CAKE

Going out for a bitter-sweet stroll down Memory Lane, the Reverend  first takes a short detour along Ackland Street in the 1980’s, for coffee and a poppy seed strudel.

CAKE

Let them eat cake!“- Marie Antoinette

It’s a strange thing, isn’t it, the way that a stray comment,

a single overheard sentence, casually uttered by a stranger, can lodge itself in your memory for decades.

The reasons for this phenomena vary of course,

from case to case,

but ultimately I think, it’s because thru some Act of Grace,

that simple utterance encapsulates (for lack of better words) a Greater Something, and thru the Perfection of the words, the Timing, the Place, the Context, etcetera, etc.,

ignites one of those incandescent Flashbulb moments

of Understanding without Explanation, one of those numinous, ambiguous moments of Clarity, when, Metaphorically speaking, you lift your gaze up from your shoes scuffling through the dust, to see unfolding before you the Vast and Ultimate Horizon towards which you journey.

*

Be that as it may, dear reader, all this Philosophising is merely by way of Introduction, to the story of how I once over-heard such a sentence that has by some quirk, remained with me for the rest of my Life.

It’s hardly a story at all, really, more of a reminiscence, or an anecdote of sorts, but let me set the scene anyway, put a frame around the tableau so that you might properly appreciate the nuances of this brief Parable concerning Cake.

Ah yes, Melbourne in the 1980’s. I was living in a very nice Squat by the beach in St Kilda. This was no dank dive with holes in the roof and infested by rats. No, it was a very nice Edwardian establishment with a marble fire-place in every bedroom, a rose garden and only five minutes walk along the beach to the action and grit of Fitzroy Street.

It was occupied by fugitive Brisbane Anarchists who, with their usual paramilitary efficiency honed by years of surviving Joh’s Qld, had promptly connected the electricity and water, set up a food co-op and negotiated an “understanding” with the Owner.

St Kilda in 1987 was infested with young people dressed in black. It was like living in the City of the Goths. They all seemed to be unemployed or students and every second person was in a band. So was I. All around me ephemeral bands formed and faded before you could remember their name. It was like watching flowers bud, bloom and die in moments through the Miracle of stop-motion photography.

Prostitution and heroin were also part of the St Kilda ambiance at the time, as were the cheap Markets, the “All Night” bars and obscure Delicatessens.

But one of the true joys of living in St Kilda back then was the Ackland Street cake shops. (Sadly, I’m told that, in this Age of Yuppification of former Bohemian enclaves, no more than three or four such establishments remain.) Ah, the Ackland Street cake shops in their hey-day! Founded by Polish and Jewish immigrants (some, like the Monarch, founded as long ago as the 1930’s), they were a cornucopia of European confectionery such as you’d imagine you’d only find in some Old World Cosmopolitan centre like Vienna or Paris. Fantastic mirages of sugar and cream were created every day. Towering confections of chocolate & pastry arose, gaudily decorated Babels of Delight..The eye glazes over in diabetic shock just in contemplation of those forbidden pastries displaying themselves with such lascivious abandon in the Front Windows of the Ackland Street Cake Shops..

It wasn’t just the cakes and sweeties, poppy seed strudels, rum babas, savouries, bagels & buns, et al. that they sold. There was also the bread. MMmm, the bread! REAL black breads glossed over with a delicate skin-like layer, tasty and tangy. I particularly liked the ones garnished with caraway seeds. Rye bread actually made with Rye! Black bread that’s black. Bread with Substance. Bread with Weight. You got a good swing up you could sink a submarine with one of those loaves. Ah, you can’t get bread like that in today’s pre-packaged, partially-processed, sliced, gluten-free, multi-grain, quinoa infested, dough-balls-that-gag-you-to-think-about Supermarkets. Bread they call it! HA!

This was many years ago, but even now as I type, my madly drooling taste-buds, overcome with nostalgia, are urging me to stop writing, get on the first plane available, fly to Melbourne and commandeer a taxi for a white-knuckle drive across town to St Kilda and the Cake Shops that call like Sirens!

Hmm.. if I left now I could probably just make it before closing time..

But no! Duty calls, and today’s Sermon is moving slowly, but inexorably to its climax..

The Sunday Crush.

The weekends, especially Sunday afternoon were always a busy time for the Cake Shops of  Ackland Street. People streamed in from everywhere to get their sweet and savoury treats, their black bread and bitter fresh-ground coffee, and the queues of those yet to be served could often extend far out into the street.

So one Sunday afternoon on Ackland street around sunset, and I am queueing with the usual cosmopolitan mix of aging bohemians, punk rockers, East European matrons, orthodox jews, prostitutes and others, all crammed together in the tiny interior, packed counter to wall with the Devotees of Cake. I use Queueing in the loosest sense of the word, it was more like a shuffling swarm with occasional surges to the front whenever a gap appeared. Nonetheless, the crowd was amiable and a certain sense of decorum still prevailed. There was no shoving. The crowd parted courteously as those served performed the delicate operation of transporting their delicate confections to the door undamaged.

In front of me are two little old European ladies dressed in black, carrying identical straw baskets and chatting away in some dialect I do not know as they wait in line. They chat, we wait, the line slowly creeps closer. “It really is crowded today”, one of the women says to the other. The other nods, is silent for a moment, then turns to her friend and says:

“Who would have ever thought back when we were girls queuing for Bread in Poland, that one day we’d be queuing for Cake in St Kilda.”

They both laughed then, helplessly leaning in against each other. One placed her hand on her friend’s arm and the other placed her hand on top of hers, sharing in their Laughter the Absurdity of it All, the Luck of Surviving,and the Heartbreak of Loss, and Adventure of their Lives. So much of their lives revealed in that simple sentence, and so much History.

What had those women seen? What had they survived ? Which of Europe’s nightmares had they escaped from? Pogroms? Death Camps? Wars? Famine?

I didn’t know, but I was glad that they survived to become respected grandmothers, living a comfortable life in a friendly country, and were able to queue for Cake on Sunday in peace.

Then it was their turn to get served at the counter, and they shuffled forward together to place their orders for KugelHupf and Cheesecake.

***

***

The Reverend Hellfire is a practised Performance Poet,

President of the Kurilpa Institute of Creativity

and an Ordained Minister of the Church of Spiritual Humanism

AND the Church of the Universe.

Sweet Tooth and a Bitter Tongue.

***

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~ by reverendhellfire on June 11, 2017.

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