If the universe were made of chocolate, this is what it would look like. A limitless expanse of darkness. Stardust made from cocoa powder and the tiniest flakes of grated Ghirardelli. A firmament sparkling with a million individually foil-wrapped Hershey's Kisses. The whole of creation infused with the aroma of chocolate bars with ethereal names: Dove, Sky, Milky Way. Vast chocolate planets hanging in the chocolate sky: Jupiter with its giant red spot picked out in glacé cherries, Saturn with its rings made of brittle caramel, Venus built entirely from pure white chocolate. The asteroid belt filled with éclairs and profiteroles. And in a sort of interstellar joke, Mars would be constructed entirely of Mars bars, the red planet rendered a light chocolate brown for all eternity.
The Earth itself would be the center of this universe. Its continents would be made of vast slabs of chocolate originating from exactly the places they represented. Mighty America would be built from Snickers and Hershey's bars, and Reese's peanut butter cups; Europe would be made of Kit Kats, and After Eights, and gianduia and huge blocks of Lindt and Godiva; Australia would be made of Top Decks. Africa, South America, and Asia would be built from cocoa beans -- billions upon billions of them -- raw, unprocessed, and glued together with millions of gallons of dark cane-sugar syrup.
Geographical features would be lovingly sculpted from the most appropriate materials. Toblerone triangles would form vast mountain ranges, tipped with white chocolate snow and forested with trees made from chocolate Pixy Sticks and Big Hunk bars. Rivers of chocolate liqueur would flow through boulders of Baci and Ferrero Rocher down to carved chocolate seashores, where oceans of Nutella would lap thick, viscous waves upon cocoa powder beaches. At the poles there would be icebergs and glaciers made from rich white chocolate ice cream. At the equator there would be volcanic springs giving forth geysers of hot drinking chocolate. It would be a beautiful world, rich and soft and sweet, lit by halogen lamps and saved from melting by a refrigerator deep within its core.
At the moment, and for the next two days, the capital of this chocolate world is New York City. People from all over the planet have convened in this metropolis to attend the International Chocolate Trade Fair, and to sample the vast array of chocolate available in the city. They try everything on offer, from the Sacher torte in Madison Avenue's most exclusive eateries to the sugary sweetness of Betty Crocker's Black Forest gâteau available in all the local delis. They sample the delicacies of the French patisseries in SoHo. They eat chocolate bars from the Korean delis in the East Village and compare the mousses in the Four Seasons with those from Gristede's. It is a three-day orgy of chocolate.
New York has been chosen as the venue for the Trade Fair because it consumes so much. It doesn't matter if the fair is in town or not, chocolate is always here. And it is omnipresent. It takes pride of place in the pantries of the Upper East Side brownstones and in the kitchen closets of the Washington Heights projects. There is chocolate on the lips of vacation lovers. There is chocolate in the hot drinks of cold retirees sipping on oblivion. There is chocolate around the mouths of Park Slope schoolkids, and on the sticky fingers of ten-year-olds selling stolen cell phones to tired commuters outside Pelham Bay Park subway station. There is chocolate in the smiles of brokers at the New York Stock Exchange. There is chocolate in the desk drawers of secretaries, chocolate on the bodies of glamour models posing for top-shelf magazines, chocolate in coffee breaks, chocolate on dinner dates, chocolate in factory cafeterias and on boardroom tables, chocolate in the hands and hearts and mouths of just about everyone who has seventy-five cents to spend on a snack, or fifteen bucks to spend on a few moments of luxury.
The International Chocolate Trade Fair is being held in the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center on the west side of Manhattan. It is 9 a.m., and the fair has just opened up. Hordes of people have braved the April rain to stand in line for the entrance, their umbrellas jostling with one another like octagonal lily pads floating on the surface of the wet city streets. Once through the doors the umbrellas are shaken and folded and wielded like batons by enthusiastic owners eager to fight their way through to the sweet-smelling displays and the smiles of the salespeople at their booths. Near the entrance a restaurateur is arguing with a rather large woman who has flourished her umbrella a little too enthusiastically, scratching his face below his left eye with one of the spokes. He proclaims loudly that a woman like her shouldn't be at the fair. He tells her that with a butt like hers she should steer clear of chocolate altogether.
Farther in, the crowds are calmer, lulled perhaps by the sweet chocolate aroma that fills the building like some sort of invisible fog. Their movements are sluggish. They seep from display to display, drinking in the seemingly unlimited variety of chocolate products: chocolate wedding cakes, chocolate escargots, chocolate tennis rackets, chocolate trees with truffles as fruit and large, sculpted chocolate shavings as leaves. There is even a stall where you can have business cards made from chocolate, and where, for a small fortune, you can have a large slab of chocolate carved into your own portrait.
Farther in still there are the food stands, where the less well-informed parts of the crowd quickly learn that not all chocolate is sweet. Here hapless mothers try to convince hyperactive children to try chocolate curries or mole sauces or black polenta flavored with cocoa. Immigrants from Mexico are happy here. Others are less certain -- the more adventurous try samples before buying a full meal, while established chocophiles shy away from the unfamiliar foods, having already gorged themselves on the sweeter products they came here for.
In the middle of the hall, at the very epicenter of the chocolate industry, there is the sculpture of the chocolate universe. Here no one moves at all. They merely gape at the grandeur and the vastness of the giant structures and wonder aloud what the world would be like if it truly were made of chocolate, if everything around them were edible and sweet, if they themselves were made of chocolate -- living, breathing chocolate beings with bones made of peanut brittle, muscles made of sponge, and hot fudge sauce flowing through their chocolate veins. At over ten yards tall and almost twenty yards across, it is the largest chocolate sculpture ever made: a colossus that has attracted the attention of newspapers from around the world. As a piece of art it is intriguing; as a piece of engineering it is a marvel. But its greatest success is as a piece of advertising. A rumor is spreading among these people already that at the end of the exhibition the chocolate universe will not merely be dismantled but consumed. Visitors on the last day will be able to break off pieces of the very fabric of the cosmos and take them home: a piece of Pluto, a piece of Orion or the Great Bear or the Crab Nebula. The organizers are expecting a rush for parts of the sculpture of Earth itself. Switzerland and Belgium, they predict, will be the first to go.
Sitting beside this vast chocolate sculpture is a woman. She is not like the other people here. She has no umbrella. She has no raincoat, and her clothes are unseasonably thin, as if she has been caught off-guard by the weather outside. Her blouse and her light cotton sarong are well made, but very crumpled, as though she has been sleeping in them. At her feet is a small but tightly crammed backpack, at which she glances occasionally to make sure it is still there. She has big blue eyes, but they have the tired look of someone who has been awake for most of the night. Her face has been tanned to the color of light caramel by some far-off sun, and her blond hair bleached to the color of cocoa butter.
She is quite unlike almost everyone else here, but what truly marks her out in the crowd that has congregated at the center of the International Chocolate Trade Fair is that she alone is not marveling at the vast sculpture she sits beside. In fact, she is not even looking at it. She sits with her back to it, as though she finds the very thought of such opulence distasteful.
Opposite this woman, across a short span of empty floor space, a man is watching her. His gaze is not that of a predator, but rather the look of someone accustomed to being bored by his surroundings, who has just caught sight of something unusual. He is standing at one of the larger trade stands, surrounded by posters and leaflets and stacks of big, glossy catalogs. Like all the other men standing around him, he wears a sharp suit and a professional smile, but unlike them he does not look as if he is here to talk to any of the passersby. It is obvious that he does not need to sell his products, that he leaves this to others while he keeps his eyes on the bigger picture. Only today his eyes are not on the bigger picture. They are resting on the woman with the backpack, and smiling sadly as if the memory of something dear to him has just entered his mind.
He only gets to look at her for a few short seconds. Suddenly, as if deciding that she has had enough, she lifts her bag from the ground and swings it onto her shoulders. As she stands up, her eyes lock with those of the man at the stand, just for a moment, but then both of them look away to other, more inconsequential things. It is embarrassing to hold the eyes of a stranger for too long. It implies intent. It implies commitment.
When the man at the booth looks back, she has disappeared. In her absence, all that is left is the sculpture. Somehow it looks incomplete now that she is gone -- less impressive, less marvelous. The crowds of openmouthed tourists move on and are replaced by new ones. Fresh blocks of chocolate are consumed. New candy wrappers are discarded and trampled into the exhibition hall's floor. The man at the stand turns back to the group of colleagues who surround him and forgets that the woman was ever there.
Before him, the sculpture continues to draw the crowds. A group of New Jersey schoolkids wander past and take photographs, and their teacher smiles, because he knows that their cameras are not equipped with good enough lenses to fit the whole sculpture into one picture. At best they will come away with mere details, or panoramas they will have to piece together like jigsaws later. None of them will show the chocolate universe as it really is, and the full grandeur of the piece will be lost.
Copyright © 2005 by Keith Lowe
New Free Chocolate Sex
Can your sworn enemy become your romantic obsession? What lies between sugar and spice? Do personal tastes ever change? And when should we try something new? As this irresistible novel reminds us, sometimes love is the least predictable flavor in life's box of chocolates.
Matt, the brilliant young marketing director of the confectionery Trundel & Barr, loves chocolate. To him it represents sensuousness and innocent joy; it is to be adored, worshipped -- and exploited -- at every opportunity. For Samantha, however, chocolate represents something more sinister: While researching for a television documentary she learns that there is a darker side to Trundel & Barr, in the horrendous conditions of its African cocoa plantations. So Sam sets out to expose Matt -- until she finds herself locked up with him in his own chocolate factory. Stuck together, they are at risk of having a complete meltdown. But if Sam and Matt can find a way to confront their differences and learn to accept each other's passion for chocolate, their bitter situation stands a chance of turning out sweet....
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Reading Group Guide
1) Describe Sam's character. What are her main career motivations? Do you think she treats Matt fairly at the beginning of their encounter? What are some of the main issues she grapples with before, during and after her time in the chocolate warehouse? What is your overall opinion of Sam?
2) Describe Matt's character. What effects did growing up and working in his father's candy store have on his career path and relationship with other people? What motivates him in his profession? Does he differ from other marketers? What is your overall opinion of Matt?
3) Describe Matt and Sam's relationship with each other. What is the nature of the preconceptions they have about another on first meeting? How are these resolved? What are the main things they share in common?
4) Both Sam and Matt have dysfunctional relationships in their past. How have their experiences affected them? How did emerging from an abusive relationship affect Sam's behavior towards Matt?
5) The concept of marketing is central to the story and to Matt's character. How are the opposing viewpoints on the relevance and power of marketing presented? Do you agree with one viewpoint more than the other? How does the title of the novel tie in with this theme?
6) Chocolate has a very prominent presence in the novel. Describe the part it plays in each of the character's lives. What are some of the positive and negative effects it has see more