Chocolate fountain only on some Sundays

Another Boingboing pointer because it is about chocolate and because the new Fernbank exhibit is on chocolate which is an exhibit making a nationwide tour.

I love chocolate but am no connoisseur, just like I love coffee but am no connoisseur, and one it comes down to it am fine with a really oily french roast. I know I like a dark hefty chocolate and so we usually get Lindt with a high choco percentage and lower ones that H.o.p. loves and we split, eating a bit at a time, because I don’t like to overload. Or Perugina.

We went to the museum with my being newly equipped with the knowledge there are three kinds of cacao beans and that few chocolatiers use the premium. I didn’t know I was going to the chocolate exhibit today, was a last minute thing, so I went not knowing what the names of the beans were and what chocolatiers use them.

The exhibit is not for children. Children will be bored. Indeed, it’s not terribly exciting for adults. A few pics and exposition, much of that exposition being stuff I’ve already read online with H.o.p. They had a replica of a cacao tree and a pod that was cut open so you could see the innards and I suppose that was a replica too. And they had vessels and utensils used for chocolate by the Maya and Aztecs (and replicas). H.o.p. was bored about five minutes after we entered. It was a lot of reading and I ended up not seeing much of the second and third parts of the exhibit (felt like it was broken up into three parts) because H.o.p. was bored. There was a children’s room, as with other special exhibits, but in it were just a few books, some blocks that were Aztec shapes, and two tables with no copies of materials for children to crayon on. Nothing for them to make. Which was one nice thing about the Heard museum in Phoenix, the stations with materials for children were well stocked and didn’t need anyone handing out papers for coloring at special times. They were self-explanatory. Gave something for the kids to do. While I was sitting in the children’s gallery with H.o.p. and his two year old cousin, there were many people who came in with their kids, looking for a respite, and all seemed perplexed there was nothing for the kids to do except watch a Magic School Bus video on chocolate which was hard to hear because of all the ambient noise and there being only one small speaker that was pointed down, directly above the small video screen. Which H.o.p. enjoyed, but the other kids didn’t seem too interested.

There was one sheet on one of the tables, already scribbled on, of what there would be for the kids to do if more sheets were there. It was this sheet. Not too terribly exciting. This is a page on the children’s section of the exhibit. Again, not exciting at all.

They could have used a chocolate fountain for entrancing kids but seems Chocolate Sundays are the only times you get the chocolate fountain and samples. So we will have to return I guess on some Sunday. For the samples. Chocolate Sundays are only once a month. And samples only last as long as samples are available.

If you’re not there on that once a month Sunday then what you have to look forward to after going through the exhibit (lots of writing, a fake cacao tree, a cacao pod which is probabably fake, some Aztec utensils of which some are replicas, some candy wrappers) is the chocolate shop at the end. I headed over to the chocolate shop thinking well maybe they will have a wide selection and exotic selection of chocolates.

There wasn’t that wide a selection. There was Godiva, Green and Black, El Ray and Vosges. I got a bar of the Green and Black and a bar of the Vosges (there was a variety, I chose the one with chili peppers and cinnamon), and one of the El Ray. The Vosges was good, I liked the lingering chili flavor, but I expected more oomph to it. The El Ray is Venezuelan chocolate and is supposed to be made with the highest premium grade of chocolate beans. And it is good. I got the 58.5 percent bar. It doesn’t send me flying but it is good. I’m in a state of mind right now where I want my chocolate to send me flying with lots of feel-good chemicals. The Green and Black 70 percent has some power to it but seems kind of sweet rather than intensely chocolate. They also had some small chocolate squares that I didn’t look at because I was buying with the intent of sharing between me, Marty and my brother and his wife and H.o.p.

Anyway, for whatever reason, I was kind of unimpressed with the exhibit. I liked looking at some of the Aztec utensils but even I was losing interest by the time I got to the second portion, when Europeans met chocolate, and really didn’t care about looking at European chocolate cups.

I would occasionally try to interest H.o.p. in something but I was even bored. “Oh, look, there’s a picture of a small midge on a penny!”

The displays are mostly like this. One big blown-up picture from something and a small paragraph of exposition at the side and then attached to the display is the case holding the utensil being exhibited or the cacao bean or whatever. I don’t know why I did this but instead of being interested in what the displays were displaying, I instead looked at the art and thought about how big it was blown up, how it looked like art from the web blown up big and printed with the pixels retouched a bit so they were evened out, I was wondering about this and thinking it would be kind of nice if they had instead done a digital painting of the image. I don’t suppose it’s good when a visitor is thinking about the technical aspects instead of the exhibit.

Between the three sections, if I remember correctly, was a wall with a loop of a short video clip. Like when you were entering the Europeans meet chocolate part there was a short blown up film clip of a stream of chocolate with a stream of pouring sugar. It looped and looped. I don’t think it’s too good when your visitor, instead of being impressed with said clip, looks and thinks the film quality reminds of a really bad video clip on the web. Which is odd, because the screen wasn’t too terribly large and the quality of the clip was terrible. My brother and I joked about it. I forget what we joked about because there wasn’t too much material there for a joke.

If you’re going to do a museum exhibit about chocolate, I don’t just want to read about it on the wall and I don’t want to have to be there on the one Sunday a month when you have a fountain. Is that me being picky? Give me even a bean to look at and smell and hold while I’m walking through. Not a whole pod. Just a bean. I would have been happy with a bean. More happy with a pod. But happy enough with a bean. And some printed out sheets on the displays so that if you don’t get a chance to read it all you can pluck a sheet and read it elsewhere.

The Fernbank site gives 8 special highlights from the exhibit. One reads:

The Aztec
Cacao was the key to the vast empire of the Aztec people—a luxury drink for the elite, an offering to the gods, payment to rulers and money in the marketplace. An interactive Aztec marketplace shows visitors the purchasing power of a handful of beans. Find out what treasure Cortés discovered in the storerooms of Montezuma.

Well, that special interactive is a display with some fake tomatoes and chilis and it has a kind of small abacus with several cacao beans on the ebacus and you get to move those cacao beans from one side to the other, determining how much you’d pay in cacao beans for fake chilis or fake tomatoes.

I was unimpressed. That seemed like a big stretch for a highlight. “What can we do to make it seem interactive?” Thus an abacus.

Maybe it’s just me. I’m not happy with visiting a museum and reading. I can read at home. I can read on the web. And I suppose I wanted more Aztec history. I wanted big and in my face Maya and Aztec bean. I wanted to see what the Aztec cacao broth was like. See it. Smell it. I’ve read about it elsewhere. Give me an opportunity to taste the Aztec cacao broth. That’s probably asking way too much, I know.

Let me smell them being roasted.

Show me them being cracked and winnowed.

Chocolate Alchemy has all kind of information on beans and making chocolate, but seems if you’re going to make connoisseur chocolate even on a small personal scale it requires some investing. I won’t be doing that.

I guess I’m not a good museum-goer. Had I anything to do with the exhibit, I would have said, “Give them a bean! Give ’em each a bean!” I would have said, “Bring in a real tree!” and set it up in a room with appropriate lighting. I would have said, “Let’s let them crack and winnow some beans!” I would have said, “Let’s give them an opportunity to taste the stuff!” At the very least, give ’em a bean.

We still had a good time, in good company. H.o.p.’s little cousin has new pink glitter shoes that she wears everywhere. She is quite proud of those shoes.

Actually, one of the most interesting things to me was as we left, there were three women walking in line with two children. They were obviously grandmother with a grandchild, great-grandmother and young mother with child. They all looked so similar that this was interesting. I thought, “There go four generations of Irish” because somehow they looked Irish to me. I think what made them stand out is that their expressions were all so similar and the way that they walked and that they were in that line and not talking to each other as they walked.

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Juli Kearns

Juli Kearns is the author of Thunderbird and the Ball of Twine and Unending Wonders of a Subatomic World (or) In Search of the Great Penguin. She is also an artist/photographer, and the person behind the web alter of "Idyllopus Press".

2 thoughts on “Chocolate fountain only on some Sundays”

  1. Right on. When the exhibit was here in Gainesville I debated the issue, then finally decided I would rather eat chocolate than take my 4-year-old son to see an exhibit about chocolate. Now I know why.

  2. A 4 year old would have been bored silly. Parents were going into the Children’s Gallery and looking around, hopeful for something for their kids to do, all looked bewildered that there was nothing, and then some of them leaving them there, regardless, I guess while they looked a little more at the exhibit, hoping their child or children would be at least interested in watching the video. There were two small plastic boxes of broken crayons and, lacking any paper, some toddlers were resorting to crayoning on the 4 carpet pieces carefully positioned in front of the video screen for seating purposes, with frustrated parents trying to stop them.

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