There are lots of marvelous artisan chocolate shops in Paris. My favorite is called Paul Rogers on the rue du Faubourg. I would strongly recommend a visit there and a taste of their hot chocolate, whichever season you go. They’re run by the eponymous Paul, who is, indeed, a curly-haired, twinkly-eyed, roguish-looking chap.
This book is not based on any of those shops in a single detail, but instead on the principle that when people dedicate their lives to one thing that they really, really love and learn a lot about, amazing things can happen.
Somebody once said the reason we love chocolate so much is that it melts at the same temperature as the inside of our mouths. Scientists also talk about releasing endorphins and so on, which may be the chemical reason for it, but whatever the explanations, it is a wonderful thing.
It’s not just a woman thing—if you don’t believe me, try a random sample of six-year-olds. I can’t even smuggle a packet of chocolate cookies into my house without my husband sniffing them out and guzzling them. So I’ve put some really lovely recipes in here too. I like to think as I get older that I can actually cook with chocolate instead of just, you know, accidentally eating it as soon as it gets in the house or sometimes in the car.
When we moved to France a while back (for my husband’s work), I was surprised to find they took chocolate as seriously as they take any kind of food. La Maison du Chocolat is a really high-end chain and you’ll find one in most towns, where you can chat with the chocolatier about what you want and what else you’re going to be eating, like a wine waiter. But I personally am just as happy with a great big slab of Dairy Milk or Toblerone or my absolute fave, Fry’s Chocolate Cream (plain). Not everything has to be luxury to be enjoyed. Alas, my children have now reached the age where it’s becoming obvious who keeps stealing the Kinder bars out of their party bags. Kids, hum, look, I hate to have to tell you this. It was definitely your dad.
Before we start, I wanted to say a word about language. In my experience, learning another language is really bloody difficult, unless you’re one of those people who pick things up in two seconds flat, in which case I would say *bllergh* (that’s me poking my tongue out) to you because I am extremely jealous.
Traditionally, too, when people in books are speaking a foreign language, it’s indicated in italics. So you should know that anyone Anna speaks to in Paris is speaking French back to her unless I’ve mentioned otherwise. To which you and I would think, cor, that’s AMAZING she learned such fantastic French so fast. Obviously she has lots of lessons with Claire, but if you’ve ever learned another language, you’ll know that you can be totally confident in a classroom then turn up in the country and everybody goes “wabbawabbawabbawabbaWAH?” to you at, like, a million miles an hour, and you panic because you can’t understand a single bloody word of it. That’s certainly what happened to me.
So, anyway, you need to take it on trust that it’s exactly the same for Anna, but for purposes of not repeating myself endlessly and slowing down the story, I’ve taken out the millions and millions of times she says “What?” or “Can you say that again please?” or needs to check her dictionary.
I do hope you enjoy it, and let me know how you get on with the recipes. And bon appétit!
The really weird thing about it was that although I knew instantly that something was wrong—very, very wrong, something sharp, something very serious, an insult to my entire body—I couldn’t stop laughing. Laughing hysterically.
I was lying there, covered—drenched—in spilled melted chocolate and I couldn’t stop giggling. There were other faces now, looking down on me; some I was sure I even recognized. They weren’t laughing. They all looked very serious in fact. This somehow struck me as even funnier and set me off again.
From the periphery, I heard someone say, “Pick them up!” and someone else say, “No way! You pick them up! Gross!” And then I heard someone else, who I thought was Flynn, the new stock boy, say, “I’ll dial 911,” and someone else say, “Flynn, don’t be stupid; it’s 999. You’re not American,” and someone else say, “I think you can dial 911 now because there were so many idiots who kept dialing it.” And someone else taking out their phone and saying something about needing an ambulance, which I thought was hilarious as well, and then someone, who was definitely Del, our old grumpy janitor, saying, “Well, they’re probably going to want to throw this batch away then.” And the idea that they might not throw away the enormous vat of chocolate but try to sell it instead when it had landed all over me actually was funny.
After that, thank God, I don’t remember anything, although later, in the hospital, an ambulance man came over and said I was a total bloody nutter in the ambulance and that he’d always been told that shock affected people in different ways, but mine was just about the differentest he’d ever seen. Then he saw my face and said, “Cheer up, love; you’ll laugh again.” But at that point I wasn’t exactly sure I ever would.
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“Oh come off it, Debs, love, it’s only her foot. It could have been a lot worse. What if it had been her nose?”
That was my dad, talking to my mum. He liked to look on the bright side.
“Well, they could have given her a new nose. She hates her nose anyway.”
That was definitely my mum. She’s not quite as good as my dad at looking on the bright side. In fact, I could hear her sobbing. But somehow, my body shied away from the light; I couldn’t open my eyes. I didn’t think it was a light; it felt like the sun or something. Maybe I was on holiday. I couldn’t be at home—the sun never bloody shines in Kidinsborough, my hometown, voted worst town in England three years in a row before local political pressure got the show taken off the air.
My parents zoned out of earshot, just drifted off like someone tuning a radio. I had no idea if they were there or if they ever had been. I knew I wasn’t moving, but inside I felt as though I was squirming and wriggling and trapped inside a body-shaped prison someone had buried me in. I could shout, but no one could hear me. I tried to move, but it wasn’t working. The dazzle would turn to black and back again to the sun, and none of it made the faintest bit of sense to me as I dreamt—or lived—great big nightmares about toes and feet and parents who spontaneously disappear and whether this was going crazy and whether I’d actually dreamt my whole other life, the bit about being me, Anna Trent, thirty years old, taster in a chocolate factory.