Laval, QC, October 2011
About these photos: We're celebrating edible week as part of our latest Thematic theme. Please click here to share your own.We've been here before. Indeed, my wife and I practically grew up here, as this is the bakery in the middle of the neighborhood, a place known as Chomedey, where we both grew up.
My parents used to give me money on Sunday mornings, and I'd walk the few blocks to this once-upon-a-time-residential-duplex and buy bagels, salt sticks, and other core components of our family brunch. The place was always packed, and the combination of little, quiet me and a boisterous crowd of hungry customers often meant a long wait until some kind-hearted staffer took pity on me. Eventually, they put in a number-ticket-queuing system, but I still got lost in the bagel-seeking mosh pit.
Quebec being what it was back then, there was no Sunday shopping. So the stretch of Samson Boulevard, normally so busy during the week that I'd never be allowed to walk there alone, was virtually empty. As I gathered my bags of baked goodies in my arms and headed for home, I remember feeling how warm everything was as I tried to resist the urge to grab a bite before I got home. Resistance was usually futile, and I'm sure my parents often wondered why the baker's dozen was often 11 when I did the shopping.
The place is officially known as Boulangerie Premiere Qualite, or Best Quality Bakery, but no one ever called it that. It always was, and likely always will be "The Dirty Bakery", which the current owners proudly echo in the corner of the sign. My in-laws and mother still live nearby, so whenever we visit, it's a must-stop spot for us after we leave them and turn the car toward home. We'll load up on bagels, danish and anything else we can think of and sneak a few bites in before we buckle in and hit the highway.
The kids always come inside with us, and we always step back a bit as they walk the same dusty linoleum floor that we walked - and waited on - so long ago. Back in London, a place where "bakery" doesn't grab the psyche of the community to the same degree that it does here, they get their bread from the baked goods aisle of the supermarket. They don't know what it's like to have time-worn businesses like the Dirty Bakery a short walk from the house. They don't get to walk through the doors and go back in time, to a place where the same oldish ladies clucked over the little ones after finally picking them out of the crowd, where every fixture seemed to be as old as time, where everyone in the place - customers and staff alike - seemed perfectly content that nothing ever really changed.
I'm sorry that my kids don't have access to the same experiences that we did. That they don't get to walk nearly-empty streets while the world took a much-needed one-day breather. That they didn't get to nibble surreptitiously on the warm end of a sesame-seed salt stick before turning back into the cold for the lonely, quiet walk home. As we finally pack our overstuffed bags of bagels into the hatch and leave this unassuming yet pivotal piece of our shared history in the rear-view mirror, I wonder what experiences our own kids will eventually try to share with their own children. I wonder what other Dirty Bakeries they'll get to hang onto - and pass along - as they become the parents that we are now.
Looking back, I wonder if my own parents ever had similar thoughts as they carefully prepared the package of money and instructions for my weekly trips to this place. I hope I was able to bring back everything they expected.
Your turn: Do you have an important place like the Dirty Bakery in your own history?