When I was a kid, I couldn't wait to open a new box of breakfast cereal. It wasn't because the cereal tasted special, of course. It was because I could fish down deep inside and come up with a small, clear envelope containing the latest free toy.
"Collect all six working gyrocopters," screamed the box. Well, it was a little more as a popsicle stick around which you twisted a rubber band that you supplied yourself, but the concept was sound and the price was right.
My favourite cereal inserts were miniature plastic vehicles that assembled like three-dimensional jigsaw puzzles. I can still picture them. Nowadays, of course, the cereal companies have to work harder to capture the attention of over stimulated preteens by offering 3-D interactive hyper-reality real-time networking something or others. A stone-age toy just won't cut it. Nor will work just to serve up the opportunity to bond with cute but bland characters like Captain Crunch or the Fruit Loops toucan.
Of course, the catch was that you felt an overwhelming compulsion to "collect all 26" Team "Whatever" players. I probably convinced my mother to buy at least three tons more cereal than I needed for nutritional purposes, while heartless cereal executives were doubled over with laughter, knowing that they had only produced three boxes nationwide with player card number 17.
But that was then, and this is now. I am in another free gift era. I have passed through my indestructible gas station red glass years, and have moved beyond my nondescript grocery store flatware period. I have settled very comfortably into my 'romantic chocolate poetry' era.
It was my wife who first introduced me to "Baci Perugina" chocolates - "imported dark chocolates with hazelnut filling," made in the Italian town of Perugia. A regular patient of hers, an elderly fellow, of Italian origin, made a practice of leaving a box of these chocolates after every visit. My wife, who is not a hazelnut fan, passed the chocolates on to me. "He brings them to me as a way of expressing his appreciation," she said. It was a win all around.
I'll say it straight up those Baci chocolate is darn good. I can think of no higher praise than to imagine that Calvin and Hobbes would say they are to chocolate what Chocolate Frosted Sugar Bombs are to cereal. But wait, to employ the language of The Shopping Channel, there's more
Baci chocolates come in a midnight blue box, with a cover showing a couple in ballroom attire gazing out on a starry night sky. Only the faintest suggestion revealed of the smoldering passion waiting inside.
Hidden inside the box, hidden further inside the foil wrapping of each chocolate, is a tiny transparent slip imprinted with a literary expression of love. Not just general love of humankind, but passionate romantic love, in five languages no less, with Italian batting leadoff.
This is a league above your standard fortune cookie tripe. No slips saying "you will bring blessings to those you meet" or "help, I am being held prisoner in a fortune cookie factory" for this outfit. Here is a representative sample:
Number 101: "Nelle donne ogni cosa e cuore, anche la testa. In women, everything is heart, even the head." Author: J.P. Richter.
Number 10: "Amo non solo essere amato, ma anche sentimento dire. I like not only to be loved, but to be told that I am loved." Author: G. Elliot.
Number 7: "Prima di amoreia, non ho mai vissuto pianamente. Till I loved, I did not live enough." Author: E. Dickenson.
To top it off, there is a romantic story behind the chocolate as well. The heir to one of the Perugina chocolate company's founders fell in love with the spouse of a co-founder. Not surprisingly, they wanted to keep their love secret. As a confectioner herself, she both created the Baci ("many kisses") chocolate and devised a method of slipping a love note to her paramour inside each one.
The chocolates have had their successes. At one time, you could find a free coupon to get a discount on Frank Sinatra 45-rpm records. That was a little while ago.
The recent story is less idyllic; the Nestle conglomerate bought the company a few years ago. To the credit of NestlÃ©, it has discreetly added its logo to the box but done nothing to tamper with the core product. These big mergers leave me nervous: now that Kraft has acquired Cadbury: I fully expect to be able to purchase Dairy Milk Chocolate Miracle Whip.
Now you have to admire an outfit that keeps its product's key weapon under wraps. There are no "Collect All 143" slogans for these people. Just think of the advantages this creates, especially around Valentine's Day.
Suppose, for example, you are a bashful suitor. You hand the object of your affections a box of Baci and say, rather diffidently, "oh, by the way, I picked these up", then leave the recipient a decent interval to discover, alone, the true depths of your passion.
Say you are at Slickers, anxious to get a generous serving of rhubarb ginger ice cream. You hand the server a Baci and say, "I admire how you handle your responsibilities. Why not take a moment to enjoy everything this chocolate has to offer. I'll be happy to wait while you do." Your serving, of ice cream, is an amount that constitutes a reciprocal gesture.
Or say you are returning a book to the library. You casually hand in the book and say "here, have one of these" and walk out. You then spend the afternoon pleasurably imagining the difficulty the librarian will have trying to say a stern "ssshhh" while suppressing a guilty smile.
Perhaps the highest and best use of all for the Baci is the dual purpose application. In this event, the donor ingests the chocolate, keeping the recipient unaware that there ever was one, while memorizing the love aphorism to repeat to the recipient. A suitor late for a date, for example, may acquire some inst ant food energy from the chocolate and enough inspiration from spouting the verse to calm and charm an otherwise unforgiving companion.
Yes, I have thought about it: that Italian fellow may have been using the boxes of Baci to express to my wife some deeper sentiment than respect. Heck, I was getting the chocolate, so I wasn't complaining. I read the verses to my wife, after I had eaten the chocolate.
I'll close this one off by wishing you a happy Valentine's day and quoting the words of the famous author Anonimo: "Un bacio proibito bracia piu dei fuoco: a forbidden kiss burns hotter than fire" (number 32).
Some readers seem intent on nullifying the authority of David Simmonds. The critics are so intense; Simmonds is cast as more scoundrel than scamp. He is, in fact, a Canadian writer of much wit and wisdom. Simmonds writes strong prose, not infrequently laced with savage humour. He dissects, in a cheeky way, what some think sacrosanct. His wit refuses to allow the absurdities of life to move along, nicely, without comment. What Simmonds writes frightens some readers. He doesn't court the ineffectual. Those he scares off are the same ones that will not understand his writing. Satire is not for sissies. The wit of David Simmonds skewers societal vanities, the self-important and their follies as well as the madness of tyrants. He never targets the outcasts or the marginalised; when he goes for a jugular, its blood is blue. David Simmonds, by nurture, is a lawyer. By nature, he is a perceptive writer, with a gimlet eye, a superb folk singer, lyricist and composer. He believes quirkiness is universal; this is his focus and the base of his creativity. "If my humour hurts," says Simmonds,"it's after the stiletto comes out." He's an urban satirist on par with Mike Barnacle, the late Jimmy Breslin and Mike Rokyo and, increasingly, Dorothy Parker. He writes from and often about the village of Wellington, Ontario. Simmonds also writes for the Wellington "Times," in Wellington, Ontario.
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