October 26, 2005

The Chocolate Celebration: A Preface

I’m getting up a bit late this morning, showering, dressing, etc., with a shamefully blank mind, -- Sibelius’ “Finlandia” was playing on the classical station, which is coincidental for a reason I’ll explain in a moment – and trying to dare myself to concoct a story-post from nothing – which sometimes happens and sometimes has quite good results – when, like a signal that if I only trust to Providence I will receive all that I ask for – the phone rang and I heard Agent 97’s clear, gentle voice on the line:

“Hi, Dad. I was wondering if you would come to our Chocolate Celebration this morning at eleven o’clock.”

A Chocolate Celebration? I’m there, son! And I’ll tell all you readers about it when I get back.

One thing I can tell you already: when I was in school there was no such thing as a Chocolate Celebration at school, and it would have been unheard of for a child to make a telephone call from the classroom. There were no celebrations of any kind when I was a student, except the planned schoolwide pageants for Thanksgiving and Christmas (yes, we acknowledged Christmas in my school) when we were ordered to wear white shirt and green tie – the school colors of P.S. 105, Bronx – and sit in obedient rows and columns on bolted-down wooden auditorium seats, chorusing the dullest songs that ever implanted themselves ineradicably into memory:

The golden sun shines down in autumn splendor
With russet apples weighing down each tree
And fields of grain, and grapes in heavy cluster
We give our thanks, O God, to Thee…
(sung to Sibelius’ “Finlandia”)

When I was a boy, students running for schoolwide office used to speak a stock line that showed their seriousness, the modesty of their reformist aims, their understanding of the limited powers of a student council president:

“I’m not going to promise you soda machines in the cafeteria…”

Soda machines in the cafeteria were the classic example of student power gone to ludicrous extremes. Well, my kids’ elementary school has a vending machine just outside the cafeteria selling fruit drinks loaded with high-fructose corn syrup, a substance that wasn’t on ingredients labels during my childhood, and many of the parents, including me – parents of the generation that lusted for such things in utopian fantasy – want to get rid of it.

A Chocolate Celebration? There’s a pedagogical link, of course: the class recently had a unit on chocolate, tracing its history from Aztec culture to ours, following the production process, examining the uses of chocolate in different cultures through history. It’s neat stuff – they learn things, they acquire a broad view of the interconnected world. Maybe it's better than learning that in 1624 Peter Minuit bought Manhattan for $24 -- or maybe it's the same.

This afternoon I’ll tell you about the chocolate.