Conversations at a Bakery

My mother’s father was a baker. I have his first name, Basil, but a different surname. His was Moutsatsos. He comes from a beautiful seaside village on the eastern phalanx of the Peloponnese, from a village called Velanidia. The story goes that during the invasions by the Spanish fleet the villagers would all run down to the beach shouting “muchacho, muchacho”, Spanish for friends, in order to sell their wares to the galleons. So “Muchacho” became Moutsatsos.

I do not remember my grandfather at all, although I remember the bakery he had in Van Riebeck Avenue. It was an underdone art deco building, with plain white columns holding up the long  veranda alongside the road. Proto Bakery was glass fronted with specialist cakes displayed in the windows. The counters were glass and lay in an L shape, with one arm  running on the left side as you entered, with the till, and the other side facing you. Behind the glass counter facing you was the bakery, through a door, you could see the ovens and the mixers. There were also great big bags of flours, white dust everywhere, that my grandfather sued to sleep on when he first arrived in South Africa and worked at his uncle’s bakery.

There was no air-conditioning in those days and the climate on the Highveld was mild. It was a busy bakery, as my grandfather had nine children to feed and school, with five daughters that helped behind the counter on weekends when they were not attending Bertolis Greek Boarding School in parktown. The clean air and busyness filled the store with mouth-watering aromas, and the sight of crisp French loaves and newly iced cakes made people salivate as they anticipated the tasting.

On the north side of the bakery on the same side of the road was the Reno Bioscope. There were steps leading down to the road from the ticket office and at interval the bakery would fill with bioscope viewers and many of the neighbourhood friend would help the five daughters behind the counter. That in itself was an enticement.

My father’s father, John, and Papou Basil were good friends, so Basil did not blink an eye when my father started helping out behind the counter and then started walking one of the girls to their home on 5th Avenue after the movies. Bets were on as to which of the five sisters he was after. My mother says she like him, and he approached her sister Irene to arrange that he could sit next to my mother at the bioscope. My mother was sitting already when he sat down unexpectedly next to her. She was quite angry and gut up with a quick move that almost tore her skirt off as he had made sure to sit on the wide long skirts of the fifties to make sure she could not leave.

My mother was seventeen and my father eighteen when they met. He took her to his matric farewell one year later and they were married three years after that.

My grandfather’s bakery supplied the cake. It had a Greek flag and Ionic columns supporting the happy figurines that stayed together for forty nine years.

 

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