I Brake For Bakeries

By Corby Kummer

That's long been my motto--I want to try every loaf and croissant and muffin and cookie in creation.

Besides drive-by sampling, one of the great purposes any bakery or coffee shop can provide is a gathering place, a community--food's noblest purpose, I've always thought. I think so even more strongly today, when no one can take any form of sustenance for granted. In an officeless, not to mention jobless, time, gathering places become yet more important.

So I was very pleased to read this story about the residents of Colebrook, a town in rural northern New Hampshire near the Canadian border, who rose up to rescue a French bakery whose owners were threatened with deportation--loss of visa renewal, really--because their business was considered too marginal for the United States to let them stay.

Yes, the Frenchy baked goods had seemed odd compared with puffy supermarket loaves, the story says. But soon the people of Colebrook became reliant on the treats--a story straight out of Chocolat, with hardscrabble New Englanders substituted for (typically, but there's my prejudice again) cold, hostile, suspicious French villagers.

Set as it is in New Hampshire, the story had--I hope--none of the movie's saccharine overtones, even if the Globe's picture of the facade does make the bakery-cafe look like a candy-colored movie set. But the ending is heartwarming nonetheless, more Frank Capra than France: battered by factory closings (Ethan Allen, the Ford dealer),the citizens began a letter-writing campaign, and it worked.

Here's the climax. To quote another French film title, Get out your handkerchiefs. And rally around whoever's making good food to keep a community together and nourished. Preferably baked goods.

"You cannot imagine what they did for me," said Verlaine Daeron, a 51-year-old former nurse-turned-bakery owner. She said her visa application folder at the US Embassy in Paris contained two pounds of letters from Colebrook-area residents and added, "It's a very, very nice town."

This week, Colebrook residents got their wish. The US Embassy reversed its decision and granted Daeron her visa, according to Daeron and the New Hampshire state director for Senator Judd Gregg, who was briefed by State Department officials on the case. A State Department spokeswoman, Laura Tischler, said the department does not comment on individual visa cases.

Yesterday, as word of the reversal trickled out and anxious residents tucked into Le Rendez-Vous, Marc Ounis, Daeron's business partner, stood smiling with arms folded over his apron and baker's whites offering the exact answer they wanted to hear: The bakery would remain open.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2009/05/i-brake-for-bakeries/18088/