Forget Hershey’s and Godiva; here in France are the real chocolate bisous (kisses).
It was drizzling. We were late, and uncertain of which bus to get on. Further, we hadn’t a clue of where to get off.
Bus eleven came; it was headed toward the town of Puyricard. I understood bits and pieces of French as my friends asked the bus driver if she knew which stop would lead us to the Chocolaterie. When she said she’d find out, we didn’t anticipate her using an iPhone to look up directions while driving a stick-shift bus; talk about multitasking.
A few stops later, she called us to the front of the bus and proceeded to call the factory to say, “les étrangers sont sur leur chemin,” meaning “the strangers are on their way.” By strangers, she meant foreigners; most French people use this lingo.
A new bus traveler, and a resident of Puyricard, stood up and spoke to the driver. When the bus stopped, the woman gave us directions. These actions quickly broke my over-generalized stereotype that the French are unfriendly and unhelpful.
We stepped off the bus, at no particular stop. Straight ahead lay a gravel driveway, leading nowhere in particular. Left, a field. Right, a field. We headed right, squealing at the sight of the sign. We’d made it to Chocolaterie Puyricard Fabrique.
Hand poised on the handle, I halted. The woman inside pointed to the left, toward another door. This handle, too, was locked. Hearing a voice behind us, we turned and headed in the direction of the small woman decked out in white sanitary garments.
Once inside, there were two bins filled with white lab coats. My friends began placing their coats and purses in the bins. The lady perceived that my French was less advanced, as I had not understood her directions. “The bins are secure,” she said. I buried my things under the garments as far as they’d go, washed my hands, slipped into a lab coat and placed a hairnet on my head, wishing I could document our getup with my now-buried camera. And all the while thinking that Mom would never approve of the so-called secure location.
“I speak a little English, but everyone else knows only French,” she warned. As we filed in, I said “bonjour” to the candy-makers. They smiled and returned the favor.
It felt like walking into Willy Wonka’s toyland. We meandered from station to station. One for making ganache, a machine for construction of the outer-shells. The most crowded station, where truffles were punched out of their molds and transferred onto sheets, was the busiest. It was also here that we heard a Ke$ha song in the background. Onto the truffles, and then to the rabbits. Chocolate rabbits, that is; Easter is only a few months away. Our guide explained, in French, that the noses and ears are hand-painted with chocolate, before being filled with chocolate. An assembly line of four workers completed the bunnies and other chocolate creatures.
Though the language barrier made it difficult to follow the guide fluently, I always recognized one word: “échantillons.” It means samples, and there were plenty. One of a dark chocolate shell, pre-filling. Next, a coffee-flavored morsel, followed by two very alcoholic truffles: rum and whiskey. So much whiskey. A one-sided macaroon, without the filling. Two marshmallows: apricot and green apple, to reinforce the Willy-Wonka-esque atmosphere. And then, an entire tray of calissons and chocolates: lavender, dark chocolate, milk chocolate, caramel, crème de marron. For the first time in my life, I could not finish all of the chocolate. It was splendid.
In my head, asking for a job application seemed perfectly reasonable; the only roadblock being that I had no idea how to form the sentence in French. Maybe if journalism doesn’t pan out…