France has long had one of the cosiest, morally loose business environments in Europe. But it looks as though things are changing. The jailing of former Elf Acquitaine chief Loik Le Floch-Prigent for five years signals that the old ways of doing business are no longer acceptable. It will be interesting to see if any of the high-profile business cases in the US result in anything like this penalty.
I had a real taste of Proust’s madeleine yesterday evening. I went for a walk on Acland Street in St Kilda’s, which was once the centre of the Jewish community in Melbourne. Now Acland Street is mostly modern restaurants, bars, some good bookshops and an odd assortment of shops. But there are also four survivors of an earlier era.
The Europa, Le Bon, Continental and Monarch bakeries haven’t changed in decades. The windows are filled with the cakes and pastries of my childhood: kugelhopf, Dobos torte, Sacher torte and on and on. I have always had a particular weakness for Dobos torte — far superior to the famous Sacher — and didn’t restrain myself yesterday. Wonderful stuff that you certainly cannot find in London or Chicago. I suspect there are still some haunts in New York that do this, but otherwise you need to travel to Vienna or Budapest (or, in the south of Hungary, a wonderful Konditorei called the Virag in Szeged) — or Melbourne!
Yesterday’s local paper, The Age, had a lament at the steady disappearance of the ethnic character of some of Melbourne’s streets. I have no idea how long these four bakeries can hold the fort against trendier incomers, but I hope they manage to survive for a few more decades yet.