In The Heart, On The Tongue

Publication Year: 
1989

Viva chocolate and whoever invented it!
Carlo Goldoni (1707-1793), from La concersazione

Chocolate has claimed the attention of gourmets and gourmands for centuries, but recently psychologists have begun to consider it too. It is a substance that seems to have been made purposely for subtle and alluring interpretations. Are you hopelessly in love with chocolate? A psychologist might say that you are rewarding the childish part of yourself, that is to say, the eternal child voluptuously going back to the maternal breast each time you reach into a box of chocolates or sink your teeth into the sweetness of a dark perfumed bar. Not to mention emotional compensation -- chocolate as substitute for the affection denied us in childhood or perhaps lost (in which case the theory is that devouring chocolate is part of the 'mourning process'). Chocolate, then is a replacement for, or at least about surviving in the hopes of, love.
So far so good, but in that case I cannot help feeling sorry for the Swiss, or for the thousands of Swedes driven to the arms of this dark consolation. The statistics are clear. The English are heavy consumers of chocolate, 16 1/2 lb/7.5kg per person per year, while Americans consume 11 1/4 lb/5kg. But look at the poor Swiss who consume 21 3/4lb/9.9kg per year and the Swedish with 19 3/4 lb/9kg. Belgians, too, have their problems, weighing in at 16 3/4lb/7.7kg, while the Germans average 15 1/2 lb/7kg and the French 11lb/5kg. The Italians only manage 2 3/4 lb/1.3lg a year. For most Europeans and Americans, then, chocolate is a food of the people, consumed by the masses, and not Theobroma, 'the food of the gods', as Linnaeus baptised the cacao tree.

Quite apart from my feelings of compassion for the millions of people with so many complexes and so little love, I must point out another less spiritual and more mundane side to all this. Although things have changed in the last decade, in the Scandinavian countries chocolate, like sweets in general, has tended to be an integral part of a normal diet, very rich in the fats and sugars that used to be considered helpful protection against the cold winters of the north, It is not only reserved for special occasions and parties, to be offered as a show of hospitality, it is not necessarily treated as a special gift or prize, nor does it bestow any special privilege or sign of affection on the receiver.

For Germans, Norwegians, Belgians, or the English, eating chocolate is a perfectly normal thing to do. For Mediterraneans, on the other hand, who have a different diet, it is looked upon as a sign of indulgence, a gesture of pleasure, to such an extent that people are often a bit ashamed to be seen eating it in public, as if it were a sign of weakness or ostentation - or even worse, a lack of virility, albeit a childish one...

Fortunately, though, there are many happy to declare loudly their love for the exquisite Theobroma and who try to convert others. Ruggero De Daninos, an Italian actor and poet, writes about chocolate. Not only is he truly in love with the stuff, he has taken to the radio waves to proclaim his hopeless rapture when confronted with the 'famous silver paper,' the seductive lamé wrappings of that gorgeous perfumed object. He says, 'Once the resplendent wrapping has been removed, the smooth, creamy brown skin is revealed, inviting caresses. Finally, there is its sweet body, pliable, warm, soft, flexible, docile... faced with all thoughts of chastity are lost...'

Presented with such ardour, a psychologist would comment: 'Here we have a person who is not afraid to show their childish side, a person who has the courage to spoil themself and show it publicly.' Furthermore, the psychologist would say, 'this cherished object, as alluring as Eros, is in reality the image of the mother figure, an hypnotic suggestion to mind and sense taking us back to the maternal breast'.

So, are we talking about nothing more profound than overgrown children with sweet tooths? maybe. Nevertheless, there are certain extremists among them who are perpetually in love and like anyone in love, willing to do any distance for the beloved Theobroma. This group of lovers, in fact, constitutes a new category among chocolate lovers in general, the chocolate addict. They are especially prevalent - it seems - in certain Anglo-Saxon countries to the north.

Like a Drug
Torment and ecstasy, sin and temptation, intoxication and perdition: not excessive words for a substance like chocolate.

History is constantly confirming this. In all periods of history and in every culture, people have felt a visceral and inescapable love for chocolate: Goethe, Napoleon, Hitler, all bear witness to this, but it is not hard to find victims, even chocolate addicts in everyday life as well. However, they are clever, often hiding their insane passion, jealously cultivating it in private. They only feel they have been unmasked when someone by chance catches the, sticking their fingers into a delicious chocolate cream pie or sitting in front of a small mountain of candy wrappers, the irrefutable evidence of a frenetic and delicious ritual. Indeed, chocolate addicts are coming to be considered in the same class as drug addicts

For chocolate addicts, an unquenchable desire can suddenly manifest itself in a tormenting fashion; they 'need' a chocolate bar or a box of chocolates and they need it now. If they are forced to go without the supreme food, then at a pinch, a cake will do. They may even (how low they sometimes stoop!) be reduced to scouring the neighbourhood for the nearest news stand, underground station vending machine, local café or pub. The quality is not always so good in these impulse buys (whose consumption nevertheless is undergoing an incredible increase), but in those desperate moments, they will do. Those subject to frequent withdrawal symptoms keep provisions in their homes for any emergency and they keep the, carefully hidden. When the moment arrives when they feel their wild and crazy desire. there is fast relief at hand.

-Text from Chocolate, by Schiaffino, Mariarosa, 1989
-Image from http://www.imgion.com/img/chocolate-day/page/7/

chocolate
ShareThis