art, artist, Belgium, bridges, bumblebee, business trip, canals, chocolate, chocolate factories, chocolatiers, Dutch, Eiffel Tower, France, French, Louvre, Mona Lisa, Monet, nugent, painting, Paris, potato chips, Seine, tickets, Tupperware, watercolors
I used to be indifferent to chocolate. My favorite snack was BBQ potato chips. I couldn’t understand my daughter, who could smell chocolate from two floors away, sealed in a plastic baggie and hidden inside a closed container in the pantry. (Needless to say, every time I went to make chocolate chip cookies, there would be none left.) Most of the chocolate I’d eaten up to that point was cheap, full of wax, and just too sweet for me.
Then we went to Belgium. This began as a business trip. My husband and his friend were going to start a business where we would have home chocolate parties — kind of like selling Tupperware, but tastier. They intended to go around to all the chocolate factories in Belgium and talk them into being our suppliers. I tagged along, planning to play artist, lured by the promise of a detour to Paris.
We bought our airline tickets. My husband enthusiastically packed his Dutch dictionary, business proposals and forms, and I packed a wide brimmed hat, paper, watercolors, and brushes. On the long flight over, he brushed up on his Dutch while I slept, read, and planned what I’d paint. When we arrived, he and his friend began a long series of meetings with chocolatiers across Belgium. Meanwhile, I sat on the canal banks and painted the boats silently gliding through the water, the graceful bridges, old barns, and even a determined bumblebee who was so fat he couldn’t quite sit down on a poppy long enough to get any nectar. I soaked in the sunshine and enjoyed the peaceful, lush green countryside, occasionally waving back to the boaters and curious children. I had a marvelous time. Monet’s house and gardens were inspirational, and the Louvre was amazing. (Yes, Mona Lisa does smirk.) I climbed to the top of the Eiffel Tower and walked along the Seine singing romantic songs. Sigh. Paris was marvelous!
My downfall began when my husband invited me to go on a chocolate factory tour with them. I watched the chocolate making process in fascination. And then… one grizzled old man in a white apron offered me a chocolate. I didn’t want to be impolite, so I did my best imitation of “Dank u” and took a bite. Ooooh. Mmmmm. What was this stuff? Ambrosia? This couldn’t be chocolate. It was so smooth, sweet (yet not too sweet), rich, and… heavenly. No wax, no artificial dyes or fillers — just nugent and gorgeous, luscious chocolate.
Well, after that I just HAD to taste the little boxes of samples that they brought back from each factory tour. I stuffed my pockets full of chocolates and went off to paint. Every dessert had chocolate in it. I stopped in at a French bakery, and although my French (which I had studied in grade school) had dwindled to a mere “Bon jour,” I managed to communicate just fine when it came to buying chocolate-filled croissants.
The trip ended. We came home with boxes and boxes of chocolate samples, the euro went through the roof, and the chocolate business idea died. I came home with a stack of water colors, fond memories, and a love of chocolate that has persisted to this day. (And if you’re wondering if I ate all those extra chocolates, the answer is no. I had help!)