Provénce had a sister spirit in The Antique Garden in Norman on Boyd Street. The francophile spirit ran strong. Oklahoma yearns for Europe.
The building was low, covered in light stucco, with a patio out front where people used to study or play chess in the evening sun. When I was a student, the address was Café Espresso (exactly what it sounded like). Then it was acquired by La Baguette, central Oklahoma’s authentic French bakery, which was trying to be like Au Bon Pain in Washington D.C. or La Madeleine in Dallas. La Baguette could only aspire because, along with many other reasons, they always forgot to salt the water when they boiled the potatoes for their potato salad, creating a pasty mush garnished with green parsley. The food was depressing at best, and in their sit-down restaurant on the other side of the interstate, I had been told by a mortified French professor, they served diners water in sport bottles rather than in a glass carafe, requiring the diners to squirt the water into their mouths like they were coming in on the end of Day Eighteen of the Tour de France, somewhere after Mt. Ventoux. The chocolate mice were good, though, dark fondant chocolate ganache with a tiny drizzled tail at the back and a dark chocolate bead for a nose. I often ordered a chocolate mouse with my coffee.
In any case, La Baguette went out of business and decamped – the rent was too high, thanks to Harold Powell, which is another story. In came The Antique Garden, which we called The Antikew Garden. Like Provaynce. I mean, why not keep it consistent.
The owner looked like she had been raised in close vicinity to La Madeleine in Dallas, all blonde highlights, tanned, slim, careful makeup. But there were to be found neither antiques nor garden in the Antikew Garden.
Here is what you could buy in the Antikew Garden: skinny jeans, Brighton key fobs, greeting cards, tile coasters with faded image transfers of French wine labels, throw rugs in school colors, or a third of a wooden altar screen ripped out of some European chapel with a now homeless Madonna, flat-faced and Gothic. I always wondered where they obtained the altar screen. The hinges hung half-crazed. The Madonna looked down as though she wondered herself what the hell had happened. She had a hand-written tag, indicating that the cost to purchase her was three thousand dollars. I felt unsure where anyone might locate such an item in their home.
“Oh yes,” I overheard the owner say one day on a call, “we just ship all this stuff over from Europe. We just pack a container and ship it here. Once a year.”
I tried to imagine the thin owner personally removing the statue and screen from a backwoods chapel in France. She didn’t seem hale enough for such work. I wondered who her despoiling henchmen were, and what she paid them. Maybe the items were just traded and fenced via unsavory brokers.
I looked over at the deracinated Madonna, the flaking paint of her blue and red gown, and wondered what she thought when she was brought from the dark container and placed in the Antikew Garden, a pricetag on her pale hand.