When I moved to downtown Victoriaville, my first preoccupation was to find new places to shop for groceries. One of the entries that caught my eye in the Yellow Pages (this should tell you how long ago this happened) was "Fruits Santa Rosa," with an address on Saint-Jean-Baptiste Street just a minute's walk from my apartment. The name made it sound like a wholesaler's warehouse; was it also open to the public? I decided to investigate.
Up and down the street I went, repeatedly looking at the address I'd scribbled on the palm of my hand and at the numbers affixed to facades. I was sure I had the correct address, but there was nothing there... just an empty, abandoned-looking parking lot and a squarish concrete building set well back, with a grey garage door.
I stood on the sidewalk for a moment, a little disappointed. Then, just as I turned to go back home, I caught a movement out of the corner of my eye. Someone had exited the anonymous building through a chipped metal door to the left of the garage door, carrying a white plastic bag. I approached with hesitant steps, opened the door, and stepped into a bare, chilly space that was indeed a warehouse. I could see that refrigerated counters lined two of the walls, while assorted tables and racks down the centre of the wide open room held boxes, tins, and a variety of bulk products in neatly piled bags.
No one questioned my presence, so I took possession of one of the rickety carts near the door and pushed it over the uneven concrete floors, producing a most satisfying racket while I explored this unexpected Aladdin's cave. Super cheap tofu! Massive tubs of olives! Exotic spice mixes in colourful metal containers! A huge variety of rice and grains! In a smaller adjoining room, bottles of oil in a glass-doored refrigerator and shelves crammed with cartons of every kind of plant-based milk imaginable! And near the cash register (under which, I soon learned, sat a box where the employee at the till, after asking the client's permission, placed the leaves from the bunches of carrots they purchased for one of the employees' horse), I discovered locally-made rustic oatmeal cookies with jam filling that became my favourite weekend breakfast.
But the produce! Oh, the produce! As the seasons changed, my devotion to Santa Rosa could only increase; I visited every 2 or 3 days to check on new arrivals. I'd never known what "real" apples looked like before! And I knew it was truly summer when I saw the punnets of local berries ranged on dollies in front of the store.
One summer, a bushel of large, sun-bright nectarines caught my attention – or rather, it was their sweet perfume that lured me straight to them. They were perfectly ripe, as rarely happens in grocery stores. I bought four, had two for dessert that evening, ate the other two at breakfast the next morning, and picked up a few more while running errands that day. Over the following week, the happy-making scent of nectarines floated throughout my entire apartment. I must have eaten a dozen a day, sometimes over a bowl, more often standing at the kitchen sink so I could let the golden juice run down my arms freely, knowing that its fragrance would be absorbed into my skin and later perfume my bedclothes. Each was absolutely glorious.
As soon as nectarine season was over, I started eagerly anticipating the next summer. Alas, such superlative fruit never made another appearance.
I moved away a few years later, and have only gone back to Victoriaville once since. Among the favourite places I revisited was the vacant-looking building at the back of the empty parking lot – but this time, a faded "To Let" sign was hanging crookedly across the garage door. Santa Rosa and its hidden treasures were gone.
Part of me still wonders... was it all a mirage?