Leaving Oxford today. I would say I’ve been here too long, but it’s allowed me to see much and meet some great people. I’m at Bottletree penning this: a twenty-one year old bakery that produces the most delectable pastries and breads. It’s a beautiful specimen.
Sitting at the low bar and looking around I have the sensation that the food here is hardly the focal point, though it is absolutely delicious and quite obviously is the focal point. Yet, on this low, square stool I find myself gazing down the length of this long bar. It runs from the cash register near to me at the front, to the back wall, with a break in the center for employees to enter and exit. Its surface is a faded brown-black all over but for the gouged up nickel trim and at each place in front of each stool where the surface has been worn down to the bare metal beneath that shines with the glow of an old, old, beaten mirror. Surrounding these shining patches of metal, and between those and the brown-black of the surface of the bar, is an area of transition, a fading-to that looks like rust but can’t be.
All these spots at the bar look like Rorshach blots. They look a bit like whole galaxies seen through a telescope. There are specks of red rust scattered like seed around these nebulae, like stardust flung off in their myriad convulsions. This mirrored surface, too, when I look into it and see only a vague, grey shape that is my head, I think about the countless thousands of people who may have sat here over its tweny-one years of existence, and been part of this slow wearing away of a once brightly lacquered blackness into this shimmering, silvery surface.
There is a near-clutter of stuff scattered around the space—bric-a-brac collected over years—hanging on walls, leaning against walls, sitting on shelves. She, the owner, could open an art gallery-cum-antique store with all the collected here. An ancient, naked filing cabinet stands against a wall; enormous quilt yellowed with age hangs on another; painting of a watermelon by Mose Tolliver (perhaps) on the wall, over a toaster oven, directly in front of me; a large bowl of icing on the counter, for cinnamon rolls, also opposite me; a Christmas tree in a small cask, vaguely in the shape of a tall ship, lights on; photographs of the space prior to opening… I ponder over the collection of all these things, and I look at the Faulkner book in front of me, and so think about him and his stories, and I think about the South and the Mississippi Delta and all that has sifted through this region in its long, storied history, and I wonder whether that has stopped today, or if it has just changed, or if anyone cares anymore…
There is so much more here than the food, but it’s the loaves of bread on the shelves, and the pastries, brownies, cookies, etc. behind the glass counter and on top of it that the people come for, but I wonder if they’re missing everything else that gives this place its charm, its story, its own personality of a sort. I wonder if people pay much attention to anything these days that isn’t their intended focus of attention….