Sunday, April 4, 2010

Too much of a good thing

There is such a thing as too much chocolate.

We just got back from a two day trip to Hershey, PA,  the 'Sweetest Place on Earth'.
I've always had an affinity for chocolate, lovingly lingering on those tiny bars of Cadbury's milk chocolate that were a rare treat in childhood. We had to study how Theobroma Cacao was cultivated and cocoa harvested and processed in the Ivory Coast and Ghana for a whole unit in our 10th grade geography class. I still remember marvelling over the size of the pods in the photos. No words in the textbook of the Mayans or Aztecs, a missing part of the story deftly dismissed in a single line about South American origins of the tree.
After several years in the U.S., I've been able to indulge at will in that sweet pastime of buying and eating Hershey's bars or Kisses when the mood strikes, or when the Halloween candy is in, or the Easter sales and Christmas sales are round the corner.
This year, we actually paid a visit to that shrine to Chocolate: Hershey, Pennsylvania. It was a model town back in the 19th century, the brainchild of Milton S. Hershey, built around the chocolate factory. Sort of like Willie Wonka, but with human workers instead of Oompa-Loompas. And of course, human workers need much more than just cacao beans to stay alive. So they were recipients of the well-planned munificence of Milton Hershey, who left much of his fortune to establishing charitable trusts that ensured the well-being of future generations of Hersheyites. The town and the charity school he founded bear his imprimatur, to this day.
The air there smells of chocolate, the streetlights are shaped like Hershey's Kisses, the main buildings on the main avenue are museums to Hershey's life and times. The crowds come pouring in, every spring, as the theme park with its roller coasters and rides opens, and the Disneyesque entertainments of the Chocolate World keep the tourists entertained, with everything from '3-D' shows to 'Chocolate tasting tours' to simulated 'Factory Tours'. The real business of Hershey's goes on quietly, away from the tourist paradise, a large antiseptic factory in white and blue, tucked away on the far end of the main avenue as it peters out into the countryside.
It's a place well worth visiting, and will work wonders for those who are in the mode to either indulge or rid themselves of an addiction to chocolate.

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