|AT ONE WITH HIS ART: A sculptor carves into a chocolate rock (courtesy, eurochocolate.com)|
I stood in a chocolate mosh pit, straining to hear the Italian spoken by a blond beauty yelling to be heard over the screams of hundreds of people fenced off around us. Nearby, the sculptor Frida Ciletti was carving a 2,640-pound block of chocolate into what looked like a family crest on a yacht's bow.
The wind carried the hypnotic, sweet aroma of a million chocolate shavings through my nostrils, down my throat, and into my heart, which always has had a spot reserved for the glories of mankind's favorite food. I just never bargained for 6,000 different chocolate products from 150 companies. The 2,640-pounder? Oh, that was only a chocolate chip by comparison. You should've seen the Guinness World Record chocolate bar up the medieval street. That weighed in at 7,876 pounds and, at 13.2 square yards, if you gave it a sail it would look like a chocolate catamaran.
For all you choco junkies out there, next time you're in Italy in October, an ideal time to visit, forget the ruins of Rome, the canals of Venice, or the beaches of Amalfi. Your pilgrimage must be to Eurochocolate in Perugia, Italy's nine-day chocolate bacchanal, which attracts 1 million chocolate lovers each year.
In the grand tradition of ancient Rome, there is something truly chaotic, gluttonous, and even sensual about Eurochocolate. Started in 1994 by Perugia native Eugenio Guarducci, inspired by Munich's Oktoberfest beer festival, Eurochocolate is not for the casual chocolate teetotaler; those feeling guilty about eating an M&M need not apply. No, this is for serious chocoholics, people who wake up and eat chocolate at 4 a.m.
I mean, who else but the truly passionate would be willing to fight 250,000 people filling Perugia's narrow, cobblestoned Corso Vannucci to peruse the endless line of chocolate stands and their free samples. The masses around Ciletti's chocolate sculpture were cordoned off like starving boat people. It transcended Italian society. Children. Elderly women. Construction workers. They were all screaming, "Qui! Qui! Qui!" (Here! Here! Here!) as aides bagged chocolate chunks scraped from the block and handed them to the seething crowd.
Today Perugia is a charming hill town filled with great restaurants, history, and culture, but eight centuries ago was known for a similar type of hysteria: the Flagellants, who would physically whip themselves as a religious penance. I wondered if one of the Flagellants' descendents was the Italian woman standing next to me, with the features of a model and wardrobe off a Versace mannequin, screaming for chocolate as if she sought milk for her dying baby. But when I was handed a piece the size of a sand dollar and it melted down my throat like nectar, suddenly whipping yourself into a frenzy seemed entirely justified.
Even the sculptress couldn't resist.
"Let's just say lots!" she said when I asked her how much she'd eaten while working. "A half kilo! And I have chocolate everywhere on me. In my pockets, everywhere."
In Perugia, chocolate is everywhere. During my two-day stay, I saw chocolate pasta, chocolate shaped like Italian salami, chocolate brandy served in chocolate cups, chocolate barbecue sauce, chocolate vitamins, chocolate towers fake-powered by chocolate batteries, and Perugia's medieval skyline carved out of chocolate bricks.
I saw a man dressed like a giant white chocolate kiss and imagined him hooking up later with the Italian woman handing out free abbracci (hugs). Down in the dark bowels of Rocca Paolina, Perugia's 16th-century fortress, I saw chocolate bars from Brazil to Costa Rica to Nicaragua to Ghana.
One time I was led into a pitch-black room by a woman who told a group of us to smell, touch, and taste three different pieces of chocolate that were presented to us in the ink-black darkness. Like wine, Italy's chocolate invades all the senses. No one in the room knew this better than the woman. When they turned on the lights, her eyes didn't blink. They kept staring blankly straight ahead.
She was blind.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication