Let Them Eat Chocolate

February 14, 2013 § Leave a comment


If you want to be loved, be lovable.
If you wish to be loved, show more of your faults than your virtues.
Edward G. Bulwer-Lytton
Write me 500 words on whether or not the above quotes are in conflict.

Did you make valentines as a child, sitting at a table all weekend with construction paper and lace doilies, stickers and crayons? That early February snow-light, afternoons already longer, the smell of Elmer’s glue? Looking forward to hot chocolate, dinner, Saturday night TV (The Outer Limits, Gilligan’s Island)?

I had lots of creative activity as a girl—painting and poems and sewing projects, elaborate dioramas of dolls and toy animals—but making valentines was by far the most satisfying. We made them as a family. They were to be given away. I remember that feeling of being suffused with love, overflowing with it, when I handed the most embellished, the queen valentine, to my mother.

This year, my mother gave me a box of chocolate ladybugs, complete with rhyming couplet. And when I’m finished with the book I’m currently reading, The True History of Chocolate by Sophie D. Coe and Michael D. Coe, I’ll send it to her.

“In an early Colonial report on the ‘wild’ (that is, still unconquered) Chol Maya of the Chiapas forests, cited by Eric Thompson: ‘The form of the marriage is this; the bride gives the bridegroom a small stool painted in colors, and also gives five grains of cacao, and says to him “These I give thee as a sign I accept thee as my husband.” And he also gives her some new skirts and another five grains of cacao, saying the same things.’”

We exchange gold rings instead of cacao beans; which is the fertile and nourishing symbol? I’m not quite certain of the reason for the small stool painted in colors. The gift of skirts for the bride makes me think of the husband under her skirts, sitting on the stool, etc, but that sounds more Victorian porn than Mayan wedding night. Not that I’d know anything about it.

Think of all the moments you have treated chocolate like a cheap commodity, something to consume in the form of powdered cake mix, Hershey bars, chewable chocolate-flavored vitamins. A Starbucks mocha is not far up the evolutionary ladder. Why then, should we not have a culture of penis growth supplements and vaginal cosmetic surgery? In my youth, a debased period but far superior to the present day, people licked chocolate syrup off one another’s genitals. Genitals untouched not only by the scalpel but the razor, I might add. I can’t say I actually did that myself. We did it with wine, Charles and I–not very good wine, either. It was messy.

Weddings weren’t the only rituals cacao was used for. The Spanish were astonished to discover that these “savages” had their own form of baptism.

“The ritual was in the charge of a gorgeously arrayed priest. The children gathered together inside a cord held by four elderly men representing the Chacs (rain gods), each standing in a corner of the room. Then the noble who was giving the ceremony took a bone and wet it in a vessel filled with water made of ‘certain flowers and of cacao pounded and dissolved in virgin water, which they call that brought from the hollows of trees of the rocks of the forest’; with this liquid he anointed the children on their foreheads, faces, and the spaces between their fingers and their toes, in complete silence.”

My mother did her best to approximate this: Easter Sunday overflowing with chocolate eggs and rabbits, much of it ending up smeared on our faces. Even she forgot the spaces between our fingers and toes.

For those of you with small children, unencumbered by Christianity, consider inventing your own baptismal ritual. Depending on where you live, rain gods may or may not be warranted.

In other news:

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

(from Dover Beach, by Matthew Arnold)

Let us be true to one another because the world offers no joy nor love nor light; we just made that stuff up ourselves. Mostly Matthew loved his talent, and his love, whoever she was, probably didn’t even like him.

But maybe she did. I’m surrounded by happy couples: both siblings, both nieces. And I love Charles too, though it’s a cracked happiness, one of those hearts with a zigzag lighting bolt going through, all sorts of things falling out the broken place. But I did buy him a box of Li-Lac truffles. He promised to wash the dishes sometime this week.

The Warning

For love—I would
split open your head and put
a candle in
behind the eyes.

Love is dead in us
if we forget
the virtues of an amulet
and quick surprise.

Robert Creeley

Jewelry, Cabbage, Happy Birthday

February 1, 2013 § Leave a comment

I’ve been making jewelry for Valentine’s Day, playing with my pearls and glass and polished stones, feeling dragonish. I started a jewelry blog a while ago and haven’t kept it up, but I’m going to start writing more. So for those of you who are interested, here’s the page. Remember, buying handmade goods in this era of industry befouling the earth is an act of great virtue, for which you will be rewarded in the next life, if having beautiful necklaces and earrings isn’t enough for you. I’m no good at raising pastured chickens or making artisanal cheese, although my fruitcakes are pretty amazing. In any case, check it out (or don’t, see if I care).

We’ve been living a frugal life, eschewing the gaudy luxuries of dining out, theater and music (with some exceptions) and that’s been fine. Now I’m taking it to the next level, determined to use every scrap of food I buy, turning leftovers, soft onions and old cabbage-ends into brilliant meals. It helps that I’m reading and writing about this for work: globally, we waste nearly 50% of food produced. I’ve dreamed about this the last two nights, though I won’t discount the possibility that my unconscious has found a handy new metaphor for its fear that I am wasting my life. Nevertheless, scouring the fridge and eating what I may not be in the mood for doesn’t feel like deprivation, but a challenge.

But I buy crystallized ginger and chocolate bars and ice cream, so I’m not quite living like Russian poets under Stalin. (I know it wasn’t just poets, but they’re the ones whose lives I’ve read about.) I eat better than medieval royalty, and so do you, unless you dine at Krispy Kreme.

I’m also going to splurge on the Outsider Art Fair this weekend, because I want to and in celebration of my brother Jimmy’s birthday: he’d be 62 today, if he’d made it past 14.

He was a very good artist, as well as completely charming and lovable. I miss him all the time.

The poem that got Osip Mandelstam sent to Siberia, referred to as

The Stalin Epigram

Our lives no longer feel ground under them.
At ten paces you can’t hear our words.

But whenever there’s a snatch of talk
it turns to the Kremlin mountaineer,

the ten thick worms his fingers,
his words like measures of weight,

the huge laughing cockroaches on his top lip,
the glitter of his boot-rims.

Ringed with a scum of chicken-necked bosses
he toys with the tributes of half-men.

One whistles, another meows, a third snivels.
He pokes out his finger and he alone goes boom.

He forges decrees in a line like horseshoes,
One for the groin, one the forehead, temple, eye.

He rolls the executions on his tongue like berries.
He wishes he could hug them like big friends from home.

–Osip Mandelstam

Translation by W.S. Merwin

She Wolf

February 6, 2009 § 1 Comment

While following the stimulus-plan drama on TV, I’ve been making Valentine’s Day jewelry—not specifically for V day, just necklaces featuring that bright pink we all associate with heart-shaped chocolate boxes, roses, and female baboons in heat.

Many men, for reasons I fail to understand, have an aversion to Valentine’s Day. Flowers, chocolates, sex—what’s so difficult? No guesswork is involved.  My husband kept forgetting that I really liked expensive chocolate. For 25 years. But he made me some spectacular cards.

That was Charles, forgetful and poor. Philip actually hates the day itself, even though he listens to Sinatra on Jonathan Schwartz every weekend, and often cries. He’s as soft inside as a Hershey bar left on the dashboard in high summer. But maybe that’s the trouble. Why have a day for romance when all of life is supposed to be romantic, from boyish heroics to glamorous women, ‘50’s jazz bars, torch songs, idealistic Presidents…oh, wait, we have that last one. Maybe he’ll feel better this year.

I’m thinking we should skip the 14th and move right on to February 15th—the Roman festival of Lupercalia. On that date, in Classical times, Roman priests would go to the cave where the mythic she-wolf once suckled the twins Romulus and Remus, sacrifice a goat and a dog, smear the foreheads of two highborn young men with blood and wipe it off with wool soaked in milk, at which point the men were required to laugh—are you with me so far, guys? Then the hide of the goat was cut into strips and soaked in blood. The young men ran naked through the streets—except for a bit of goat hide fastened around their waists (I don’t know what happened to the dog, possibly eaten by the priests)—brandishing their bloody whips and lashing everyone in sight, but especially women who would line up for the favor, as this ritual was thought to bring fertility and ease in childbirth.

Now that Robert Bly’s Iron John has been unhip long enough to be hip again, maybe we should encourage our partners to strip down and flail about with animal hide, while we wait “like children at school present[ing] their hands to be struck”* and keep our mouths shut about how often we’ve entertained the fantasy of pulling out a bloody tampon and smacking them in the face with it.

Ok, maybe that’s just me.

Yes, I have my period today, for the 475th time. Imagine if I’d made embryos out of all those eggs, rounded up a herd of wolves to bear and suckle them…I could replace the entire House of Representatives and all Republican senators with my offspring.

* Plutarch, The Life of Caesar

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