Two days ago I was scouring for some chocolate tidbit in my copy of Sophie and Michael Coe's "The True History of Chocolate", and came across a timely story.
Tomorrow is Bastille Day, the 14th of July, a day that France celebrates the 1789 storming of this fortress-prison in Paris as the beginning of the French Revolution.
So what do chocolate and the man who gave us the name for pain as pleasure (sadism) have to do with this story?
A little background. The Marquis de Sade was a French aristocrat whose fictional (?) writings on the pursuit of pleasure, typically through sex and cruelty, were so scandalous that he spent 30 years of his 75 year life imprisoned in either prisons or lunatic asylums. Ten of these years were spent in the Bastille.
de Sade is memorialized as great lover of chocolate, for there are stories, many possibly invented, that involve his lust for the food. One episode from 1772 is repeated here as the probable elaborated description of a ball given by the marquis:
"Into the dessert he slipped chocolate pastilles so good that a number of people devoured them. There were lots of them, and no one failed to eat some, but he had mixed in some Spanish fly. The virtue of the medication is well known. It proved to be so potent that those who ate the pastilles began to burn with unchaste ardor and to carry on as if in the grip of the most amorous frenzy. The ball degenerated into one of those licentious orgies for which the Romans were renowned..."
Whenever he found himself imprisoned, writings to his loyal wife list such requests as this:
Boxes of ground chocolate and of mocha coffeeCacao butter suppositoriesCreme au chocolatHalf-pound boxes of chocolate pastillesLarge chocolate biscuitsVanilla pastilles au chocolatChocolat en tablettes a l'ordinaire (chocolate bars)
While it is a questionable fact that the Marquis de Sade played a direct role in the instigation of the destruction of the Bastille, the story goes as such: On July 2, 1789, de Sade addressed the working class crowd gathered around the prison from his cell high up in the Bastille, telling them that the guards were about to kill all (7!) prisoners, and urged them to attack the fortress. On July 14 they did just that, and although this event was not of strategic or military importance, it signified the beginning of the destruction of the absolute monarchy, and therefore this day lives on as a symbol of the changes brought on in the French Revolution.
Liberte, Egalite, Fraterinite! In chocolate!