He started baking when he moved here, missing the white baguettes of his native France.
That’s the difference between here and there, he told me two years ago when I first met him and the two other women who opened the bakery just one block away from the office: there, bread is warm and ready every morning at nearly every corner, but no one bakes at home. Here? You learn to bake your own.
That he loved bread was clear then, the way he talked in accented English about learning to bake because he couldn’t find good bread anywhere in town.
What I didn’t know then was that he isn’t just a good baker; he’s the quintessential small shop owner in a small town.
The day the bakery opened the line stretched down the street and the shelves were bare long before closing time.
“This is your fault,” he told me when I stopped that morning.
He wouldn’t let me pay for the chocolate-filled bun.
Since then I’ve been there nearly every week, looking for baguettes and chocolate croissants and sticky buns after busy deadlines at work. Last spring my parents set up a sizable account as a sort of birthday-gift-that-keeps-on-giving, and now every time I see him he asks about them.
“She has a very nice Dad who said ‘she needs good bread,'” he told a new girl while showing her how to keep track of my account.
They all know me. They wondered among themselves when I was pregnant until sometime late in the summer when it was obvious enough to risk saying something. They ask about the baby.
But often, standing in line, I watch him dust flour off his hands and come to the counter, slipping rolls into bags and chatting with his customers.
“How’s your mother?” he asks the woman in front of me one day. “Tell her hello for me.”
He talks about running with one and family with another and when it gets to be my turn, he talks about the paper.
“I look for you in the paper,” he told me last week, dropping a baguette into a brown paper sleeve. “You’ve been meeting a lot of interesting people lately.”
And I said yes, I have been and that’s what I like about the job and I walk back out into the cold February sunlight and hear him talking to the next person.
I have met a lot of interesting people lately, I think as the bread warms my cold hands on the short walk back to work.
I’ve written about a lot of interesting people, lately, but I think the baker is as interesting as them all.