Ladurée in London

Paige Lehmann
from The Sparrow Bakery

Dream: Ladurée

It’s drizzly in London. The skies are gray and a cold breeze cuts through the city, reminding you that the season’s turned. That winter is upon us, or will be soon enough. It’s the exhale to summer, the end of a reign, of a strange time when people wore short sleeves and skirts and forgot themselves. There’s something comforting in this cold. The entire being of cold is wrapped in comfort: warm boots, new winter coats, golden lights pouring from windows onto wet streets, cobblestones, brick walls, telling us about warm parties, dinners, drinks, delicious things to behold and eat.

There’s a cruel thing about the airs of winter and fall. You feel it every time you step outside: the cold, hitting your cheeks, your lips. It reminds you that the world outside of yours has its own life, its own journey, and you’re swimming in it. The skies, cold and white, shades of soft greys, the trees unwrapping themselves, laying bare to the cold that’ll soon overtake us. There’s an edgy element of winter in London. It isn’t safe. It’s like the edge of drugs, of drinking too much, of taking risks. There’s a spring in your step because you know that something dangerous is lingering, a filigree over a normal, nothing kind of life.

And it’s within this kind of cold that’s enveloped London that I take you into a jewel box of warmth. A very strange oxymoron. It’s a golden cave that serves pastel-colored macarons. Let’s say that again:

A golden cave that serves pastel-colored macarons. It’s called Ladurée.

Do you know what a macaron is? It’s a beautiful, delicate cookie that’s… reminiscent of a meringue but softer inside. And it’s a light sandwich, light in your hand, with a meltingly soft interior and some sort of confected, jam or almond or cream-like glue that ties it together. This, my friend, is what jewelry boxes are made of.

Why are we here? Because I’ve dragged us here. We’re here for work and splendor and freedom, and visiting friends in London. And, in truth and veritas, I drag the husband to every bakery I can when we’re in a new city. Friends of ours visit the oldest bar in every state; we go for the baked goods. And as always we sample their chocolate chip cookies, some loaf of hard-crusted bread, and sip their finest roast. And we take our treasures back to the tables and compare them to the bakeries we’ve known and loved. So it made sense that, while here, I’d drag him to this particular corner of the world on this cold and drizzly day in September.

The sidewalks are wet and smell like fresh rain, the cars suck the streets. Food wrappers linger in the gutters. The store windows are, of course, inviting. He’s wearing his new, deep brown loafers, a light black rain jacket, a black umbrella. I have a baby in my arms. Technically I’m wearing him, but also have my arms draped around him to keep him warm. He sleeps. We pull open the glass doors and enter the golden cave.

Warmth hits us, and the air smells like vanilla sugar. Music plays softly, but no one talks. There’s a quiet reverence that overtakes us. It feels like we’ve entered a sacred space, or Tiffany’s. How can I describe it? Imagine that you’ve entered a tiny little store whose walls are sloped and look like they were made out of frosting that was then gilded. Handmade, golden. Glass displays. Rows and rows of pastel macarons. Yes, there are a few other items you can buy: expensive trinkets, eclairs, scented candles. But why? You’re only here for one thing. Or twenty of the same, just different hues and flavors.

This is paradise in London. It’s the warmth, the heat in the cold. The flush of your cheeks. I suck in the warm air and know that we’re going to have to try at least six. And maybe order a dozen. And they’re worth it; they’re all worth it.

A woman in a white coat with big, oversized pockets and yellow hair pulled back into a bun, red lipstick, eyeliner, asks what we’d like. We’d like them all, I don’t say. And then we confer and make our selections. A raspberry, a lemon with orange bitters, white chocolate with coffee, pistachio with chocolate mint, fig with chocolate and lime. She places each one into a box, and we pay a dear amount, along with coffee.

This, my friends, is a strange Steiner-kind of paradise. And we sit outside at the little covered table, sharing the macarons and sipping our coffee and I feel like, again, this is life and that, somehow, we’ve made it. Our success defined in soft-colored bites. In warm swigs of comfort. In living in and experiencing other places. In the child who’s still asleep in my arms. In this time ‘round on this earth.

Reality:

The babes woke every forty minutes the entire night through, and fussed during the times he slept. Life-saving vaccinations caused a bit of chaos with his normal rhythm, and we’re all suffering for it. Through my lack-of-sleep-induced nausea this morning, I took us to the Farmer’s market, where we bought hen-laid eggs nestled in a pink crate from our favorite egg and cheese vendor. We stopped by our fruit vendor and bought the last blueberries, strawberries, blackberries and raspberries of the season. I was surprised they were there at all, much less that we had the good fortune of such a selection. The child and I, then, had breakfast at a little brunch place started by my plumber, actually, a few years ago. He and a best friend. He told me, “It was just four of us, doing everything. And we made MAN-Mosas. This big, in pint glasses!”

As I waited to turn left at an intersection, a three-legged dog with a purple harness and leash, and a bone-eating grin, ambled across the street with his owner. And the child and I had our brunch together, the first time it was just us, alone, in a restaurant. He had real maple syrup, also for the first time, and I drank coffee like my life depended on it.

 

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