I have recently read a book about desires. Desires for chocolate. It surprises me how such a desire did not have a book before. Or if it did -Joanne Harris' Chocolat (1999) and Laura Esquivel's Like Water for Chocolate (1989)- it is interesting that those desires are linked to fictional places associated with magic, making one feel that a desire for chocolate is not real. Yet we see the constant adverts at around this time of the year telling us that yes, it is natural (and sexy and feminine) to desire chocolate. The young and perfect-looking women in their semi-naked poses on our screens (because yes, that’s how women -for only women love chocolate- indulge in such frivolities) look longingly at a bar of semi-sweet sea-salt bacon-soaked chocolate. OK. Maybe this is a bit too much. Or maybe it isn’t. Desire for Chocolate has a lot of chocolate in it, obviously. And a lot of women (fully-clothed for most of the time). And a lot of desires. And it’s got Barcelona too. Desire for Chocolate is a novel in three parts. Each part could almost be a novel in itself, the three of them making up a trilogy. But it’s not. And we have over 400 pages of mysteries, passions, travel back in time all through chocolate and a little white and blue porcelain chocolatière that links them all.
First there’s Sara, the chocolatier in the 21st century, carrying on the family tradition. Married with two perfectly behaved children she’s got everything in her life to make her happy. And yet. That desire. Then there’s Aurora, who takes us two centuries back in her role as a maid for a wealthy Catalan family. Her link to chocolate? Càndida, the young lady she’s in charge of and the marriage of such young woman to the heir of one of the most renowned chocolatiers of the city. Again, a wealthy family, healthy offspring and a prosperous life. Everything one should humbly aspire to. And yet. That desire. Plus the forbidden. And coming last is Mariana. In 18th century Barcelona the Guild of chocolatiers is a nest of vipers, and Mariana has to fight her position as the wife of one of its members, because she, as a woman, may not own her shop. Interestingly enough, of these three women Mariana’s the one who does not have it all. And yet. She’s the happiest.
With Sara we hear the hurried hustle of the vibrant city Barcelona is in the 21st century. We feel the distant cars whilst Sara spies on her husband and friend, we connect with the teenage kids, with the husband, with Sara. They live lives not too dissimilar from ours, if only for a different background. Set in l’Eixample we don’t walk around the touristy parts of Barcelona, but we become part of Sara’s life for the first third of the book and hence we take in the best a city has to offer: its everydayness.
Aurora’s life is not less eventful than Sara’s but in her case she seems to be the recipient of life, rather than its leader. Aurora’s charge is her responsibility and therefore her one goal in life. So she ceases to exist to make room for the young lady’s desires and frivolities. Until life happens to her, again, and Aurora’s path changes directions. And with her we go to the opera. Loads of Verdi and Mozart and Italian quotes galore. We sit at Barcelona’s opera house, El Gran Teatre del Liceu, before and after it was bombed. We mingle with the posh and wealthy of the Catalan bourgeoisie and yes, we eat chocolate. We smell it. And taste it. And savour it. Its thickness. Its sharpness. Its pungent kick. This second third of the book also takes us to Casa Amatller. At least this is where reading about Aurora’s care brought me to. Right next to Casa Batlló on Passeig de Gràcia sits another modernist house named after its original owner: Amatller. The Amatllers were chocolate importers and makers; they were wealthy. And their house is now a museum open to the public.
Visits are limited and guided. The rooms take you back in time and that’s how I felt when I read about Aurora and Càndida. I was back in that house. Whether or not you visit Casa Amatller, a stop at its café is a must. Either to enjoy a cup of hot chocolate yourself or to get some to bring back home. We always do.
Back in the 18th century, Mariana’s Barcelona is dark, cold, and foggy. Almost like one imagines Europe in those days. I doubt it was, though, but it seems that going back in time one has to blur the edges of our imagination. It’s harder to imagine a city so far back in time, but Barcelona still boasts its old quarters, el Born, Santa Maria del Mar, carrer Montcada, those streets are still there and other than the fancy shops and boutiques we have now, the buildings look pretty much the same. It is easy, once you’re there, to get lost and let your imagination run wild to take you to the times of guilds and horses and a life with tangible pleasures, and dangers!
Desire for Chocolate, makes you want to eat chocolate the proper way, not on the go, but sitting at a café or at home, enjoying a chat with your friends or quietly with a book. It also makes you want to visit Barcelona and for those who’ve been there it evokes the memories we safely keep until we return.
Tile: Desire for Chocolate
Author: Care Santos
Original title (Catalan): Desig de xocolata
Translator: Julie Wark
Publisher: Alma Books
Date: 15th June 2015
Ingredients for Your Chocolate Indulgence in Barcelona:
Museu de la xocolata, the name says it all.