Friday, January 11, 2008

Chocolate and Eco

photo credit misocrazy

The Sub Computer sent me to a delightful corner of the City today, Noe Valley. And while the children were monsters, the environs were magical (it seems those two polarities often coexist). The school was close enough to civilization that my 40 minutes lunch break afforded plenty of time to to sample the delights it offered at a meditative pace and grab some chinese food for lunch. The luxury goods shops dotted the streets and while I had plenty of eye-candy, I didn't have any reason to go inside as I am completely immune to the siren call of italian shoes and old lady couture, until I saw the wall.

The Seduction

The first thing I saw was thousands of altoid boxes mounted on a wall. The second thing I noticed was that on each box was a cyanotype of a local elementary school sign. Then I noticed each box was mounted on top of a larger version. Was it an Installation or were they for sale? I am a huge sucker for scalability cleverness. I recognized a good number of the signs. The images seemed to be lifted from actual photographs. The sheer number was staggering and the were all unique. Then I noticed the chocolate bars that carpeted the floor of the display that signaled to me that it was, indeed, a chocolaterie.

I walked in.

The store was an old fashioned storefront, with a long narrow retail area and the cashier at the back and a 20 foot high ceiling. To my left, the wall was covered with lunch boxes fronted with japanese paper. To my right, more chocolate, but no brands I recognized. Above the chocolate, more tin boxes, this time, they sported street signs. I saw the numbered Avenues and Streets, various Alleys, Boulevards and more Streets. Ah, a theme, I thought to myself. The gears in my head slowly started to come to life.

I picked up a Geisha lunch box. I thought fondly of the red plastic Charlie Brown one I took to kindergarten for the first time.

"That'll set you back around $45," called a voice from the darkness. The back door was open, so I couldn't see his features.

I wandered to the back.

"Is that purse of yours hand made, or did it come with Jackie O on it?"

I bought it, I told him. He asked because he wanted to figure out a way to get a cyanotype on fabric (I know there is a Sunset article about that from the 80s). He went on to tell me about his process for making the boxes. It involved, among other things, very large film negatives. My imagination started dancing around all the exciting stuff he'd be using to make the very large negatives, like enlargers, big box cameras and dark rooms. I started to salivate. He told me that he wanted to make boxes that "meant something" to people, hence the street signs. His statement, on the surface seemed hopelessly naive in our post-modern, post-narrative world.

At that point, I was in love. I bought chocolate. Some for the people I care about and some for me. I also bought meaning. I am a sucker for narratives and meaning, and one of the things I love about Christianity, is that it provides a fantastic narrative and lots of meaning to things, so imagine my dismay when I found myself in church last Sunday and...


Church, last Sunday, in an unnamed California Valley town.

The pastor was a gregarious giant with a gold earring and a hipster shirt. The service was held in a high school cafeteria. While the trappings of a progressive, sensitive, non-traditional service didn't bother me (yes, I may have snickered under my breath) one of the statements made by the music pastor nearly sent me into fits. He was introducing a song and he said that there may be "long words" that the congregation may not know the meanings of, it was okay for us to make up our own meanings to them. The longest word the song contained was "intimacy." I had fun seeing what would happen if I swapped out its normal meaning for other meanings (similar to a game I played with inane praise choruses when I was a kid, when I swapped out various sounds, like changing the d in "adore" to a b, making it "Jesus, I abhor you"). Needless to say, the song's coherence, collapsed like a bridge in a hurricane.


I walked out of the chocolate store with hope and chocolate. Looking at the street signs on the wall, and how so many had significance for me, I felt connected to Eco's labyrinths of meaning, and my 900,000 other neighbors. And chocolate.


chiefbiscuit said...

Fascinating stuff - thanks. :)

rosa said...

This is such a great post! I've missed your long rampblings, Cam. And thanks for the Epiphany nod!
I was chagrined, to say the least, at the music pastor's admonitions. I mean, what the hell?

Poulet said...

Great story! I am also a sucker for narratives... meaty, even chocolatey narratives.

I hope that music dude was just in the habit of issuing a disclaimer. Otherwise, it doesn't make much sense. And in that case, maybe he should issue a disclaimer about rote actions during worship. And then maybe a disclaimer about disclaimers. In the end, it's all self-referential anyway...

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