Imagine the claustrophobic confines of a church basement. Fluorescent lights beam their yellowish rays onto every shining surface. Squeaky, beaten tables are unfolded upon the tan, linoleum-tiled floor, bordered by chilly chairs that welcome all who qualify to communion. Long coats, older than the church itself, hang limp from a line of unfinished wooden hooks on icy brick walls. The dusty, faded-pink face of the Virgin gazes into the sea of people who are herding into her domain.
I was one of those people, age twelve, wrapped in velvety red and crisp gold. My black shoes glimmered into my black eyes, and my black hair was burnt into black curls. I tapped along the tan, linoleum-tiled floors, following the motions of all the pious before me. I did not know that, in that church basement, I would be ironically introduced to what the holy call “sin.”
Ghyslain Maurais is a world-renowned chocolatier, having found his love for food while working to fund his education in architecture. He has earned delegations in both New York and London, and is a household name in both the Midwest and his native Québec. His boutiques are frequent stomping grounds for holiday shoppers and curious tourists, as well as for children who desire something more than the typical Hershey’s fare. If one were to look at a picture of Ghyslain Maurais, one would see a middle-aged man with an unmarked, smiling face. He almost always wears a white suit, which has been starched and steamed to perfection.
Hardly anyone would believe he would deign to spend his evening encased in a cold, white, tiled basement, glowing beyond the hardened gazes of the godly gathering and my twelve-year-old self.
Nonetheless, there he was: jovially out-of-place and surrounded by his vibrant holiday collection. Mousse-filled hills of sky-blue snow rose toward Heaven. Flamboyant berries brushed in crimson, veined leaves touched with piney green, and golden Christmas bells swung and sang on the branches of delicious, flour-covered logs. Maple-speckled deer peered beyond their wooden barrier, timid toward the crowd whose sole mission was to consume. Ghyslain Maurier had done more than make chocolate. He had created a world within which stories could be written. He had created a work of art.
One by one, the critical audience made their circle around the basement banquet, which was more than dessert. White bread and bland crackers swore their innocence, cracking their leathery skins to reveal the purity within. Yellow-marbled cubes of cheese putridly proclaimed the sins of their fruity companions, whose ripened pink flesh was too much like the face of the Virgin. Eyeless fishes glared jealously at the salamis, which were lounging languidly in the unspoken protection of Lent. Foam plates provided percussion for the silent procession, crinkling and cracking under the pressure of nervous thumbs and fickle plastic ware. My own dish creaked under the weight of a bronzy chocolate bell and, in accordance with my mother’s orders, several small shrimp.
I gobbled my fishy feast in greedy anticipation. The chocolate bell tinkled as I dug my teeth into the cold, soft flesh of my meal. Thin bones were torn away from icy meat, clattering on my plate while I slid each headless corpse into my acid-ocean stomach. The ringing persisted in crescendo as bony tails were ripped from bodies, bringing me closer to the rich tones of finale.
The silence around me was as deafening as a symphony. One glance bounced off of another, creating clashing notes of small talk and judgment. Toddlers gummed their white, buttered bread and looked to their mothers for attention they would not receive. Elderly couples sat stolidly with their cheeses, commenting on how those school girls should have left their wine-purple dresses at home. I sat at the table my family had reserved months in advance, absorbing the scene beneath blinding fluorescent lights. Ghyslain Maurais’ bell tolled thunderous temptation into my ear.
I silenced the earsplitting peals with a bite. Immediately, my mouth was overcome with the complex melody of dark chocolate. Caramel, subtle and rich, comprised the humming harmony. My taste buds rang in ecstasy. I was tasting the design of Ghyslain Maurais. This was the work as well as the canvas: smooth, velvety, and temporary. I savored it. It was the first time I had seen, let alone tasted, something so small that was so carefully crafted, yet so demonstrative of its creator’s heart and soul.
I have made many a return to the boutique of Ghyslain Maurais, however I will never forget that quiet night in the cold basement where, below a church void of music, the flavors of chocolate provided the organ’s final rumbling chord.
I highly suggest you visit Mr. Maurais’ Website, and buy a bell of your own.