As the town falls asleep, the streets fill up with the alluring smell of freshly baked pastries and bread. This is when Ruji Leal, who moved from southern Portugal to Iceland six months ago, starts work at the prestigious bakery Sandholt. He comes from a family of bakers and he has been impressed by his new employer’s professionalism and passion. “People at Sandholt put a lot of art and love into their work—be it making bread or pastry,” says Ruji, who starts preparing our fresh morning bread at midnight.
“The night shift heightens the magic of Iceland’s everyday,” Ruji says. “I’ll be walking to work with snow up to my belly and the fjord in the background in the pitch black night.” He says there’s a reason so many great poets write about the night, as it is then that you get to experience a sort of “poetic freedom.”
Crazy African-style tunes
Ruji welcomes the freedom the night offers and he describes a hopping bakery scene: “I play all this strange music,” he says, laughing. “I’ll plug in the speakers and listen to classic Portuguese Fado music, strange blues—like Tom Waits—or some some crazy African-style tunes if I need some rhythm.” Basically, Ruji releases his inner star when his co-workers are nowhere to be seen.
Becoming an island
This Tom Waits karaoke session continues for about three hours until the next baker arrives, at which point Ruji says he’s so engrossed in what he’s doing that “it’ll scare the shit out of [him].” Ruji enjoys the solitude of the night shift: “There’s no Jehovah’s Witness banging on your door; this time is for you. You become sort of an island.”
Writing a novel
As well as baking delicious goodies, Ruji is currently working on a novel about the beauty of normalcy. He explains, “I try to take little pieces of daily life and give them magic.” Judging by his ability to make magic with the bread, we’re quite sure he’s a magician in other areas as well.
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