I blame the Aztecs. There’s a great line in the Beatles’ song ‘I’m so tired’, when John Lennon sings:
‘I’ll have another cigarette, and curse Sir Walter Raleigh, he was such a stupid get’..
Well I often feel the same way about the Aztecs; if they had not discovered just how useful cacao could be in improving their sex drive –although the jury is still out on that one – then they wouldn’t have told the Spanish about it, who in turn wouldn’t have introduced it to Europe. And I wouldn’t have a chocolate habit.
When times are tough, I know where solace lies. It doesn’t take much to cheer me up. Just one small, unassuming square of dark chocolate (minimum 70% cocoa solids) and the world is back on its axis. Or maybe two squares. Now I do know the dangers of addiction to any substance. Unlike Lennon I kicked the smoking habit in my early twenties, and I’ve never been much of a drinker. But with chocolate I tell myself that this is different, I’m in control, I can manage it. That’s what addicts say, isn’t it?
Please understand that branded chocolate bars just don’t cut the mustard – and indeed whoever heard of cutting mustard with a Bounty, Flake or Mars Bar? No, if it ain’t the dark stuff I’m not interested.
And it’s not just bars of chocolate. Some years ago I was on a walking holiday in northern Italy with a group of people who clearly took the whole thing much more seriously than I did, and leapt from rock to boulder with gay abandon. The walking was strenuous, but the views were fantastic. And then we got to our first ‘refugio’ in the hills, where we were stopping for lunch. The host produced bowls of pasta followed by cup after cup of rich, dark, thick, sticky hot chocolate. I was in heaven. The afternoon’s walking passed easily; I was up there with the gazelles of the group, full of chocolatey energy.
So imagine my delight a couple of years ago when we were visiting Barcelona, turned a corner and chanced upon the Museu de la Xocolata, or Museum of Chocolate. Now that was fun. The displays take you through the history of chocolate and how the humble cocoa bean became a global industry. One of the rooms, the Sala Barcelona, has miniature chocolate models of famous buildings of Barcelona. Sadly they are behind glass; who would have thought I’d have been tempted to nibble the Sagrada Familia?
Not surprisingly, chocolate has inspired a number of films. Perhaps the most well-known is the film Chocolat made in 2000, based on the novel by Joanne Harris, where a young, beautiful chocolatier arrives in rural France with her illegitimate daughter and helps to turn the village life upside down. I would urge people to check out the 1988 film of the same name, directed by Claire Denis and set in Cameroon. It explores themes of colonialism and social and sexual boundaries, and the term ‘chocolat’ in this case refers to 1950s slang, where the word means ‘to be cheated’.
I feel confident that my old friend chocolate would never cheat on me.