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Solano Avenue is a treat for the senses this weekend

By Jim Emerson, Special to the Daily Planet
Friday May 24, 2002

Solano Avenue sidewalks will explode with chocolate and colorful chalk artwork for three days during the Memorial Day holiday weekend at the Chocolate & Chalk Art Festival running May 25- 27. 

Stretching westward from The Alameda in Albany to San Pablo Avenue in Berkeley for one and a quarter miles the festival promises to be a feast for the eyes and sweet tooth as well as an economic shot in the arm for the area merchants. 

Solano Avenue will remain open to traffic. 

Amateur and professional artists will decorate sidewalk squares with chalk art drawings on Saturday only. Areas of the sidewalk will be assigned to children and adult artists. The registration area is scheduled to open at 9 a.m. at Peralta Park, near 1561 Solano Ave. Registration is free. 

Artists may bring their own chalk or purchase boxes of chalk for $4 when registering. All those who register Saturday before noon will be entered in a raffle to receive prizes such as tickets to an Oakland A’s game and gift certificates for merchandise at local stores. The two main events, the chalk artwork viewing and chocolate tasting will continue throughout the weekend.  

Other special events and activities will be interspersed between the artwork and shops offering chocolate delights. 

Look for Professor Gizmo, a comical one-man band scheduled to perform 2 to 4 p.m. on Saturday in Peralta Park. Also on Saturday, the Berkeley Police will set up “Operation Kidprint” nearby to provide parents with their children’s fingerprints to keep on file at home. 

On Sunday at 2 p.m. the retailer Dogs By Dianne will host a Dog Fashion Show at the intersection of Solano Avenue and Key Route. All participants must pre-register by phoning 510/236-0588. Also on Sunday, the Berkeley Animal Care Services will offer pets for adoption between 11:30 and 2:30 p.m. at Peralta Park. Chair massages will be offered on Monday at the park. 

Besides the festival the neighborhood offers plenty of window-shopping and other leisure-time activities. Solano Avenue is home for more than 500 businesses, including 75 restaurants, 150 retail shops, two theaters and several small parks. 

“People should plan on about three hours to walk up and down both sides of the street with stops along the way to see the art and eat some chocolate,” says Lisa Bullwinkel, executive director of the Solano Avenue Association, the sponsor of the festival. 

Special chocolate menus will be available free at more than 30 businesses displaying festival pennants. Many retailers have commissioned professional artists to create logos outside shops in chalk for the festival. 

Taste bud tantalizing items to choose from on the menu include homemade variations of chocolate popcorn, flan, eclair, cheesecake, baklava, cream pie, fried banana and champagne truffles. Lollipops for children and erotic lollipops for adults will also be available. For beverages there will be chocolate smoothes and Frappucinos to consider. 

True chocolate lovers may have trouble leaving the festival. Eating chocolate to some is akin to nirvana. It’s difficult to find anyone who doesn’t like chocolate or who can name someone they know who doesn’t like it.  

Nationwide Americans spend about $8.6 billion and consume about 3.3 billion pounds of chocolate annually, according to figures from the Chocolate Manufacturers Association.  

Worldwide, the United States ranks ninth in chocolate consumption. By a 2-1 margin milk chocolate is preferred over dark chocolate, but taste preference for dark chocolate increases as people age. Among consumers 18 to 24, only 11% prefer dark chocolate to milk chocolate, while 37% of consumers 45 to 54 years old favor dark chocolate over milk chocolate. 

Despite its universal appeal few people understand why people like chocolate so much, except perhaps for those who’s love affair with chocolate is the most special --- the people who make chocolate for the rest of us to enjoy.  

“I’m obsessively passionate about chocolate,” says Kara Thompson, owner of Torme Chocolate at 1580 Solano Ave. She’s a confectioner who specializes in  

chocolate truffles “There’s something spiritual about it, and I really like being around it,” she says. 

Chocolate gives people a feeling of well-being. The effect varies with people because of the chemical complexity of chocolate. “Does chocolate give you a high, absolutely yes, Thompson says. It’s intoxicating when you smell it.” 

“If you’re a runner and ever experienced the runner’s high or fallen in love, you might be interested in knowing that some of the chemicals in chocolate  

raise the body’s serotonin levels in a similar way,” she says. 

With respect to health chocolate probably has more positive beneficial effects on the body than negative ones, according to Thompson. Nutritionally, chocolate contains minerals needed by the body, antioxidants and it has a neutral impact on the cholesterol levels. 

She believes any negative effects from chocolate are likely to be related to the quality and quantity of chocolate consumed and the junk added to mass-manufactured chocolate, she says. 

The Chocolate Manufacturers Association has conducted numerous studies and published extensive reports on chocolate consumption patterns and scientific data related to the effect chocolate has on health. 


• Chocolate is the number one food craved by women, while men crave pizza the most. Some scientists theorize that women crave chocolate  

because it contains magnesium, which may be related to menstrual cycles when women tend to increase their intake of sweets. 


• Per capita chocolate consumption is highest in Belgium, followed by Switzerland, Germany, Ireland, United Kingdom, Austria, Denmark, France, Sweden and then the United States. 


• Stearic acid the form of fat found in cocoa butter that’s used to make chocolate is unsaturated because it’s derived from plants, which is why  

chocolate doesn’t raise blood cholesterol levels. Chocolate melts in your mouth because the melting point of cocoa butter is just below human body  



• Chocolate contains polyphenol antioxidants, or flavonoids, which are believed to reduce the risk of heart attacks and counteract the damaging effects of free radical molecules in the body. The quantities of antioxidants found in chocolate are similar to amounts typically found in fruits and vegetables. Chocolate, particularly dark chocolate, contains more antioxidants than black tea, red wine, raisins and strawberries. 


• More than 300 chemicals are found in chocolate, including stimulants such as caffeine, theobromine and phenylethylamine, which is related to amphetamines. These stimulants increase the brain activity of brain chemicals. Chocolate also contains anandamide, which binds to the same brain cell receptors as tetrahydrocannabinol or THC found in marijuana.