I don’t know why I continue to willfully underestimate the power of a mini brioche roll to fix all manner of physical, emotional, or imagined ills. I mean, hangover = gone. Inexplicable grief caused by a global pandemic = vanquished in a bite. Randiness = butter will suffice.
They are heaven shaped into pudgy faux-baguettes complete with diagonal incisions cut like vertebrae across the hillock of their shiny golden rumps in a vague nod to artisinal authenticity. Ahh, those fat, stubby fingers found squished into one ruched football amidst the contintental fare and polyamorous inclusivity of Lidl and Aldi bread shelves the world over. Ohhhh, those buttered rolls burnishing between the vacuum-packed tortilla wraps and sweating bagels of the bread aisle or, if you live in France, any and every shelf of a Carrefour. And always strategically placed within the reach of children because children are smart enough to know they are delicious and an essential shopping-list item. Grown ups forget this and it is every child’s duty to remind their guardian of this one universal truth. Hence why not being able to go shopping with my mother is one of the most grievous ills of lockdown.
In France they sell them in bulk, like we do Taytos in those massive-beyond-belief multipacks that are 88.67% air and 11.33% my disappointment on realising air is the number one ingredient in lieu of MSG. Back to France though: hundreds of plump sweet brioches, stuffed into a bag as big as your entire torso for the price of €1.49. You can even get ones with chocolate chips in. And that is why, when I grow up, I will swallow the racism, misogyny and pretentiousness of France and live in Bordeaux with an impossibly beautiful and unusually devoted French husband who finds my Irish sarcasm and innate brashness charmant and never once questions my need to consume four varieties of croissant a day (classic, chocolate, almond, pain au raisin, for those wondering the way to my heart).
Cool + Smooth Segue-way into Sadness:
I lived in Toulouse for my Erasmus year of university (of COURSE, I was an Arts student – doesn’t it all make sense now?) and one of my UK friends (because of COURSE I was the kind of Erasmus student who only made anglophonic friends) posted old photos of that surreal year into our group chat yesterday. We were supposed to be going on holiday together next month and have reluctantly cancelled our AirBnb in the French countryside. I am currently claiming flight refunds I am sure I will never see. Aer Lingus and Ryanair are simultaneously ghosting me and I am getting PTSD to similar online encounters of the dating app variety. Kidding.
UK friend (hi Gemma!) is coping with the disappointment by going back through our Toulouse photo archives, linking us to four-year-old photos of dinners, picnics, nights out. I am ravaged by painful happiness.
It’s always a trip to see old photos of yourself unexpectedly. I put on a full stone in France and thus yesterday was confronted with chubby-cheeked, larger-than-life me. I smiled at her, this round and glowing human that was 70% butter, 30-80% alcohol. GOOD ON YOU, I shout at the screen. You did good, girl.
Return to main thread of piece:
I really don’t like thinking about the past. It makes me unbearably sad to think of the life that was and can never be again. The fact those friends and I will never realistically live in the same country or in that wonderfully co-dependent proximity that we did that year; that I might never again sit on the banks of the Garonne eating Brie and drinking wine brings on a tidal wave of soundless grief. I’m not very good for letting things go.
Most of all though, I feel this terrible anxiety for the things I’ve forgotten from that year. Namely, the photos that exist on some camera or some SIM card from a broken phone that I can never retrieve. So many photos and, therefore memories, lost. SO many friendships unacknowledged because I lost the proof of them. I wish I was a person who took photos, printed photos, didn’t break phones. Instead, I am the person who will save the SIM card on the promise of ‘some day’, will lovingly then apologetically then fretfully move the camera that chronicled underage discos and freshers week and that, when it one day stopped working, I was too lazy and incompetent to attempt to repair but too sentimental to throw away, from obscure drawer to attic storage for a decade of remorseful sentimentalism. And there it will remain, the perpetually shunted but omnipresent portal to the past, nestled useless on the periphery of my vision but still out of reach, haunting and yet calming me with the promise of ‘someday’. In my twisted mind, physically having this object reminds me that the memories it contains did actually happen, those friends did exist, those alternate lives and realities and personas were still lived by me, even if temporarily discarded for now. And, most importantly, it brings solace in its proof that, by virtue of those fleeting experiences, future adventures are possible – there is no cap, no quota, no ceiling to the boundlessness of life.
Sometimes, I find myself randomly exclaiming, ‘DO YOU REMEMBER THAT TIME YOU WERE IN INDIA?’ I test myself with memories of all the mad things I’ve done when I convince myself I’ve never done anything remotely exciting in my drab years on this earth. ‘Remember that time you went zip-lining across Jodhpur/swimming at dawn with the boy you fancied (a terrible infatuation, it turned out)/lived on a beach for two months?’
‘Remember when you were mad into public speaking and cried at the national final giving a speech about friendship or wore that fatsuit to play Edna in your secondary school adaptation of Hairspray (controversial black-face and all)?’
‘Remember when you went through that “phase” of making and then stubbornly wearing your own clothes? Like when you tried to make your debs dress out of your school uniform and spent nights of sleeplessness sewing jumpers together only to then wear your sister’s old dress and end the night concussed after falling off a boat?’
It’s like I’m an Alzheimer’s patient trying to jolt myself back into being, to solidify my existence and bolster my identity with the concrete surety of ‘I did’, ‘this happened’, ‘I was’. I always promise myself I’ll write these things down more, take more photos, get the bloody SIM card developed. I never do. Instead I moan about cancelled holidays, the impossible irretrievability of the past and eat another mini brioche.