horreur! And for millions of tourists each year, one of the highlights of their trip is that first bite of a crisp, still warm from the oven baguette as they stroll down a Parisian boulevard.
But as good as they are, even a fresh baguette can start to seem somewhat ordinary after a while. Stay in Paris long enough and they start to fall prey to the 'if you've tasted one, you've tasted them all' syndrome. Oh, they're still delicious - but somewhat indistinguishable from one boulangerie to the next.
Fortunately, a new trend is emerging in France which provides a tasty antidote to this syndrome of ordinariness. I stumbled upon an example of this one day deep in the heart of Montmartre. I knew this boulangerie was something special the moment I walked in.
From the multi-colored ceiling that seemed like a Matisse creation to the captivating 3-D pattern on the floor, this place just exuded uniqueness. This is the GC Artisan Boulangerie, 22 rue Caulaincourt. http://gontran-cherrier-boulanger.com/index.php?lang=en#/
The GC stands for Gontran Cherrier, the culinary artist behind the creations in this delightfully offbeat boulangerie. And when you catch your first whiff of their signature curry baguette, you are transported. As you bite into a warm sample slice of this meld of east and west, the crispy freshness and subtle Indian flavor immediately seduces you. But your journey has just begun.
Follow your nose to the chickpea and lemon multi-grain baguette designed to accompany fish. Bliss. Move on to the focaccia blended with olive oil and aromatic herbs, the "gallette des rois" (traditional Epiphany cake) baked with pistachio, lime, and almond cream - or Panettone suffused with orange peel, lemons, raisins, and bergamot; each display becomes a spellbinding discovery.
Genius & genius
Nothing about this place is ordinary - and everything is delicious. And every genre of taste is accommodated. From paprika buns filled with cooked beef and coriander, to those filled with a vegetarian mix of marrow seeds and cumin - creativity and genius sings from each display.
And the fact that GC is not near a metro stop is a blessing in-disguise since it compels you to walk through one of the most charming, and truly Parisian neighborhoods anywhere in the capital.
Few tourists make it this far, which provides you with a truly original and organic slice of French neighborhood culture - and a surefire remedy for everything ordinary about visiting a Parisian boulangerie.
Bon appétit !
This week two men were executed in different prisons here in the United States. Troy Davis was one of them, and his case received nationwide attention because there was considerable doubt about his guilt.
And as last minute appeals to grant him a stay of execution were heard, nearly every news station in America covered the story live. Here was yet another case of a black American being put to death, in-spite of doubts about his guilt - and America was troubled.
Meanwhile, earlier that same evening, a man convicted of a brutal, racially motivated murder, was executed in Texas. And millions around the nation cheered.
This man, Lawrence Russell Brewer, was a white man who had killed a black man by dragging him chained behind his truck for two miles - simply because he was black. It was a heinous hate-crime, and Mr. Brewer received little sympathy as he headed for the gallows.
But as thousands stood outside the prison (and millions more watched on television) and protested Mr. Davis' execution - nothing of the kind occurred in Texas. Indeed , for many, he couldn't be executed fast enough. However, there was one man there - protesting the execution of this white racist. There was a voice raised to say "This is wrong." And it was the voice of a black man who had himself often been on the receiving end of racist behavior. Yet here he stood to oppose the execution of one of the most evil of racists imaginable. This man was Dick Gregory.
A Slap to the Face
I first heard Dick Gregory speak in 1969, when I was a freshman in college at a little farm town in Washington State named Pullman; home to Washington State University. I remember him saying "I've never been here before, and even though this is a little all-white town in the middle of nowhere - I could find and buy heroin within three hours." That comment hit me like a slap in the face. It said to me, "you think you're in some protected bubble here? Well, there are no protective bubbles my friend. Reality is everywhere." And over his long career - Dick Gregory has slapped a lot of faces - and made many think the same thing I did, so long ago.
Lawrence Brewer. Less outrageous?
Dick Gregory became famous as a comedian. He was part of the first generation of so-called "cross-over" black comedians (negro, back then) that were allowed to present their material to white audiences. Hugh Hefner booked him into the Chicago Playboy Club in the early 60's - and he was on his way. He was funny. And safe. Along with other pioneering black comedians like Bill Cosby and Nipsy Russell, he delivered a tame sort of humor that white America could handle, while adjusting to the fact that he was "a negro".
But as time went on - he became less safe. He became a mentor to Cassius Clay - probably the most hated black man in America at the time. And when Clay became a Muslim and changed his name to Muhammed Ali, the association further weakened his acceptability in white America.
Mr. Gregory then became a vocal and articulate critic of the war in Viet Nam. And white America pushed him further aside. And when Dick became a vegetarian - now he was deemed certifiably weird - and definitely no longer safe.
Once weighing 350 pounds, drinking a fifth of Scotch and smoking four packs of cigarettes a day - his transformation both physically and ideologically troubled white America. Not only was he no longer safe - he had become downright threatening. And his days as a mainstream comedian were over.
Felony face slapper
But Dick has stuck around, and continued to be the man he transformed himself into. His acerbic wit and unusual life-style have been challenging America's cultural pillars for over 50 years now. He has remained a fixture on the cultural periphery, a sort of modern Mark Twain, pointing to America's warts and blemishes and reminding us all that we're not nearly as cute as we think we are.
So when I saw him outside that Texas prison the other day - I wasn't really surprised. He was once again delivering a sharp 'slap to the face' of America. His presence there was a rebuke to the hypocrisy of those who opposed an unjust execution on the one hand, while they cheered a "just" one with the other. His presence and opposition to the killing of one of the most vile people to ever walk this Earth was a clarion call for moral consistency. For integrity.
I too had, deep within, cheered Mr. Brewer's execution. I remember thinking to myself, "Good. I hope he rots in hell." But as I saw Dick Gregory silently standing there - saying no to death, and yes to humanity - I once again felt that sharp slap in the face he first delivered to me as a young college student. And I felt pure, unadulterated shame for what I had just thought about this man's execution.
And for instilling that feeling of shame and self-embarrassment in me, I have only one thing to say to Dick Gregory.
Hidden in plain sight
Legend has it that Mark Twain once said "The coldest winter I ever spent, was a summer
in San Francisco." And whether he really said that or not, the sentiment is quite accurate. Ask anyone who has ever visited here in the summer - or almost any other time of year - and they'll confirm that The City
is normally a rather chilly place.
San Francisco's summer
arrives later than most (usually mid-September) and lasts only a month. And even at that, the fog still rolls in each evening - so you want to make sure you're never far from a sweater. Or a parka
But summer is
finally here - and the normally sparsely populated beaches of The City
actually begin to fill-up with sun bathers, joggers and fisherman as we try and catch our small allotment of rays. And one of the best places to do this is Baker Beach
It's a spot that few tourists ever get to - which is a shame since it is really one of America's best, and most scenic beaches. Even when it's cold and foggy.
The Marin Headlands
Located on the ocean-side of the Golden Gate Bridge, it affords a magnificent view of both the bridge and the Marin headlands on the other side. The beach is about a mile long, starting in the Presidio and running all the way to The City's
posh Sea Cliff neighborhood.
Behind the beach you'll find a nice picnic area with tables and barbeque pits, full restroom facilities, and ample parking. It's also on the municipal bus route for easy access. http://www.sfmta.com/cms/home/sfmta.php
And when the weather is really nice, the end closest to the bridge is a semi-official nude beach area - for those who despise "tan-lines. It's not really legal - but remember - this is San Francisco we're talking about.
It's a great spot to spend all, or part, of your day and definitely should be on any visitors itinerary of 'must see' places in The City.
And remember - even though it's summer
- don't forget your sweater.
My first show in 1975
Each summer and fall the parks of the Bay Area are home to outdoor performances of what may be the most unique, and is certainly the most politically progressive, theatrical group in the entire nation.
The San Francisco Mime Troupe
is now in its 51st year of bringing politically left street theater to Bay Area audiences - and they wrap-up this season's round of free outdoor shows next week-end in Walnut Creek.http://www.sfmt.org/schedule/index.php
Each summer brings a new musical comedy production - and each production is a scintillatingly witty and penetrating look at social and political issues in today's world.
I first saw the Mime Troupe in 1975 at San Francisco's Dolores Park when they performed Hotel Universe
- a show about a popular struggle in The City
to maintain affordable housing for the elderly. And since then I've seen more of their performances than I can remember.
This year's production
The collective of actors and writers who produce the plays receive no corporate funding and pretty much rely on donations to keep going each year. Their performances are free, with the 'hat' passed around after each show. The productions employ a portable stage and set which they haul around the Bay Area each year in their signature truck sporting a big red star.
Over the years the Mime Troupe has satirized everything from the Reagan Revolution, the war in Iraq, the loss of manufacturing in the US, the rise of the religious right - to this year's production of 2012 - The Musical. And don't be thrown by the word Mime. They use the word in its traditional sense meaning to mimic.
Each performance is accompanied by live music with original songs written by Mime Troupe personnel. And the music is always one of the highlights of the show, with jazzy arrangements and spot-on satirical lyrics. It's like attending an outdoor musical cabaret written and produced by Che Guevara. And it's as San Francisco as anything gets.
Their last three performances this year are all this week - so if you're in town and want to see a truly special phenomena that could only exist here - you still have time.
When most people around the world think of California beaches, they think Southern California. San Diego or Santa Barbara immediately come to mind. Or places like Venice Beach near LA, which regularly appears in films of every genre.
And this is understandable since beaches tend to make people think of laying in the sun and frolicking in the water. That's what a beach is all about, right?
Well, as someone who knows the California coastline quite well, I'm always a tad surprised at how little people know about the many beaches of Northern California.
This is unfortunate since the 400 mile stretch of coastline from Santa Cruz all the way to Oregon is home to, in my humble view, the most varied and beautiful beaches in all of California.
So as a service to beach lovers coming to California, today I begin a series of posts on the beaches of the San Francisco Bay Area. And while this is just a small sampling of all that Northern California has to offer, it is a very high quality sampling. Each of these beaches is either in San Francisco - or within 30 minutes of The City. And each is unique and well worth knowing about.
Evening at the beach
We begin a little north of San Francisco, just across the Golden Gate Bridge in Marin County. There are many great beaches in Marin (and I'll be covering most of them), but one of my favorites is Muir Beach. It's a small, intimate space; resting in a little inlet along the Marin headlands.
Completely surrounded by tall hills, it is virtually hidden. In-fact, if you didn't know it was there, you could easily drive right past it without knowing.http://www.muirbeach.com/
This is a beach for social living; for being with friends and amongst people. It's compactness does not really lend itself to long contemplative strolls or solitude. This is more of a place to sit, enjoy, and share.
Muir Beach is one of those kind of places where you can build a campfire right on the sand, pull some drift-logs around it, and sit sipping wine while you barbeque with friends. And it is extremely popular with locals for just that reason.
And while you are certainly welcome to go in the water - this is really not a swimmer's beach. The weather is cool, the water cold, and fog is a frequent visitor.
But with a sweatshirt, stocking cap and shorts, you can spend many comfortable hours here. And if you get the itch to move around, there are hiking trails leading up into the surrounding hills, which have the added benefit of offering some truly magnificent views of the beach, nearby Mt. Tam, and the Marin Headlands.
A lot of effort has gone into keeping Muir Beach natural. Redwood Stream runs into Muir Beach from nearby Mt. Tamalpais, and is the source of the beautiful marsh behind the beach.
Over the last several years The National Park Service has put a lot of effort into restoring this marsh to create a functional and self-sustaining eco-system. Their efforts have been rewarded with both a thriving marsh and the return of Coho Salmon spawning to the creek.
And one of my favorite activities at the beach is observing the many kinds of birds that frequent the area. Pelicans soar over the water searching for prey - and then diving into the ocean like missiles to make their catch.
Large spotted owls can be heard and seen during calm fall evenings. As you stroll along the sand, keep an eye on the waves and you will often catch sight of sea otters playfully surfing. And if you're lucky, you'll catch an early morning or late evening glimpse of a hunting bobcat.
At low tide you can access the large coastal rocks at the beach, where you'll see clams, starfish, mussels, and any number of aquatic creatures.
Pull-up a log & build a fire
Access and Facilities
The restrooms at Muir Beach are in the parking lot and were recently refurbished. There are also pic-nic tables and enclosed barbeque stoves provided in the parking area. Beach access is provided by a wooden walkway across the marsh.
Adjacent to the beach along Highway 1 is a lovely English style restaurant called The Pelican Inn. It's a great place to warm-up after a cool afternoon at the beach, and offers a full range of delicious libations and food. You can even rent a room there.http://pelicaninn.com/
To get to Muir Beach from San Francisco, take the Golden Gate Bridge north. Go past the exits for Sausalito, over a big hill, and follow the signs for Stinson Beach as you come down the other side. You'll then follow highway 1 over another big hill till you get to the coast - and the beach.
And as you sit there soaking in the atmosphere, congratulate yourself on being among the very few visitors to San Francisco to make it to this Bay Area gem. Enjoy!
Is it true?
Is Québec in Canada?
Seems like a simple question, answerable with a quick peek at a map. Yet each time I return and my friends at home ask me how my trip to "Canada" was, I always hesitate for a moment and have to ask myself, "what trip to Canada?" Then I remember the map, and I mutter a colloquial reply of some sort.
But the fact is, when I'm in the province of Québec, I never really feel like I'm in Canada. When I travel to Vancouver, or Toronto, or Ottawa - yes - I know I'm in Canada. But Montréal, Québec City, Baie St. Paul? Then I'm no longer quite so sure.
And it's much more than a geographical, or 'east versus west' issue. For example, I've recently been to Texas, New York, Washington state and Arizona. Each quite different, yet each completely American. But Calgary and Trois Rivieres? Now things aren't quite so matter of fact.
I realize that I tread on a touchy subject here. After all, twice in the last 30ish years the question of Québec sovereignty has been voted on in the province; bitterly contested and narrowly defeated both times. Raise the issue in north of the border social gatherings today and faces are quick to flush, tempers flare - and a hasty change of subject is usually the result. But I've been to Canada and its province of Québec a lot, and I'd like to share some of my experiences and impressions on the subject.
Proof you're not in Paris
The biggest difference is, of course, language. English is spoken throughout most of Canada. For Americans, a trip to Canada is more like crossing a state line than an international border. Vancouver is so like Seattle in some ways that it's easy to get momentarily confused as to which one you're actually in.
But cross the border into Québec, and suddenly it becomes very clear that you are indeed in a foreign country. The signs are in French. The newspapers, TV, radio - French. The people around you as you arrive are all (or mostly) speaking French. And suddenly, Vermont seems a million miles away instead of its actual one-hour drive from Montréal.
Officially, Canada is a bi-lingual country. 1969 saw the passing of the Official Languages Act insuring for the first time that all government services be provided in both French and English. And the Law 101 makes French the official language of the province of Québec. But the bi-lingualism only goes so far.
Ask a question in English anywhere in Montreal and you are 99% certain to receive a response in French-accented English. But ask a question in French anywhere in Calgary, or Regina, or Winnipeg - and you are 99% certain to be met with a blank stare.
So is Canada really bi-lingual? Well - a large percentage of the citizens of Québec do speak, at the very least, functional English. Indeed, in public areas of Montréal you can expect fluency. But very, very few Canadians living in the other provinces speak any French whatsoever. Rien. So, in my experience, the answer is - it depends on where you are. As I heard someone say at a francophone dinner party in Montréal once - Yeah, Canada is bi-lingual - because we have to speak English.
A Culture of Difference
When I lived in South-Central LA in the early 70's, I was certainly in the USA - but I was also in a place few white Americans ever came to, or knew anything about. Yet everyone who lives in South-Central LA (no matter which city it's in) knows everything about "America". I get that same feeling when I'm on le plateau Mont-Royal in Montréal, or the neighborhoods of Québec City, or any number of other places in the province of Québec.
And francophone Québecers largely feel the same. Canadians from other provinces are referred to as "the English". The sense of differentness is everywhere in Québec. I've been to Montréal 16 times in the last several years - and I can count on one hand the number of Canadian flags I've seen. But the blue and white flag of Québec with the fleur de lis is everywhere.
Language and culture are inseparable. And I can certainly feel a much greater affinity between Paris and Québec City than the latter has with Regina.
Not dead yet
Québec has something else in-common with the South-Central LA's of the US; a sense of differentness born of being second-class citizens. And that's only natural given its history.
In a very real sense, Québec remains an un-digested element of British colonial expansion. Québec, by losing a war, was subjected to British/Canadian political control - but it has always proudly guarded its unique linguistic and cultural identity. In-fact, the French spoken in Québec sounds more like that of Louis IV than that of modern-day Paris. And this is precisely because the linguistic integrity of Québec's French has been so zealously guarded from the assault of the sea of English surrounding it. Québec's isolation created a linguistic time-capsule of sorts.
And in many ways, Québec is more French than France herself. Come to a street corner anywhere in France and you see a Stop sign. Do the same in Québec and the sign says Arrêt. In France you send an email; in Québec un courriel. And there are many more examples like this. All manifestations of Québecers vigilance in protecting their culture & language from the cultural force of its Anglo neighbors.
For most of its history in Canada, Québec has felt the sting of language discrimination and something less than full social inclusion. As a result, Québec's population was poorer and less integrated into national life than the citizens of any other province until quite recently. Something black Americans can definitely relate to. Maybe that's why I always have a sub-sense of familiarity with everything Québécois.
Where Maple Leafs are rare
So is Québec really Canadian? Well, of course the answer is yes in formal political and economic terms. And the question of sovereignty is certainly not a topic of serious discussion anywhere in Canada today - including Québec.
But neither is it dead. Many still wish for it - someday - while accepting the facts on the ground of today. And even those Québecers who do not dream of sovereignty and are proudly Canadian, are at least equally proud of their unique culture and language.
On my latest trip to Montréal, two of the biggest news stories were about Prime-Minister Harper's appointment of a communications chief who does not speak French, and a campaign to suppress the encroachment of English into public signs in downtown Montréal. And it seemed the near universal reaction to both stories across the province was a sense of exasperated acceptance that their guard can never be let down.
So - Yes - Montréal and the rest of Québec is Canadian. If you look hard enough, you might even find a Canadian flag there to prove it. But cultural vigilance, provincial pride, and a deep sense of uniqueness are center-pieces of life for les Québécois - and The English forget this at their peril.
As part of it's 400th anniversary celebration, a 1.5 mile long landscaped promenade was built along the St. Lawrence River in Québec City. It's a lovely space, filled with interesting architectural elements and sculptures - paths and picnic areas.
But one of the more unique items there is this unusual fountain I stumbled on one morning. It's a "fog fountain".
Take a look.
Who we were?
There's a long walkway at the San Francisco Airport which leads to the United Airlines gates. And it has become a museum of sorts, with fascinating exhibits of varying kinds displayed there throughout the year; an entertaining and educational diversion for travelers passing by.
Over the years I've seen exhibits of kitchen-ware, computers, furniture, and much more as I passed by on the way to catch a flight. It changes about four times a year - and is always interesting.
As I walked through the current display a few weeks ago, I initially smiled and thought "How cool !" It's a collection of 1950's television and public media memorabilia. There were the faces and programs I had grown-up watching.
I knew them all quite well, and had specific memories involving each. For anyone over 55 - this was a walk through our own personal history. There was Howdy Doodie, and the Honeymooners. The Lone Ranger, Davy Crockett, and Hop Along Cassidy.
There were the old TV's from the 50's too. I can still remember when they seemed quite modern to me. Now they looked unbelievably old, and primitive. And over it all hung the air of nostalgia. My initial reaction was one of a sense of fondness; a sense of missing the joys of this simpler, happier time. I think it's a fairly common reaction to seeing images from one's childhood.
A simpler time?
I'd arrived quite early for my flight that day, so I was able to really take my time. I slowly walked from one exhibit case to another - reading the descriptions - lingering over photos I knew well, but hadn't seen in many years.
But as I neared the half-way point, I noticed that I was no longer feeling the warm and soothing glow of sentimentality that I'd experienced when I first approached the exhibit.
A Detour to Reality
As I got deeper and deeper into the displays, that wistful sense of homesickness that is the core element of nostalgia was suddenly gone.
I stood staring at photos of the Mickey Mouse Club, Ozzie & Harriet, and Wagon Train - and I gradually became overwhelmed with the inverse of my initial sense of nostalgia. I was becoming depressed and uncomfortable.
And as I arrived at a photo of one of my all-time favorite childhood movies - Old Yeller - I was completely consumed with a sense of lamentation and annoyance. I caught a reflective glimpse of myself in the glass of the display case - and was shocked to see a look of pure, undiluted disdain on my face. In the space of twenty minutes I had gone from dreamy nostalgia to utter contempt - and sadness. And I knew why.
A very select membership
I suppose popular media is always a reflection not only of who we are - but also of how we want to see ourselves. It is the projection of our values, our interests - our society and culture. And that is why I was suddenly feeling so very un-nostalgic.
For as I looked at all those happy faces and scenes from the 50's, it was suddenly very clear to me that in none of them did I see a reflection of who I was during that time. Indeed, these images and that culture were a very clear and obvious negation of me - and everyone like me. These images said to me "not only do you not count - we wish you weren't even here."
You see, in none of those happy faces and scenes of life were there any images of people of color. There were no Asians. There were no Latinos. And there were certainly no black faces - nor black lives - featured in this compendium of American happiness. None. Not one.
Ashes to Ashes
And as I stood there, I realized that as a child in the 50's I had absorbed thousands of images and messages that said "You don't matter. You don't count."
Yes - we've come a long, long way from that America - though we still have many challenges in front of us - and barriers to overcome. But the America displayed in those exhibits disappeared a long time ago. And as I strolled toward my flight that morning, my overriding feeling was "Thank God those days are gone." My homesickness had evaporated in the realization that that America had never been my home. I had never been invited in. For me, that walk down memory lane had grabbed nostalgia by the throat - and shoved it into the grave where it so justly belongs.
So RIP 50's nostalgia. I miss you Not.
The home of bliss
I know what you're thinking; "oh c'mon, that's a pretty outrageous claim." And you're right. And normally I resist describing anything as the best
or the worst
. It's too extreme of an assertion, and completely unscientific.
Yet - I feel completely confident in this particular instance. You see - I am an aficionado of brownies, and have tasted hundreds in more places than I can remember. In-fact, earlier this year I was in France for over two months and partook of many truly excellent representatives of the art.
But as good as the Parisian, San Franciscan, and Italian contestants are (and they were each excellent), I'm afraid they all come-in a distant second-place to those found at la Maison Cakao
on Montréal's Plateau Mont-Royal. Here, my friends, is the Holy Grail of brownie lovers. Here the art has been understood, and perfected.http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=123046460535weeblylink_new_window
The artist behind this delicious piece of pure decadent indulgence (one of my favorite topics) is Edith Gagnon - a graduate of Québec's Hotel and Restaurant Institute.
She imports Barry Chocolate from France - and then applies her considerable talent to turning it into a wide variety of addictive delectables. Truffles of many types, bon-bons, chocolate drops, and on and on. Each and every one truly wonderful.
In a word - Mmmmmmmmm
Welcome to Heaven
But it is her brownie that I find to be her piéce de résistance. I think the central element making it so good is that she puts in lots and lots of - wait for it - chocolate. Seems pretty elemental - but many brownie makers just don't seem to grasp this most basic of concepts. Not so at la Maison Cakao.
Biting into one of Ms. Gagnon's creations is to bite into dark, rich, soft and totally swoon-inducing chocolate. The cake part of the experience is light, moist, fresh - and blends with the pure chocolate element seamlessly.
The experience is sensual and transportive. Be prepared to stop whatever you were doing before - for once bitten into, the brownie will become your sole point of attention and concentration for many moments afterward. In a way, I'm glad I don't live in Montréal, as I'm sure I'd blow both my budget and dietary discipline in her shop.
But I'm sure glad that I visit there a lot.