a good croissant is a special thing. a really special thing, in fact, of an order many of us have been conditioned to overlook because we simply have never had one. there are terrible croissants everywhere, everywhere, and it feels as with all things that once had a transcendent quality and are increasingly banalized by their subordination to Fordism that they are part of some conspiracy to make us incapable of truly loving this or that food, this or that experience.
it’s like outside agitators, planted by the state to destroy The Movement, or like college hippies ruining everything, when hippies were actually kind of touching and charming, or like some terrifying Captain-Planet-Villain-esque corporation putting up giant matte paintings of uninspiring sunsets just over every horizon in order to make us hate sunsets.
is what a bad croissant is like. or a bad cup of coffee.
but then you have one of those cups of coffee that reminds you that coffee isn’t just ground-up monkey shit, it’s some kind of fruit or berry or spice that has turned nations on their heads and done perhaps as much for literature as has booze. it is black as pitch or brown as perfect toast and bitter, delicate, a warm embrace and a honing steel, tasting more like licorice or liquor than you ever remembered or could have expected.
and a good croissant is a magic trick, or something like a temporary success of alchemy – butter into gold/golden crust – my Cabinetmaker friend the other day said of it that it is not like a kind of bread that has a lot of butter in it but like butter that has just enough flour in it, and i can’t agree more. it is butter, with the light touch of flour coaxing it through the exercise, holding its breath just long enough to convince one that it is a bread. it feels like a temporary structure, waiting to be torn apart by hand, to shatter into flake and panes, and seem as one bites into it to be a suspended liquid somehow not wet. you suspect that somewhere along the line you were recruited into the deception, and it is upon you that it depends – the suspension of disbelief that makes fine patisserie possible.
like Baron Munchausen raising himself and horse Bucephalus out of the sea by his own ponytail.
a friend suggested, concerned as i am with finding reliable sites of good croissants in this city, that i make a whole project of it – map it out, do some thorough research on the history of the croissant and its many technical foibles – lord knows it is rich enough material, from the debunking of the myth of its crescent-moon-shape’s origin commemorating the victory of the French over who, the turks? some or other muslim invaders? bosh, mostly, to the quiet ritualism of folding and turning and flattening common to all puff pastries . . . but i don’t think i shall. i think instead you get this.
not that i employ only affective and mystical language throughout, successfully (i think) avoiding mobilizing the problematic discourse of authenticity, however sinisterly it lurks in the wings…
getting in a little over my head – while looking for some etymologically-inflected pun with which to title this post, i ran across some interesting, uh, homophonic material related to the croissant. croissant, obviously, is just French for crescent, but it just as obviously does not end (or rather, begin) there. if you are not at all familiar with French conjugation, this will be even less interesting to you, but a rudimentary knowledge of suffixes should, ah, suffice. croissant, as an adjective, means growing, or burgeoning (from the Latin crescere). i love how wordreference frames it – as in talent, love, industry, crime. anyway, this is where we get the croissant, effectively – the shape of the pastry resembles the crescent moon, which is a waxing moon.
the infinitive of the verb to grow, or burgeon, in this sense, is croître, and when i saw this i was immediately struck by its similarities to both the verbs croiser (to cross) and croire (to believe). in fact, the first-person-singuler of croître is je croîs (i grow), which is almost audibly indistinguishable from je crois (i believe), and i have just learned (via the internet) that, while nigh-imperceptably lengthening the vowel sound, the circonflexe (little hat) mostly serves to mark vowels which used to be followed by an s (obviously not the case here, because the s remains), or to distinguish between homographs (words spelled the same). now this is where i get in a little over my head, because i don’t have it in me to figure out when and where and why croître picked up its circonflexe, but i am struck by how croîs and crois also sound like croix (cross, as in ‘The Cross,’ religiously interchangeable, as in english, with crucifix).
so, croise → croîs → crois → croix,
(to) cross → grow → believe → (the) Cross.
croissant → croissance → croyance
crescent → growth → belief.
(interesting coincident too, this weird link between the cross and the crescent, respectively emblematic of the two world religions most perpetually in historical conflict)
now if i was a real linguist or historian or whatever i’d be able to tell you whether that means anything (is it accidental that growth and belief and the cross all share these features? is it meaningful? we know also that cross comes from the latin crux, and thus not necessarily from crescare), but i really am not so i really can’t, but it is this very lack of rigour that i think gives stillcrapulent its flavour, and simultaneously prevents it from becoming an authority on anything. and for all my talk about quality (this is effectively an offshoot of a product review, for god’s sake), if there’s one lesson to be drawn from stillcrapulent it’s that if you’re not going to do something right, you should at least enjoy doing it.