This week’s biscuit hails from the furthermost reaches of Eastern Europe, another find from intrepid biscuit hunter Gareth, who crossed the borders of Latvia a few weeks ago to retrieve it. He did say that the biscuit selection in Belarus wasn’t as varied as he was expecting, but I was quite impressed by the specimens below and the packaging is so bright you can almost see it glowing:
Chocoline cookies are produced by a company in Minsk, whose name seems to be Chocoladovo transliterated from Belarussian. This particular incarnation of Chocoline is topped with a scattering of milled roast peanuts partially coated by a layer of soft chocolate, and the dimensions (5cm squares to about 8 or 9mm depth) seemed a bit unusual to me, probably because British brands look and feel chunkier. The peanut version was less crunchy in texture than I’d expected from the picture and the coating more sugary than nutty, but they were pleasant enough with a coffee after noon or dinner and thin enough to justify eating three or four at a push, or maybe six if you’re a penguin…
I was a bit stumped for a moral until I reflected that the rocky surface of the Chocoline fitted well with Jesus’s Parable of the Sower, in which the seed sown on rocky soil represents those who receive God’s word with joy but fail to develop deep roots, believing for a while then falling away when they face temptation. There are many lessons we could take from this but perhaps the most positive is that temptations have one up-side as far as self-knowledge goes: you only really know how firm your principles are or how deep your roots go when they’re tested.
My favourite Middle English morality play, Mankind (c.1470), portrays the drama of temptation through a more extended allegory, a popular way of depicting the spiritual life in the medieval period. In it the dim but loveable Mankind – a sort of gardening Everyman – successfully withstands the temptations of four Vices until the devil Titillivus (only visible to the audience) appears to harden the soil, nick his spade and inflict him with an urgent need to piss when he should be praying. Thus disrupted and distracted, Mankind succumbs to the persuasions of the Vices who have a tendency to steal the show as craftily as Titillivus steals the shovel. But the audience’s amusement at their uproarious behaviour fades as their true nature is revealed and they eventually succeed in persuading Mankind to put a noose around his neck and hang himself as ‘the new fashion’. (Fortunately, his old friend Mercy arrives just in time to save him.)
Temptation tests our character, but what if you take the test and fail? What if some rocky terrain you weren’t expecting exposes some lack or shallowness you’d rather not own, pitching you into disgrace or despair of things ever changing? Jesus understood this sadness, I think, when he said temptations would inevitably come, and in general he had much kinder words for the tempted than those doing the tempting. Failure can be a lonely place, but as the story of Mankind shows sometimes it takes a fall from grace to show us what grace really is. And, like Mercy, he has a habit of running in when the rest of the world runs out, God bless him.
Watch the vices in action in this production of Mankind at the Festival of Early Drama.
Listen to this spectacular choral setting of Psalm 51, Misere Mei Deus (‘Lord, Have Mercy on Me’) performed by the Tenebrae choir. (You may also enjoy the story of its release to humankind, thanks to a well-known musical genius with perfect recall!)
Thinking of making your own raid on the biscuit barrels of Belarus? Have a read of The Lonely Planet’s Online Guide to learn more about one of Europe’s new ‘it’ destinations.
If you would like to see more entries more regularly and help keep this bestiary free of ads, you are welcome to contribute to the Biscuit Jar.