for someone who professes not to be a great fan of sweets, i certainly devote a lot of thought to chocolate bars.
it is possible that there is something just out of keeping enough with chocolate bars and their procurement that they offer the sort of faint interruption of ordinary patterns of thought that is so conducive to private contemplation. that needn’t be cryptic – if it happens that i have spent the majority of a day in my house (and it bodes that i may spend the remaining hours there as well), i am more likely to step out for the sole purpose of acquiring a chocolate bar than any other solitary item. it really does feel like giving oneself a break. the task has the pleasing brevity and single-mindedness such that it does not make one feel that one has committed to an ‘errand,’ but does satisfy the urge to see the sky and feel the air on one’s skin, without the unpleasantness of bothering to sit about in the grass becoming damp and scratchy, as is so often the case. (why is it so difficult to read in the park? must one always have a blanket? that’s annoying.)
to the dep and back is not much time for serious reflection, but i often feel in those passages a calm and clarity that usually attends the contemplation of a serene nature, or at least less cluttered vistas than that of the horizon of Saint-Henri.
i should mention that the chocolate bar, as the object of such outings, has a bit of its own aura, for in my years of veganism, the casual chocolate bar was effectively removed from my plane of possibilities, and it was with something of a shock of familiarity that i first realized, in some early summer of my post-veganism, that i was utterly free to take a walk down the street and just buy a chocolate bar, at any old store, pretty much whenever i wanted.
i don’t know that it is easy to convey the specialness of this, but it is something that retains even now the slight thrill of novelty. there is something to it of an entry back into the normal, the capacity to participate in the mundane and commonplace of society, like cutting one’s hair or voting or staying in a hotel, that punks and other sundry weirdos go through much of their life excluded/excluding themselves from. it always feels like an achievement, like one has just barely pulled one over on the world.
today, on such an amble, i got to wondering about how effectively chocolate bars could serve as links to the past. certainly all foods carry some potential for time travel, which has been roundly exploited in literature both high and low, but the heavily processed quality of chocolate bars (and other candies, of course) allows for the greater likelihood that the constitution and preparation of a chocolate bar remain unchanged for five, ten, even twenty years. admittedly, what with fluctuating prices of cocoa, corn, cane, and nougat, changing dietary trends, and an industry fixation on novelty, such consistency is by no means guaranteed. but the possibility suggests itself. this was in fact about as far as i got in my ruminations over the block and a half between the dep and my house, spurred by my puzzlement as to whether the Twix i was eating, once my favourite chocolate bar (i don’t recall over how many years, but it one of those shelved-away biographical factoids that when a little kid, Twix was my favourite, as was Orange Crush, in the realm of pops), was slightly stale, or whether some change in the consistency of caramel had been engineered.
i thought that i had a good sensual profile of what a Twix tasted like, and that it had roughly “always” tasted so, and what i was currently eating deviated somehow. through some quantum associative stumble, the next thing to spring to mind was that i seemed to have some feeling of ancient mortification associated with the Pal-O-Mine, a bar which even to this day i cannot remember the particularities of (save that, like a Twix, and inexplicably the new Snickers Peanut Butter Squared, it comes in two pieces). nonetheless, the stark outlines of a memory related to a Pal-O-Mine stand out in my psyche. but the outlines of what? some unpleasantry. an embarrassment? a disappointment? a seminal youthful disillusionment? i don’t know. i only recall that it took place at a historical tourism village to which my class was taken on a field trip; i imagine i was between the ages of 6 and 9, and there was a Pal-O-Mine involved. i know that it was my only purchase of the day – perhaps i had never tasted one and was woefully dissatisfied? maybe some literal interpretation of the concept of the bar, too late apprehended, left me beholden to share half of it with another child, surely a minor tragedy for such a penny-pinching young glutton as i remember myself to be? or, still more tragicomic, did i feel that flush of humiliation rise to upon realizing that i had purchased a chocolate bar designed to be shared with one’s bosom friend, highlighting the sad fact that i had no such cohort? is it thus the silent mockery of the second portion that impressed itself upon me, to be felt however hazily so many years later?
possibly it was the frustration and embarrassment of buying a Pal-O-Mine on the mistaken assumption that it was some old-timey chocolate bar, seeing as i was buying it from a period drugstore, only to have it pointed out that it was the kind of bar that could be had at any corner store, and further, that it was of an inferior and gaywad persuasion. yet another squandered opportunity to affirm through an act of petty consumerism my normality, in the vain hope of obscuring my precocious vocabulary and handed-down Esprit t shirt (that i had so proudly strutted about in until being informed that Esprit was clothing for girls) that indelibly marked me as socially just this side of the pale.
it is strange that i remember neither the taste of the bar, nor the salient details of the event. only the surround – low scrub, weathered wood and 18th-century pioneer reenactment, all shot through with the vivid and abiding shame at which the young are so adept.
in one of the slim handful of novels written since 1975 that i have read, David O Mitchell does a wonderful job of capturing this uneven weft of the fabric of a young life, that is all too often ironed out in later narrativisation. Black Swan Green follows a thirteen-year-old boy in a small English town in the early 80s, detailing this and that episode of his life over the course of single year. the span covered is not short on minor and major dramas of adolescent biographical import, but Mitchell resists the conventions of the coming-of-age story. although one is aware that the chapters follow in chronological order, month by month, there is often a strange feeling of disconnect from one to the next. a sequence of events culminating in great emotional distress or even horror seems all but forgotten at the open of the next chapter, in some cases never to be remarked upon again. if this is faintly disorienting to the reader, it should also be familiar, because it has the effect of reminding one of how turbulent and inconstant the emotional life of a thirteen-year-old can be. at the risk of sounding complacent and trite, ie: like an adult, in Black Swan Green one is brought to grudgingly admit the insight of the parental claim that what may feel momentous at the time can just as easily subside into the routine of one’s day to day upset. admittedly, this could be critiqued as yet another form of myopia d’un certain age, but if so, it is nonetheless a one refreshing and thought-provoking. (i would also take pains to distinguish this from the curious, what? anti-Freudian? closing lines of The Night of the Hunter (1955) about the resilience of children, in the face of rain, snow, having one’s parents killed and being chased across the country by a murderous preacher, etc. “Children are humanity’s strongest. They abide . . . They abide and they endure.” i guess? what does that even mean?)
the book reads quite pleasantly in spite of these narrative hiccups, and i felt encouraged to look into some of his previous and more critically lauded works, Cloud Atlas and number9dream. they unfortunately turned out to be that virtuosic, self-conscious postmodern trash that i have so hard a time abiding, but perhaps they’d be more to your tastes, what do i know.
in other Hot Summer Reads recommendations, the salvaged manuscript of Truman Capote’s discarded first novel Summer Crossing came out six years ago to not much buzz, but i rather enjoyed it.