BY KATHY PERUTZ
If it looks like chocolate, smells like chocolate and tastes like chocolate, does that mean it’s chocolate?
Odds are close to even. A few years ago the European Commission sent shock waves through the entire Western hemisphere by declaring that “chocolate flavor,” Cadbury’s happy circumlocution advertised on the wrapper, did not qualify. A big kafuffle, Cadbury’s was ousted from the empyrean, and lovers of Swiss chocolate (which I have been since time unremembered, in utero) bared their teeth in grins both lewd and lurid, knowing what we knew, seeing the Anglos brought to their knees once again over a matter of truth and honesty (think: Imperialism, Colonialism, Margaret Thatcher) until everything sort of simmered down, just as things inevitably do no matter how outrageous they appear at the onset (think: – on the other hand, don’t) and a new era in chocolate eating was launched, palm trees and plain wrapping, chocolate for the discriminating, for the connoisseur, chocolate so bitter a sweet child’s mouth could never tolerate it, or so simply odd (eucalyptus? passion fruit? machine oil?) that eating chocolate began to qualify as the next hideous cult foodstuff reserved for the wealthy and educated (those whose instincts were always to reach for the higher priced item, and who could remember that chocolate grew in Madagascar along with lemurs), $10 a bar – hell, why not $100? and what was left for chocolate lovers of the middle class or what used to be called us was the heavily emulsified Hershey or Nestlé bars, loaded with sugar and something called “chocolate flavoring.”
And here we are in our current chocolate realm, not knowing a bit more about this comestible than we did, but becoming slightly afraid of it (is this a health food or a delicious treat? And if the latter, why does it hurt my tongue and send up little puffs of dust from my desiccated mouth?)
Chocolate was once a drink, brought over by the Spaniards from the New World (Mexico) to the whole continent of Europe in the form of a hot liquid served like coffee in special chocolate houses. For men only. The drink was considered too strong for ladies, and nobody who could be called a lady would ever be admitted to the chocolate houses. In London, such places were off-color and frequented by gentlemen whose coachmen were beyond discretion. Like speakeasies centuries later in the U.S. or other places of offending imbibement, they became clubs to which only members were admitted.
In Vienna, chocolate was the delicious poison until the Ottomans came in 1683, invading the Austrian capital with their own sweet Turkish coffee accompanied by a crescent shaped pastry, the kipferl in Vienna or a few years later in Paris the archetypal croissant, where it was perhaps poured then as it is now in the shadow of Notre Dame, from a copper coffeepot held so high above the cup that it becomes a spectacle and mini drama in itself.
But we are not talking about coffee here. Neither are we talking about chocolate, which was just a come-on. What we are talking about is love. What proportion of cocoa is necessary for chocolate to be chocolate? What percentage of love do you need to call it love? And what are the ingredients?
Sugar of course, that’s number one in either case. The happy feeling, all’s right with the world, he is beautiful, I am beautiful, babies are the most adorable things ever created (if you leave out kittens) and I can’t even get to sleep because everything is so exciting. Love is the sugar high, the tingly feeling, creaminess, the knowledge that you own the world and have finally found what you had always been looking for but didn’t recognize until now. The perfect she, the perfect he. It has something to do with spring, pale green shoots and an olfactory je-ne-sais-quoi in the air that lands in the you-know-where and makes you restless, nostalgic, hopeful, stupid, full of nonsense and poetry, champagne and emeralds. But we are still not able to swear to a courtroom of peers that this range or rage of sensations is necessarily connected with a certain person. Love, like spring, can be bustin’ out all over, and you, like a slug, like a fish, like a beautiful Avocet, a Black Swallowtail or bouncing bunny, move towards it blindly, led by hormones, temperature, touch. To me in those moments it seemed that I was a barnacle, torn from my moorings, just looking for a place to attach myself to. Barnacle lust, I called it. Lust has its own domain, and it is vast, vaster than love. Lust is the sugar, love the cocoa bean.
Ah, but what of the bolt from the blue? “Some enchanted evening, you will see a stranger. . . ” or “You’re the lover I’ve been waiting for/The mate that fate had me created for. . .” Romeo and Juliet, how often I tumbled (she was 14, I am a whole sheaf of 14-year olds), ending either in a sudden and happily precipitous loss of weight after powerful exercise, or in a long affair, a lifetime marriage. The coup de foudre of the French, who also formulated, le coeur a ses raisons, “the heart has its reasons,” an oxymoron at first glance and worse at the second, whether we’re talking anatomy, biology, logic or sense.
In fact, love inspires more false truisms than any other subject I can think of, including patriotism, mothers and money. Because love is about everything and nothing: it’s what keeps us, as a species, parents, friends, lovers together. It evolved through a strictly Darwinian imperative: to protect and preserve the genes of animals who were at great risk of losing theirs. A salmon mother, for instance, has little use for love. She will return, when the time is ripe, back upstream to the river where she was born, and there lay her eggs. Which will then be fertilized though she will be dead. However, with millions of eggs per mother, her chances of having her genes survive are extremely high. When you get to humans, however, you need more than just the releasing of eggs or sperm. It turns out you need care, years of it, for our inefficient offspring to survive on their own.
Here is love at its naked beginning. Love, or what would at a later point in evolution develop into love, begins as dependency. The baby cannot survive without its mother (or in some cases, father, as when male birds or fish are the ones who feed their young). And the mother is dependent too, especially mammals, who become uncomfortable if they can’t nurse, and whose hormones are now delivering urgent instructions to feed their infants from their own bodies. Now we have a unit of two, mother and child, the madonnas of every age and culture. If they are humans, they gaze at each other during nursing, the infant first discovering vision through its mother’s face, the outline of her jaw, the interruptions of space that a face represents. And she, peering at the baby for many hours in the course of the day, learns to interpret every movement or gesture. Communication begins and will lead to language, and eventually to words of love, the Song of Songs and the words spoken by Lorenzo to Jessica on a soft night in Venice:
In such a night
Stood Dido with a willow in her hand
Upon the wild sea banks and waft her love
To come again to Carthage.
When our needs come together, it’s love. From dependency to trust through the missing links of our childhood, we will find our friends, companions, become obsessed with lovers both good for us and, especially at the beginning, bad for us; we will discover god because we missed having a father or reject a god for the same reason (gods are never logical and never fair, they just exist to be believed in when the rest of the stagecraft is in danger of falling apart.)
Whether other animals feel love, and to what degree, we can’t know, though dogs who live with humans certainly appear to. A dog needs a master, and here again we have a duo: mother-and-child, man-and-dog. Other domestic animals might show some of this same attachment, though with a cat it’s often hard to make out. Though I loved a cat who I know loved me.
When I first brought Corduroy, a ginger cat, home from the lab at Rutgers where I found him, a tiny walking perfection who looked way up at me with his 5 weeks’ face and said, simply “miao,” which I immediately understood to mean, “take me with you,” he slept in my bed, and I was woken by the sound of kissing. At first I couldn’t place the sensation, then realized it was Cord, curled on my pillow, nursing from my earlobes. From that time on he could never decide whether I was his mother or his girlfriend (a confusion he had in common with males of other species), and in our short but always passionate relationship, he brought me gifts of every kind, beheaded squirrels under my chair at the dinner table, birds in the process of dying, once a still-living snake on my pillow. Always, he looked embarrassed for me when I began berating him, ashamed of my discourtesy and lack of manners.
But certainly I loved him and I have a perhaps misguided assurance that he loved me too. Now, growing older and older, I find that all love melds and blends: my father is my husband is my son, the living and the dead can be equally present, I am being held in the great sea of whatever this emotion is, call it by any scientific or poetic name. And I am not talking about love of humanity or all living things or the planet earth. I mean palpable love, from wherever it comes and however it flows, that holds me and will, I hope, continue to hold me as long as I have life.