When I was a kid, Ash Wednesday always involved a long list of give-ups that I would try to hang on to for 40 whole days (no candy, no nail-biting). I carried this habit into adulthood (no smoking, no alcohol, no sugar, no swearing), even though I have long ago kicked the Catholic Church to the curb. But it’s hard to shake the litany of self-deprivation that I was born into; life is hard enough, but Catholics want to make it even harder by giving you a long list of rules and encouraging you to stay away from all the fun stuff.
There’s a sweet (pun-intended) 2000 movie that highlights how foolish all of this is: Chocolat, starring Juliette Binoche. She plays the mysterious Vianne who moves into an idyllic French village with her young daughter Anouk to open a chocolate shop right at the beginning of Lent. The fact that Vianne and Anouk don’t go to mass is scandalous enough, to say nothing of the fact that Anouk’s father is unknown. Even though the villagers are supposed to be in the season of depriving each other, Vianne’s sweets have a magical effect, adding spark to some marriages and destroying other ones, all the while annoying the strict constable of the town, inscrutably played by Alfred Molina.
Johnny Depp is on the poster in an annoying ponytail, but that’s because this movie came out in 2000—he really only sticks around long enough to mangle an Irish accent and show off some guitar-playing. This movie is refreshingly female-focused, from Judy Dench’s crabby landlady Armande and her straight-laced daughter Caroline (Carrie-Anne Moss) to Vianne’s new friend Josephine, played by an increasingly luminous Lena Olin. Most of these hard-working women have little time for give-ups, as they raise children and run businesses and keep house and just try to enjoy their lives. And what’s wrong with a thick cup of creamy hot chocolate at the end of a long day of domestic and other duties?
Granted, I’m forever grateful that I quit smoking, and I have gotten a lot out of my bouts with Dryuary, healthwise and otherwise. It would probably do me well to try to steer clear of sugar again until April 14. Then I see a charming movie like Chocolat, featuring culinary delight on top of culinary delight, and I wonder what the point is in giving up anything at all. (I remember seeing this movie in the theater; I headed straight out and got a Starbucks Mocha afterward.)
Except for swearing. Dreadful habit, which has the added unwanted effect of horrifying my children. Maybe I’ll just (try to) stay away from the blue language this year.