Tobago

Tobago
Horizon at Sandy Point

Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas choices

It's the day before the day before Christmas - the day called by some clever quipsters Christmas Adam (before Eve!) It's my best time of day - dark lightening to dawn - in the best season of the year. This morning, the rain of the last three days has held up. My lost dog has come home. There's a whisper of breeze stirring the trees. And I think of the early Christians and others inventing hope in the time when the sun was lowest on the horizon in the northern hemisphere, when the winter chill was setting in and the worst winter storms were still to come. Hope lived in the extra few degrees of sunlight returning to earth - across 93 million miles! - after the winter solstice (December 21). It is thought that December 25 was the first day that this "return of the sun" becomes discernible, and by "new year's" the winter sleep is almost certainly over.

But for this moment, let us warm ourselves around the fire of our dreams. Gather close the circle of friends and be merry!

I've found that as many persons dislike this season as those who embrace it. Families who have lost loved ones grow grimmer as the season advances - as if it was Christmas' fault. Families whose men are festive drinkers dread the holidays that give licence for excess in the name of goodwill. And there's the frenzied shopping and house cleaning, the gifting and feting, the traffic and the overspending, the materialism that turns so many away; even as the ever-righteous cling to their dogmas.

It all eventually ends in anti-climax - the litter under the dying tree, too much eaten, too much drunk, things to return to the shop. Like the monkey that was bought from a smart man as one year's gift - two days later, the owner drove by, whistled, monkey leapt through the open window of the car and that was that! That could be the story of Christmas but we can choose where to put our faith.

We choose the tree because it reminds us of evergreen life - going through cycles that look like decay that look like death, but it's life returning, constantly resurging.

We choose the lights because true light never goes out. It's the sun and the day and our love in many different forms flickering and hiding in embers but always warm.

We choose gifts because we are thinking of someone else's pleasure, we are thinking beyond ourselves.

We choose celebrations because we are not alone, we crave community and fellowship, warm hugs and warmer hearts.

Let us always choose goodwill and good deeds - not only at Christmas! Whether we believe or not, we can all benefit from behaving as if we do!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

A chocolate a day!

The nicest thing about going to work at a chocolate factory is the smell. It hits you like a wave and draws you in. It's a toasty, roasty, liqueur-rich and comforting smell - a smell that makes you smile when you find it trapped in your clothes later on - that triggers the best memories of all the dark chocolate, all the best cups of cocoa that you've ever had. After a while inside the inner workings of the chocolate kitchen, you don't smell it anymore. But the chemistry of cocoa exerts its calming influence.

This day, the kitchen is quiet. The cocoa artist has again worked all night. A thousand chocolate treasures line up on every surface. Squares of dark chocolate with rosy curlicues signifying sorrel; pale pink and white enamel tops for guava. And these iridescent blue-green fish tails - pineapple and chadon beni with a hint of sea salt, the mermaid's kiss! The fern green X - a calligrapher's flourish - identifies the Paramin basil. Sealed in its crisp shell of dark chocolate is the silkiest infusion of Paramin small leaf basil: a taste of rich earth, aromatic sap and buttery cacao bean!

Most of the work for the apprentice is routine. Packing the bonbons in their crinkly paper cups and then storing in large plastic bins: you do this almost a thousand times, swift and delicate hand movements, and two hours have sped away. While your hands work, your head sorts out a million equations of your life. The joy of packing may be interrupted for a taste: a tonka bean and coffee dream; a nibble of coconut truffle. Or the architect in the next office coming in for something that broke or fell from the packer's hands.

Cocoa liqueur is going round in the grinder - the simplest low tech mechanization of stone on crushing stone - and the thump and whirr drown out all but thought, discourage conversation. The happy cocoa artist - so many flavors completed and coated and decorated - is glowing with accomplishment. And babbles on about new cocoa plans. The conversation meanders everywhere.

She wants to invent something unique. Yes, sure, the cocoa is single estate from Rancho Quemado in the island with the world's most desired cocoa, Trinidad; the flavors local, bold and evocative; the techniques build on age-old traditions around the cocoa world. It's not enough that she has marshaled so many disparate threads into the Cocobel line in which any one item is a hit on its own. She searches for the holy grail of chocolate. Cocoa butter cosmetics - body creams and lip balms - may be on the horizon. The chocolate cafe to be opened eventually: primarily a place of interesting interactions stimulated by cups of finest local cocoa or coffee, fresh confections to be sampled daily; a place of creative discussion growing over the art gallery downstairs. Or the design of the definitive Cocobel bar of dark chocolate - something that will amaze you before you devour it!

It's not her plan to distribute chocolates anywhere else in the world. "I don't want to have a big manufacturing company or to think about distributing all over the world," she says, even as demand for Christmas chocolates has cracked the whip on supply. "I do want people from anywhere in the world to have a distinctive chocolate experience here in Trinidad." She subscribes to Slow Food, and has participated in the Terra Madre celebration in Tuscany and Trinidad, but when lunchtime has passed in the rolling of chai truffles, she is content with fast food chicken and fries!

Isabel Brash is a chocoholic workaholic artist - she has centered herself here in the chocolate kitchen surrounded by bags of beans, and noisy thumping growling machines that do the work she once did by hand in her mother's kitchen. She says she has fallen down the rabbit hole of cacao. There's nothing to do but follow her nose.

By now, the sun is on the other side of the house. The apprentice washes her hands and closes the door behind her as the "night shift" comes in. She'll be back tomorrow to be cocooned and comforted by cocoa chemistry, to escape for a few hours the world without chocolate.