Sunday, March 4, 2012

Love and Chocolate

“Let’s go find our boyfriends,” Caroline said to me as we wandered through the Piazza della Repubblica’s Chocolate Festival for the fourth time that week, looking for our two favorite chocolatiers. My roommate and I had just spent the first warm, sunny day since we’d arrived exploring the Sant’Ambrogio market and climbing up to the Piazza Michelangelo to watch the sun set, and after all those stairs we deserved to treat ourselves to some more chocolate.

We had already picked out our favorite stand earlier in the week, run by two young Italian men from Campo Basso who had proclaimed their love for us at first sight and gave us free desserts.  Although we hadn’t fallen for them in the same way, we just couldn’t stay away from their creamy, melt-in-your-mouth chocolates that you could smell and almost taste three streets away.

“My friend!  Ciao, bella!” my chocolatier-boyfriend Leonardo practically sang to me as I walked toward his stand.  “I am so happy you return!” he told me in his thick Italian accent, and I grinned at his excitement.  “Mi piace il tuo sorriso.”  He liked my smile.

I practically started drooling as my eyes feasted on the beautiful chocolate creations that lay on the table between us.  He offered me sweets in every size, shape, color, and flavor, but I couldn’t break away from my usual choice—“due cocco,” two coconut-flavored chocolates.  They were the best things I had ever had the pleasure of putting into my mouth.  Hard milk chocolate on the outside, smooth coconut filling that oozed from the center, sprinkled with sugary shredded coconut.

“I give you a special discount, my friend,” Leonardo told me, cutting the price down by 45 cents.

Grazie,” I said as I popped one in my mouth and let it dissolve on my tongue.  We had a special relationship, Leonardo and I.  But I hardly knew anything about my new friend.  “Leonardo, when did you start making chocolates?” I asked him, wondering when his passion had sparked.

He looked at me and a crease formed between his eyebrows as he tried to comprehend what I had asked him.

Quando hai deciso di fare cioccolato?” I tried again, hoping he could understand my attempt at speaking a language that was very new to me.

“Ah, in 1997!” he exclaims excitedly.  Very specific.  “Mi piace il cioccolato.  È troppo buono!”  His favorite kind is the cremino classico, a soft fudge-like square with a layer of hazelnut between two layers of chocolate.  “It is very good.  Buono.”

But as I struggled to ask more about his career as a chocolatier, dozens of hungry customers lined up beside me, challenging me for Leonardo’s attention.  They shoved their way between us, desperate to get their hands on one of these sweet, tasty treats, and Leonardo became anxious at my persistent questions about chocolate artistry.

When I finally told him “ciao, goodbye,” he seemed to relax and immediately began tending to his other customers.  Unfortunately for me, he seemed happy to see me go.  My unrelenting questions asked in broken Italian that I’m sure Leonardo hardly understood may have ruined our love affair.  At least now I don’t have to worry about going home three hundred pounds heavier due to free chocolates.

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