A Walker on Piedmont Avenue

A Walker on Piedmont Avenue

Today is the day I am going to have a look at La Farine, because I owe myself a treat. La Farine, the fancy bakery, is the new kid on Piedmont Avenue, just across the street from Caffe Trieste. I hope they have samples. Samples are good for business. You never quite fill up. For example, I try to fill up on cheese, which they offer at Piedmont Grocery, but I always end up buying chocolate on sale, or yogurt, which even on sale is double the price elsewhere.

You see, I have to drag myself to Kaiser and back on my three-wheel walker. I have a four-wheeler, but it’s murder crossing the cracks and the excavations in the asphalt and on the sidewalks of Piedmont Avenue if your four-wheeler has tiny wheels and no seat. So my reward for the trek to Kaiser and back will be a treat at La Farine.

I cross with the light at 41st and Piedmont to the count of 12, surmounting the curb by 13. I check my purse. I gave Fabiola Pharmacy 25 dollars for bone fillers and painkillers, so now I have left two one-dollar bills and change. What can I buy?

A cupcake, a croissant? Forget the cupcake. It’s the first thing I see when I enter, and it’s not for me. It’s almost three dollars, and you have to leave a tip. But I’m in the door, and so is my walker. I maintain my dignity as I move close to the first display. The scent of coffee and cinnamon and bread is making me wild. I examine the cupcakes seriously. They are gorgeous with their Easter bonnets of green and yellow and purple with fringes of chocolate on top. Even more gorgeous are the squares and roll-ups of mousse and cream and cake and jellies, and then the pies. They are not pies; they are paintings. Swirls, twirls, peaks, tweaks, landscapes of figs, berries, and other fruits of the vine and trees. And the designer cakes! How pale and wan seem the bakery goods that Wayne Thiebaud painted for our delight. Before Thiebaud, you really didn’t want to taste an oyster from a still life or a cheese, no matter the Dutch master who painted it, or a peach even if it was the work of Cezanne. But Thiebaud made us look at cake. There is a dark chocolate number that looks like a round satin jewel case. How I would like to sink my teeth in it! Do I dare? Eat of it? Taste its hidden treasure? Not if I have only two dollars and change in my pocket.

My poverty reminds me of a story from the Depression. A gent comes into money at pinochle or poker or maybe the horses, visits the local bakery, and orders a five-layer cake. The baker works around the clock to get the cake right—the fillings fluffy, the frosting sculpted. Next day the gent inspects the cake. He likes it. The baker asks if the cake requires special handling. “No,” says the customer. “Put it on a plate. I’ll eat it now.”

I think I could manage half of that chocolate velvet cake, but first I would have to buy the whole cake, and, really, I’m just looking for samples and maybe a small loaf of bread. I steady my walker and move down the aisle to the bread, the scones, the croissants, and the samples. The breakfast crowd has left, and the attendants at La Farine are eager to serve me. They urge me to try the samples. I pretend I am above such things, but I will try. The server lifts the cover to the plastic tray. How daintily I pop the first morsel into my mouth. I chew it carefully, although it has already dissolved in my mouth, my hunger is so intense. I reflect before I try the next sample, as if I were cleansing my palate at a wine tasting. Oh, the second sample is so good. “What is it?” I cry.

It’s a scone. I’ll take it. I’ll eat it right on the spot. I don’t even require a dish, let alone a bag. Oh, what a pig! While I am trying to control my bites, lest I should devour my scone in less than two seconds, I force myself to concentrate on the bread. Ah, the bread. Forget the baguettes. I am looking at art imitating nature. I am looking at bread that comes out of the potter’s wheel in bowls and coils and crusts that require teeth, real teeth, to break through. The caveman ate bread like this. Or he used it as an ornament. But the little loaves are nice.

It’s time to go. I don’t have a dime left in my pocket. I don’t have a crumb left in my mouth. I lean ever so heavily on my walker and heave a great sigh. I thank the staff at La Farine and promise to return. They are, I am sure, not holding their breath, but I am. In that breath, I vow to take a chance on pastries and throw away pills. I am going to sample life.

A resident of Oakland’s Piedmont Gardens, Flossie Lewis uses a walker to investigate the scene. She has taught English at U.C. Berkeley, and at Lincoln and Lowell high schools in San Francisco. Returning to school in her 70s, she earned a Ph.D. in English.

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