Saturday, April 07, 2007

the handmade touch

There's always a hint of nostalgia in handmade things. Probably because it reminds us of the way things were. It also makes us feel like we're part of a community. These days supermarkets--the opposite of handmade and community--allow us to live our lives virtually disconnected from our neighbors. Think about how you feel when you buy a loaf of bread from the supermarket. Most of the time, that experience has nothing to do with the bread itself. Or the baker. You're probably buying a whole cart-full of other things while you're at it. Because the bread is in a plastic bag, you can't even smell it before you bring it home. And you certainly can't chat with the person who made it.

In Paris, there's a baker on practically every street corner. You can smell fresh bread as you walk down the street in the morning. They make fresh batches every day and when you go in to buy your daily bread, you buy the bread from the baker who made it. He or she recognizes you and remembers that you like 2 baguettes and one madeleine.

Handmade preserves community. The community in turn has a responsibility to preserve the handmade.

Col and I walked into the village baker this morning. The warm sweet, yeasty smell imbued our senses. How delicious. David makes the most wonderful croissants this side of the Atlantic at his small bakery Panadero. And I've had my fair share. We ordered two almond croissants for breakfast and then decided to get a crusty French batard for tomorrow's Easter lunch. It was so fresh. But we explained to David's partner that we wouldn't be eating it until tomorrow.

She shared her bready expertise. She told us how to nurture the $3 loaf so that it would be the best that it could be for our meal.

"If you like it crusty, then keep it in this paper bag," she explained. "But if you like the crust soft, you can keep it in this plastic bag and it will soften up over night. Here, I'll give you both so that you can choose." She stuffed a little plastic bag in with the bread loaf.

"Oh," she proclaimed in afterthought as we were walking out the door, "If you keep it in the plastic bag and then decide you want it crusty afterall, then you can just throw it in the oven. It will be delicious."

"We know it will be!" we chimed on our way out.

"Have a really great day," she said.

Imagine. Isn't that the kind of experience you want when you buy your bread?

There's always a hint of nostalgia in handmade things. That's because we tend to guard the handmade experiences in our memory. These are good experiences to remember.

Later on, I had another handmade experience as I walked into Speeder & Earl's coffee shop to grab Col and I some double lattes with maple syrup. My sister Hannah used to work in this coffee shop. The experience is never quite as good since she left town, but we still like the coffee once in a while. I went up to the counter and placed my order. As I waited for the milk to froth, I glanced down at the glass cookie jar. That's when I saw it: a handwritten sign that said "cappuccino biscotti." It was Hannah's handwriting--there was no mistaking the curly lettering. I just couldn't help but smile. Hannah's not there anymore, but her handmade touch remains and added sweetness to my day. It was a very private experience for me--nobody else knew how I was feeling at that moment, or why.

That's because handmade experiences are very personal. That's why we find nostalgia in them. That's why they build community. It's our duty--and indeed our enjoyment--to preserve and guard these handmade touches with our life.

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