The fleeting beauty of French macarons

Très fragile

I took this picture about two minutes after I bought them in 2012. Très fragile.

Yesterday, I bought a macaron from a stall at the Nashville Farmers’ Market. It was tiny and fancy, dyed pastel peach and filled with orange confit. I held it firmly between my thumb and forefinger as I walked away — too firmly, it turned out, because I ended up crushing the delicate flat top of the cookie under my thumb.

It was no loss. It tasted the same, although maybe slightly less smooth under the roof of my mouth. But it reminded me of a conversation I had with my favorite macaron vendor at a market in France on my last weekend there.

“I’m going back to the United States,” I told her. (Like many of my conversations while studying abroad, I don’t remember whether we spoke in English or French. Part of me doesn’t believe that I could have conversed in another language, but I must have — not a lot of people spoke enough English in Aix-en-Provence.) “I’d like to bring some macarons back with me.”

She shook her head. “They won’t last. They’re too fragile. You have to eat them now.” She packed up a small bag for me. I should have listened to her. I saved a few to eat the next day, but they were crushed and already stale.

Another day, earlier on, I went to a bakery after school and bought a baguette for one euro. It felt like such a quintessentially French thing to do that I brought it home and proudly showed my host mother, who looked at the bread disapprovingly.

“They make baguettes in the morning,” she said. “You’re supposed to buy it fresh and finish it by the end of the day.”

French eating habits were immediate and present, far from the preservative-filled, do-as-you-please attitude that I was used to. We were taught not to eat while walking or standing — that would give us away as Americans, a teacher told us, because the French always sat when they ate, even for just a snack. I grew to love that cultural standard. At lunchtime, I would find an empty spot around a fountain and eat my lunch sitting down and make a concerted effort to savor my food and feel French.

As I bit into my orange confit macaron yesterday, I wondered if I had lost some of that sense of immediacy. Not just eating in the present — living in the present, too, whatever that means. Not clinging to nostalgia for college, not wishing I would get older. Savoring my feelings, good and bad. Maybe doing more yoga. Or meditating. Or eating more pastries and trying to think French again. Then I finished my macaron and realized I was still standing.

2 thoughts on “The fleeting beauty of French macarons”

  1. Thank you for sharing such a beautiful post. I have been thinking about the topic of living in the present all day (wrote a blog post about it earlier today myself). It must be something in the air. It’s disappointing sometimes how we can become so busy or so distracted that we forget to live life and to take a moment to take note of the things around us.

    1. I just read your blog post — I definitely agree that fall weather makes one more reflective and appreciative of the moment! It’s a sentiment I hope I can hold on to more.

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