My beach read this week is Alan Furst’s latest meticulously researched pre-WWII noir spy novel, Midnight in Europe. Furst is at the peak of his form, with finely drawn characters, intricate plots, and you-are-there verisimilitude. It’s enough to make me overlook that his protagonist, Cristian Ferrar, is a spy for the Republic during the Spanish Civil War, the losing side that distinguished itself by allowing its communist and anarchist militias to murder nuns and nail priests to barn doors; by the end of the war “the Republic” was in the hip pocket of Stalin. In any event, Ferrar is an observant (though imperfect) Catholic, attending Sunday Mass with his family. One paragraph in particular grabbed my attention and might interest my readers:
Ferrar caught a taxi for the ride to Louveciennes, and asked the driver to stop at the Spanish pastry shop next to what was known as “the Spanish church” up on the rue de la Pompe in the Sixteenth, itself fancy, but nothing compared to the luxurious enclave called Passy. At one time, pastry in Spain had been baked and sold at convents, so the names of the little treats came from those days. Ferrar bought huesos de santo, saints’ bones; tetas de novicias, novice nuns’ breasts; and suspiros de monja, nuns’ sighs. All were soft and thick, liberally dusted with granulated sugar. Spaniards weren’t alone in this. French patisseries offered la religieuse, the nun, a large chocolate-capped puff pastry on the bottom, with a smaller version in the middle, and a little one on top, for the head. Or you could just buy a dozen of the little ones, known as pets-de-nonne, nun farts. The young girl behind the counter wrapped the pastries artfully, in pink paper folded into a triangle, then tied with a ribbon which was looped at the end so you could carry the package with one finger.