Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Short story: The biker and the gazelle

This is a short story in two parts. Rather, they are two short narratives about the same subject: a food place in inner city Melbourne. The place is called Piadina Slow Foods.


The Biker by Anonymous

It’s real name is Piadina Slow Food but I like to refer to it as my pantry at the top of the steps.

On reflection, it’s an odd assessment. I haven’t actually ever been there. I like the way it looks - it has that old world fresh deli type of thing going with the untreated timber surfaces that dull over time with a build up of routinely passing over them with a damp sponge. Probably for cleaning, though this is a personal speculation. And a trivial one at that.

It’s a bit like a backyard migrant kitchen inside. Something you would see in many Asian villages, or Mexican ones for that matter. I think anybody with a memory of an extended family, grandparents “back home” who blaze away in a big cook-up of all leftovers on any Wednesday in winter will be comfortable at the pantry at the top of the steps. You know, like the Euros do.

Has a real nostalgic air to it. Shame not to have been there.

He stood astride his air cooled machine, open helmet left to hang from the custom bars; deliberate and long slow strides up the steps to the pantry door. He forked his gloved fingers through the waved mop, still crushed from the helmet and cropped at the sides. While studying the menu, his black boots flatly purchasing the ground, his dashing reflection was revealing several days whiskers and a handsome set of friendly tanned features.

French toast. Can add a extra slice for only $1.20 too.

They do all the eggs you could ever want. And have a daily special omelette, to which one can add one of those endangered pleasures called bacon. The real stuff that contradicts today’s conventions and has fat on the end of it. Wise people these pantry keepers.

But obviously, all good stories come to an end.

He exhaled patiently, and dug his hands into his moto jacket pocket. Deep, searching the pockets for reassurance. Blinking twice, now thrice. Denying himself that this pantry at the top of the step was all that, or for that matter anything at all.

Cash Only.

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The Gazelle by PJ

Aah Piadina, I know it well but not so that I would greet it on the street or present it with the double cheek air kiss that is no doubt the custom for individuals of that provenance. No, I would probably say, “Hi” and walk on. Or maybe just smile.

It’s like a hearth, warm and inviting. The type of kitchen everyone would have, if they could, but very few do.

A girl I once knew would go there semi-regularly. She never really got past the awkwardness of navigating the steps down from the entrance with her heels and felt rather like the uncoordinated gazelle, dreading the day a heel would catch the door frame and spectacularly announce her arrival.

She would head over for coffee, but her resolve usually caved and she’d succumb to the sweet and spicy milkiness of their Chai lattes, “with chilli please,” she'd order. It’s been years since such an order was placed but the memories of that Chai are still a yardstick against which all others are measured.

There were no eggs on the menu in those days, just piadinas of various descriptions and a couple of slow cooked meals, all of a country heartiness that helped put some warmth into the Melbourne winter.

The slow food movement was hot back then and the place’s popularity grew such that the girl no longer fit in. She didn’t smoke so couldn’t sit outside with those that like their paprika infused with a hint of nicotine (or vice versa), and the tiny store became so crowded she had to stand in the rainy wind waiting for her meal, coming to an uncomfortable realisation that slow food is only great when you don’t have to wait for it.

And so it became that this little portal to rural Italy, or perhaps even a Spanish backstreet, was no longer a destination but a sight to admire on the way to somewhere else. Yes, that would be a nice kitchen to have...

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Photo courtesy Eat and Be Merry for Tomorrow We Die(t)

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