An Absolute Passion for Candies

On Polk Street in San Francisco there was an old fashioned candy store . . . the store was owned and run by an elderly Württemberg couple. Its specialty was French candies.

Neguses—(from Ethiopian royalty?) were my favorites, warm soft chocolate centers with a shiny hard toffee coating rather resembling the varnish on an old violin. A very close second were the Lolottes de Nevers—creamy-textured fruit jellies wearing saris of crystallized sugar . . . What attracted me about them was the notion of putting several layers of sugar around a center—around truth, or despair, or desire, or sin. Candies palm a kind of pill off on us, and we feel anxious unless we’ve identified it with our teeth or tongues. They’re like sonatas, theories, religions, love, perhaps even fear—so many layers of varying degrees of sweetness or bitterness clothing naked entities themselves of varying degrees of brazenness or crudity. To tell the truth, that’s why, though I’m curious about them I don’t really like candies of any kind. I like cakes; they don’t conceal secrets, at least not to the degree candies conceal them. In a way the rivalry between confectionery and pastry was similar to the way she and I were bound together,

I bought some marzipan candies called calissons d’Aix . . .  calissons d’Aix are one of the candies I like best because they’re almost pastries and because they’re light in the hand, soft to the teeth, subtle to the taste, and shaped like mandolas, the almond-shaped auras in which Christ appears in representation of the Last Judgment. Also because in them the tragic apple, the female apple, the apple of Eden, gradually gives way to the almond, because they’ve retained some of the smell of green cypresses and Mont Sainte-Victoire; because their whiteness reminds me more of the color of himan skin then milk, canine teeth, or innocence; be4caquse they[‘re a kind of diabolical host, like the little bits of consecrated bread enclosed in the unleavened bread of the host, like a gangster’s face covered with a woman’s silk stocking.

Candies (the word has a Persian etymology) have plenty of mouths to fell elsewhere. Sergei Dovlatov[1] takes the Marzipan of Barthes[2] and Quignard[3], turns it into a adjective in Russian, and uses it to describe a bureaucrat in “The Compromise:’ “. . . an unctuous, marzipanish person. A certain type: the timid manipulator.”

“The Conjuror made off with the Dish,” by Naguib Mahfouz[4], finds a young boy losing the dish but tasting his first kiss, colored and sweetened by the red and white candies known as “lady’s fleas,” on which the girl is leisurely sucking when he meets her.

In Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, unconnected characters are linked through their different views of an airplane advertising toffee in the sky: “out fluttered behind it a thick ruffled bar of white smoke which curled and wreathed upon the sky in letters . . . looping, writing a T, an O, an F.”


[1]  Sergei Dovlatov (1941-1990) grew up in a mixed Armenian-Jewish family in Bashkiria, Soviet Union. He lived in Leningrad before and after a brief fling with the freer intellectual climate of Estonis, and emigrated to the united States in 1978, where he settled in New York City. While living in Leningrad, he worked briefly as a guide in the pushkin Museum. His writing is both satirical and autobiographical, not necessarily both at once.

[2]  Roland Barthes (1915-1918) Semiology wasn’t his idea in the first place, but he was one of its leading proponents, setting the tone and seeing the signs in literary France and beyond from 1960s on.

[3]  Pascal Quiguard (1948 – ), born in Verneuil, France, lives in Paris, where he works as an editor at Edition Gallimard, The Salon in Württemberg is the first of his novels to be published in English; let us hope the rest are coming.

[4]  Naguib Mahfouz (1911 – ), Egyptian novelist and short-story writer, born in Cairo. He is the best known and most widely respected contemporary writer in Egypt and probably the whole Arab world, and in 1988 he became the first Arabic writer to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. Mahfouz’s novels are characterized by realistic depictions of social and political life and include fictional explorations of such social issues as the position of women and political prisoners. Stylistically, his works have rejuvenated literary Arabic without recourse to colloquialisms.

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