Tuesday, January 26, 2016
The Droste Effect
I am an impulsive shopper.
For instance, when I saw these boxes of cocoa from Droste, the venerable Dutch chocolate company, I didn't not wonder if we needed cocoa, or check to see that other cocoas cost a third as much. I bought one, at the usurious price of $10.49 because ... well, any guesses? ... yes, of course, because the box looks so cool, with its 19th century nurse wielding her tray of the hot cocoa you need for whatever ails you. Plus that rich red background. Isn't that the best red you've ever seen?
To be honest, I didn't intend to open and use the cocoa at all; I knew that just seeing it on the shelf, among the teas and spices and such in our kitchen, would give me an added boost. The fact that there was something inside the box was just a lagniappe, an added bonus.
My wife, who scans the newspaper for sales, creates shopping lists and goes from store to store, stalking bargains like a lepidopterist netting rare butterflies,, eventually quizzed me about the luxurious cocoa that showed up in our kitchen cabinet. Though to her credit, she did so gently, with genuine puzzlement and none of the cold outrage I'm sure was simmering in her gut. She probably assumed I had lost my mind, and was both trying to be kind, and a little frightened.
"Cocoa is all the same," she said, calmly and evenly, resisting the urge to add, "You crazy person you."
I had to admit there was more to it than a pretty box. When my father was a young man, he went to sea, and his ship stopped at the Netherlands, where he rode a motorbike—shooting a movie using his wind-up Bolex camera—and developed a taste for Droste, which he brought home with him.
So trying to add a little cachet to our white bread and Cheez Whiz suburban Ohio upbringing, he made a habit of purchasing Droste products, wherever in God's name you got such things in Ohio in the 1960s and 1970s. The black market, I suppose. We ate creamy Droste milk chocolate bars and tapped Droste orange-flavored chocolate oranges on the table to watch them shatter into sections and popped bittersweet Droste pastilles in our eager yaps. Droste chocolate made Hershey's taste like plastic and Nestles' Crunch taste like gravel.
Though I doubt that was the deciding factor in my father's buying habits; to him, Droste's was high class, international, Euopean and a tribute to his seafaring years, and I guess I view it the exact same way, with the added bonus of nostalgic mixed in.
The box looked different then, with a little Dutch boy and girl. An old-fashioned look that for some reason I was able to utterly ignore for decades in my adulthood; if I ever saw it, it never registered.
The new box is a vast improvement, even though it isn't new at all; just a re-issue of a design from 100 years ago.
Before we let go of this subject, no doubt with a sigh of relief on your part ("Really, was there no news at all?!") I would draw your attention to the tray the nurse is holding. It is an example of what, believe it or not, is called "The Droste Effect," a picture that contains a smaller image, which holds an image that is smaller still, an infinite recursive dwindling, vanishing beyond the limits of reproduction.
Just so I don't seem a total spendthrift I did, to justify my purchase, whip up a batch of homemade pudding, using this recipe off the Internet. Edie was then horrified, not that I was wasting my pricy cocoa by putting it into food, but that I would use a recipe requiring heavy cream to make such rich, fattening pudding and not the sensible low-cal puddings we who are watching our weight should eat if we must consume pudding at all. To show me how it was done, she made the proper, sensible pudding that, I couldn't bear to tell her, until now, tasted like congealed water. I ate it with husbandly duty.
Sometimes a fellow has to sin boldly, within his narrow limits, and if I'm going to have a cocoa orgy and go off the rails, puddingwise, full strength, sinfully rich chocolate pudding made with cream and genuine imported Dutch Droste cocoa seems the way to go. After all, as I'm always saying when called out on an extravagance, they sell the stuff, right there in Sunset Foods in Northbrook. It can't just be me.