There is a sweetness to it.
I rise in the dark and head out in the coolness of early morning. I drive on a freeway mercifully devoid of Massachusetts drivers and round a turn to see a giant moon glowing brightly as it sets in the barely broken dawn.
Then there is the bakery – new to me, but so familiar – and work begins. Some bakers talk of the dance of the baking process, but I tend to see it as the rhythm of a beating heart. Another baker – a stranger to me a few days ago – and I wordlessly go about the morning cleaning routine as a team as though we had done it for years. And we have, in a sense, just not with each other.
Then the smells begin.
Many people love the smell of freshly baked bread, but the baker gets to enjoy the aromas of the process. Even the bench flour has its distinct aroma. Then the rich bouquet of the fermenting baguette dough as it is liberated from its container. There is the acid tang of the rye sour and the lactic smell of the levain. As mixes begin, the fresh yeast is like perfume and there is a transition in aromas as water and flour are brought together in the mixer. Spices seem to be an obvious bakery scent, but the subtle transitions as they are ground or steeped or baked cannot be neglected.
Then the sounds: the soft patting to degas the dough, the click of the bench scarper as the dough is divided, the soft swishing sounds that hands make against the bench when rolling baguettes. (The cursing under one’s breath when the dang thing won’t shape right.) The timers, the hiss of the steam, the sandpaper sound of the peel.
These are the many small pleasures of the bakery. Not just the eating of the bread, but of its making.
I am no romantic. I know the baking business can be tough mentally and physically. There are inspectors to answer to, ovens that do not behave, repair folks who do not show up, and bastard customers who ask too much and give too little. It is hard work, but good work.
These few days in the bakery made me think of a time last winter when a friend and I were shoveling a particularly heavy snow from the walkways of the Japanese Garden at our local botanic gardens. It was just the two of us and we were on a mission. The regular snow removal crews had left an icy mess and we were intent on getting the walkways cleared. Suddenly my friend said to me – “You know, we need to look up and realize where we are.” We stood there – just the two of us among the magnificent conifers. Trees hundreds of years in age, each one perfectly decorated by sparkling champagne powder. The kind of snow that that inevitably falls victim to Colorado’s afternoon sun. It was a wonderland and it was ours not just to walk through and look at, but to touch and tend. I have been a lot of places and done a lot of really cool things, and that moment we looked up now ranks very high on the list.
So Varda (and Joan), I know you will do well, but don’t forget from time to time to look up and realize where you are.