Washington is not a class town", a sculptor friend, a native of New York, said the other day. I had heard him say before that the National Gallery is not, after all, the Metropolitan. But to me, coming as I do from Commerce, Texas, Washington seems classy indeed. "Well," I said grudgingly, just to be agreeable, "maybe Adams-Morgan doesn't have quite the ambience of the Upper West Side."
"No," he hissed. "Godiva."
I was slow to understand, envisioning 42nd Street, an enormous bar where where naked women danced on the backs of horses.
"Chocolate!" he fairly shouted. "I mean Godiva chocolate!"
I should have known. This man eats chocolate the way I smoke cigarettes, but without guilt. He keeps chocolate in his studio, has been known to consume a one-pound box in an afternoon. But he wasn't talking about just any chocolate. I could tell by the way the word Godiva curled around his tongue.
I had, of course, heard of Godiva chocolate. I even knew it was expensive, considered by many the ne plus ultra of chocolate. When I was growing up, the special candy was the box of Lamm's pralines, the chewy kind, my father brought home from business trips to Austin. It was my mother's favorite candy, too, until she discovered Godiva when Neiman-Marcus began carrying it in the late '60s. It was extravagant, she told me, European. She gave it as gifts only to those whom she wanted to pay special attention, set it out after only the fanciest dinner parties. I still preferred Lamm's.
"I mean, there's no place to buy Godiva," my friend continued his lament. "You used to be able to buy it by the bulk, the way it should be bought. Neiman-Marcus, Chocolate House of Watergate -- it's all prepackaged." He snorted with contempt.
"But," I reminded him, suddenly remembering, "Garfinkel's . . . that little counter tucked away among the handbags, the expensive Italian ones . . . you can buy Godiva by bulk there."
"Garfinkel's?" Contempt, again, and exasperation mingled in his voice. "Oh, that's nothing, nothing at all. Not at all like the Fifth Avenue Godiva. Rows and rows of them . . . truffle, mousse, open oyster shell, scallop shell, topaz, flower, Lion of Belgium . . . " He ticked them off excitedly. "And the accessories. Limoges candy dishes, Limoges jars, Limoges dessert plates.
"Do you know what a perfect day is, an absolutely perfect day?" His eyes glowed as though he had just been given a show at the Museum of Modern Art. "It's September in New York. Maybe you go to a gallery in the morning, with a friend. Then lunch at a little Italian restaurant, say Gatopardo, a little insalata caprese, maybe fettucine primavera. You take your time, stretch it out all afternoon, watch the sun slanting down into the garden. Then you go around the corner to Godiva, buy a little bag, an assortment. You nibble them slowly, strolling up Fifth to -- " he sighed, "Gucci."
He shrugged."What can you do when you leave Garfinkel's? Eat Godivas while you stroll around to 15th Street to watch the construction workers tearing down the Albee-Keith?"
To my friend, I realized, it is not just that Godiva chocolate is, at $11 a pound, more expensive than most, though that is surely part of the appeal: Godiva is to chocolate what polyurethane wheels are to roller skates -- costliness increases popularity. But if it were that, he says, he could go to Kron's Chocolatier in Mazza Gallerie where a box of assorted chocolates costs $18 a pound- Kron's, he says, is vulgar. "All those chocolate telephones and tennis rackets! Those arms and legs and torsos!" He rolls his eyes skyward.
He insists it is because Godiva is better. No preservatives, only the finest ingredients, the finest chocolates and liqueurs. And the texture, he says. "Even the dark chocolate isn't brittle. It yields," he almost whispers, "like a woman's breast." And it is beautiful: little jewels, hand-sculpted. "An artist approaches everything as a sensual experience," he tells me.
But it is really a matter of being a purist, of doing things a certain way, of everything associated in his mind with the purchase of Godiva chocolates. There are even Godiva purists so prestine, I have discovered, that they sneer at all the Godiva chocolate sold in the United States, most of which is manufactured in Reading, Pa., rather than at the original factory in Brussels. A Belgian woman I know, who has lived here many years, goes back to Europe every six months. Does she still miss her family and friends so very much, I wondered? "Yes, I miss them," she answered, "and the Godiva here is not the same."
I have eaten Godiva chocolate in all its variety, have compared it with Kron's, and with baci, the little Perugina kisses imported from Italy. I still prefer Lamm's pralines. Especially a box bought at the Driskill Hotel in Austin, Texas.
Recently a friend's sister was visiting from Paris, where she has been living for several years, working as a high-fashion model for the best magazines, the best couturier houses. Paris, where Godiva chocolate is as plentiful as flowers in the Tuileries, as little boats on the Seine, as inexhaustible as tourists swarming the Eiffel Tower.
There was only one place she wanted to go in Washington. The White House? The Washington Monument? Tramps?$5"No," she said, her wide green eyes growing wider. "Do you know what I miss most in Paris?"
I couldn't imagine, I answered.
"Fannie May's, she said, and she licked her cherry-red lips.