Polo Country vs.The Third World

I just came back from the neighborhood’s latest cash guzzler, seemingly installed to suck the last red cent out of those who dare to enter. It is seductively arranged to lure even the most dedicated to frugality–will they pull it off?

It’s the latest in glamour grocery stores—well, maybe not ‘the latest’ in some parts of the country, but here it is–and you should have seen the crowds. It looks like the California Gold Rush coupled with a sale at Loehman’s, everyone rushing for a first glimpse of the slick, the new, and the freshly prepared.

The newly arrived are started off with an over-the-rainbow effect in the produce department. Radiant and glowing displays of every fruit and vegetable known to man–well, at least affluent man from the industrialized western cultures. Each specimen on display has been spiffed and polished and artfully arranged so that you are afraid to disrupt the masterpiece if you actually want to buy something. I saw no one daring enough to attempt it. Or perhaps it was another consideration that had everyone immobilized–the prices.

In the whole department, nothing was priced at less than $1.49/lb., and that was for cabbage or turnip greens. There was a 1.5 lb. bag of “rainbow potatoes”–all chicly small–most of them white, a few red, and a few a dark purple color (the skins at least). The bag cost $4.99. For 1.5 lbs. of potatoes. Were they nuts? (No, they were potatoes–nuts were several aisles over and lots more expensive than the potatoes.) Recognize the setting? Whole Foods, of course.

And, of course, the whole place was dazzlingly yet tastefully gorgeous, in a Ralph Lauren kind of way. Perhaps he designed it. Polo Foods.

Each department seemed in competition with the next for which one could appear the most alluring. The settings of natural woods, earth tones, and warm lighting provided an inviting backdrop, worthy of a fashion photo shoot, and not just grocery store displays.

While looking for those fashion models that I knew just had to be lurking there among the kumquats and avocados, I got drawn in to the cheese, bakery, and prepared foods sections–foods freshly prepared daily, of course. But to get there I first had to traverse the vast expanse of the wine department–the whole giant middle of the store, approximately the size of the Mojave Desert. They must be counting on a lot of heavy drinkers in this neighborhood.

The array of imported cheeses was as impressive as those found in the average French street market. But we weren’t in France. And we weren’t on the street, but we would be soon if we indulged many buying impulses at this place. The cost of my latest craving–Roquefort–was up $4.00 a pound from the already sky-scraping price I’m paying at my usual grocery store.

The bakery had not been notified of the low-carb craze–or perhaps they’ve heard that that is on the wane and were taking full advantage. Breads galore, but also all manner of bagels, cookies, cakes, pies, and pastries. Not the ordinary grocery store fare, either, but inspired creations, with American names, but many with European looks. Not for those of the faint of will power–or the weak of wallet. I broke down at the lemon poppy seed scones–mini sized and neatly packaged in containers of 16. Remembering that puny bag of “rainbow potatoes,” the scones were a bargain at $4.00. Or were they? By then, anything under $5.00 seemed a great deal. Perhaps I had been brainwashed by the time I’d reached this far end of the store. Polo Design?

And then, still waiting were all of the freshly made sauces, soups, and myriad spreads–not to mention the full meals from glorified sandwiches with foreign flavors to complete dinner entrees, both foreign and domestically flaired–all presented as artistically as if by Mr. Polo himself.

Finally I got a grip and got myself out of there…and went to my usual place for buying groceries–where I knew I could pay and get out without having to first hold up the bank branch that is within. It was like going from Polo Country to the Third World. But even so, it seemed so comfortingly shabby somehow, and I’ve never thought of it as shabby before–and I’ve never thought of shabby as comforting before either. No Polo here.

The lights were so bright; the displays seemed so cluttered. Garish Halloween displays of mountains of bagged candy. Lots of plain old American practicality with no regard for aesthetics–just put it out and get it sold. But at least I could go home with food that I could pay for–and cook myself–even if I had to do it without any help or glamour from Ralph.

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