26 February 2008

Hot chocolate

It has no beginning or end,
this love that I have for the
daughter of cocoa,
cinnamon, sugar and vanilla;
I would go three hundred miles
barefoot just to drink a
little cup of it.
I would pawn my Breviary
and my robe…
I would give up all beverages –
I would give up tocai, and malvasia
and the whole geneaology of wines
if I could only be given
that holy liquor which
touches my heart,
which only to name it
makes my mouth water.

-Antonio Sforza
Sonnet in Praise of Hot Chocolate

As he opens this sonnet, the Venetian poet describes how he thanks God for Christopher Columbus, “simply because he brought from the new world the sweet blessed potion that we call Chocolate.” (Notice that in the poet's mind the word "chocolate" merits capitalization, but "new world" does not.)

Venetians have always had a special affection for chocolate. Once upon a time in Venice ten cocoa beans would buy a rabbit, twelve a night with a courtesan, and one hundred a slave. Casanova was particularly fond of it, keeping his chocolate sticks in a strong box. Even now, hot chocolate still plays its traditional role in the celebration of both Epifania (when little cups are given away on the Riva del Vin near Rialto) and Carnevale (when the elegant Quadri in the Piazza holds elaborate hot chocolate parties for its costumed guests).

If you have never had hot chocolate in Venice, do not imagine it to be anything remotely like a couple tablespoonfuls of Nestle’s Quik or Swiss Miss halfheartedly stirred into microwaved skim milk. (In fact, erase that miserable idea from your head this minute!) Venetian cioccolate calda is a rich, swarthy, fragrant mud, more food than beverage, almost a pudding, and so utterly delicious, you want to wash your hair in it, perhaps even bathe in it (that is, if it weren't so wickedly hot!).

Here I’ve shown you my favorite cupful, from a splendid chocolate shop near the San Toma vaporetto station – Vizio Virtu, which translates roughly to “good bad habit.” (I should say!) A wonderful place with gorgeous goodies… It’s just a pity the women behind the counter are so cold and sour all the time. But – non ti preoccupare (don't worry) – drink up your luscious cioccolata calda and ignore them.