Paris, Île-de-France, 6th December 2013
As soon as I saw the name of this one, sat in the window of the boulangerie down the road, I just had to have it. It was the right moment, the perfect day. Why?
Well, there was the fact that on my way to work in the morning, the rue de Rivoli was just a seething mass of bad traffic and horrendous parking. As in, there isn’t enough space to park parallel to the flow of traffic (the fact that this is a strictly no parking zone being ignored, obviously), so we’ll just park perpendicular instead. Over the cycle lane, into the no-longer-really-moving traffic. There were a large selection of police riot vans, lots of black Mercedes with tinted windows, one traffic policewoman angrily blowing a whistle, and the others not doing much.
Fast forward a few hours, and I’m on my way home: rue Saint-Honoré. Similar situation, except the road’s about a quarter of the width, and we’re all manoeuvring around a police motorbike with RWANDA on the windscreen, a diplomatic car with a Tanzanian flag and a large white delivery van attempting to reverse out of a very narrow courtyard. A quick Google later informs me that “François Hollande is hosting a summit on Peace and Security in Africa”. Couldn’t he have hosted their parking at the old Elysée as well?
Anyway, (I couldn’t help but feel it was badly timed, with Nelson going the day before, but I supposed they didn’t exactly know that was going to happen when they organised it), fast forward again and it’s 17:45 (5:45pm, for those non-24 hour clock users!). I finish work in fifteen minutes. I’ve already had a mammoth phone conversation with Mike from a travel sales website thing, who has the annoying habit of repeating certain key phrases (“those 200,000 loyal travellers”, “this isn’t just Joe Public” etc) and reminding me of my name every few seconds. Yes, Mike, I know, Mike, that my name is Alison, Mike. But, Mike, you don’t need, Mike, to keep, Mike, reminding me of that. OK, Mike? I have now reached the point where I am refreshing my emails for something to do, but don’t actually want to get one, because it’ll take me longer than fifteen minutes to answer it.
And then my phone rings. With a number preceded by a funny dialling code. So, on comes the ‘telephone voice’, and I field dozens of questions from a guest who a) objects to paying a 3.5% bank charge (yes, I know it’s monstruous, but that’s how these people make their money!); b) wants descriptions of all of the rooms; c) wants to check how far the apartment is from about five different metro stations; d) makes me run through the whole list of what will be provided (So will there be something to do the dishes? What about washing clothes? Toilet paper? YES! THERE WILL BE BLOODY TOILET PAPER!!!); e) wants me to stay on the phone while he makes the payment and f) sends me a ‘test email’ to make sure that he has the correct address. He books it, finally, and I hang up and decide I need a treat.
So, when I saw the ‘Diplomate’ in the window, it seemed as though it was meant to be. I hadn’t the foggiest what it was, but so what? You’ve got to live dangerously sometimes! Anyway, it had a cherry on the top and was a large slab of sugary goodness: what wasn’t to like?
It was, I discovered, essentially the French equivalent of bread and butter pudding. Slices of brioche alternated with dried fruits and squished into a tin, with a custard poured over and then baked until it sets. The top had some kind of slightly sticky, jammy glaze, and the bottom was still the crumby texture of brioche, meaning that the whole thing didn’t just turn into one slab of stodgy custard (although that wouldn’t necessarily have been a baf thing!) And, of course, it had a glacé cherry and a slice of angelica (the fabled ingredient of Christmas cakes of my youth, sadly vanished with the loss of Scoop ‘n’ Save and Sainsbury’s growing fear of ‘weirdy ingredients, bought only by the Walshes’. Slightly warmed up, with an enormous mug of cocoa, it was exactly what I needed: something to sink my teeth into after a day of being polite.
Next step? The ‘Ambassadeur’: it has marzipan involved!