Good Clown! One Thought of Chinese Chocolate!
Not long after I started writing about chocolate, I posted Wallace Stevens's "Sea Surface Full of Clouds" on this blog. Stevens tells of a "November of Tehuantepec," an isthmus in what is now the south of Mexico which the Spanish conquistadors exploited as one of the first bases of their empire and its chocolate trade, a geological practice round for the volatile and fertile terrain of Central America just below, a location evocative in more than its geography of an expat life I voluntarily led and left behind in Guatemala.
Four years later, I presented the poem to my wonderful continuing education students in Pittsburgh this summer, asking them to follow the set of relationships--those that the poet might have imagined and those that we're peculiarly able to construct in the present moment--that lead us from the "rosy chocolate/ And gilt umbrellas" of the first verse to the "chop-house chocolate/ And sham umbrellas" of the second to "porcelain chocolate/ And pied umbrellas," "musky chocolate/ And frail umbrellas," and, ultimately, unexpectedly, "Chinese chocolate/ And large umbrellas."
Global power shifts. And so do our lives. I now live in the country whose economy recently became the second largest in the word. I've been in China for exactly one month, and I plan to stay here for at least the next ten, teaching creative writing at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou. Our campus lines the Pearl River, which leads out--decorated along the way with ever more luxurious office towers and apartment buildings--to the machine of ocean guarded by Hong Kong. I have no idea what Chinese chocolate I'll find here, but I'll start with Bertram M. Gordon's article on just that, "Chinese Chocolate: Ambergris, Emperors, and Export Ware," in Louis Evan Grivetti and Howard-Yana Shapiro's Chocolate: History, Culture, and Heritage anthology.