Taking Away My Chocolate Bars and Other World Problem

Ralph Gardner Jr. Goes a Little Nuts Over the Loss of His Favorite British Treats

Cadbury chocolate bars are a cut above, according to Ralph Gardner Jr.ENLARGE
Cadbury chocolate bars are a cut above, according to Ralph Gardner Jr. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

The proof of a charmed life is that the news—from wars, to government policies, to Super Bowl melodramas—has little discernible effect on your happiness.

Thus, when current events materially affect your well-being it can come as a shock, a slap in the face, a source of emotions ranging from outrage, to anxiety, to mourning.

I’m thinking in particular of a settlement last week between HersheyCo. and an importer of British products that prevents Cadbury chocolates made in Britain from reaching the U.S.

Hershey, which has a licensing agreement to make Cadbury products here, such as the Dairy Milk chocolate bar, apparently contends that the packaging on the domestic and imported versions are too close for comfort, and thus a threat to their trademark.

I’ve never suffered any confusion. And the reason is that I seek out Cadbury in places where I know the British version is sold—such as Fairway and Myers of Keswick on Hudson Street.

And if I happen to be shopping at an unfamiliar supermarket, I scour the labeling to make certain I don’t suffer the disappointment of arriving home and discovering I’ve bought the American version by mistake.

What’s the difference between the two? Why the big deal?

This analogy comes to mind. In the late ’70s I purchased a photograph by Edward Weston called “China Cove.” It’s a beautiful, almost abstract scene taken from a great height at Point Lobos in California in 1940. The image depicts the effect of radiant sunlight on the sea, on a rock formation that rises from its depths, and on long tendrils of seaweed.

The version I own was printed by Cole Weston, the photographer’s son, rather than by Edward Weston himself.

It’s a mesmerizing photograph. Nonetheless, it doesn’t compare to the original, which I ran across in a museum not long ago. The differences are subtle—the gradations of light in the father’s print are somehow more nuanced, the seaweed seems to whisper, the sea is imbued with something like melancholy.

That’s sort of how I feel about the difference between the British version of Cadbury’s, which has a higher fat content, and the American recipe.

And it would be noticeable even to the average 8-year-old.

How do I know? Because that’s when I first discovered Dairy Milk, as well as Cadbury Flake—compressed leaves of chocolate that literally melt on the tongue—and other delicacies, such as Aero and honeycombed Crunchie.

It was on a trip to Ireland with my family. I spent the entire summer’s allowance—$5—on British candy in the first two weeks, turning me into a sniveling supplicant, begging my parents for more money to feed my habit.

There are even those who claim that Irish Cadbury is superior to English Cadbury, that the milk is slightly more sour, creating a sort of yin yang—between the sweetness of the chocolate and the piquancy of the milk.

The distinction between the English and Irish versions is subtle. But then again, whether the subject is photography, candy, or barbecued ribs, it’s precisely that subtlety, that sophistication, that has raised us above brute nature, and given us the will to tame chaos and glimpse the eternal.

As a full-blooded patriot, I believe the United States is the greatest nation on Earth—only not when it comes to mass-produced chocolate. Peanut M&M’s stick out as the exception to the rule. But I’ll choose a Flake or a Dairy Milk over a Milky Way or Snickers any day.

Some will probably disagree. But where British Cadbury falls short, in my opinion, is in products that try too hard to indulge American-style insatiability: such as Picnic—a pileup of peanuts, nougat, caramel, puffed rice and biscuit covered in milk chocolate.

The genius of British candy generally is that it doesn’t try to overreach. It realizes—unlike American manufacturers, who sell us short again and again by substituting inferior ingredients in their relentless quest to shave costs and increase profits—that the human palate is infinitely discerning.

British Dairy Milk’s “glass and a half” of milk slogan is borne out in every bite.

So where do I go from here?

I suspect the reason Hershey’s took the action it did is that British Cadbury has become increasingly available in the U.S. in recent years, and shoppers have probably become spoiled, realizing there’s no comparison between the two.

This feels like a Soviet-era Iron Curtain falling over my freedom of choice. But I will hurry to Fairway to stockpile Flakes and Dairy Milks as soon as this column is completed. And I will be even nicer to my cousin George, who travels to Britain frequently and generously brings back my favorite candy bars.

And if a black market develops stateside I will be among its first customers. No action is too extreme in defense of liberty.


Teatime With Diana’s Brother — Earl Spencer Discusses His New Book

Charles Spencer at the Carlyle hotel. The author said he tried not to take sides between Charles I’s friends and enemies in his new book.ENLARGE
Charles Spencer at the Carlyle hotel. The author said he tried not to take sides between Charles I’s friends and enemies in his new book. PHOTO: KEVIN HAGEN FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

My wife had sent along a question for Charles Spencer —the historian, author, and former “Today” show reporter who, despite his accomplishments, is perhaps best known as the younger brother of Diana, Princess of Wales.

However, the question had nothing to do with the princess. My spouse was more interested in one of her own ancestors, George Downing, after whom 10 Downing Street is named.

He plays a role in Earl Spencer’s latest book, “Killers of the King: The Men Who Dared to Execute Charles I ” ( Bloomsbury ). The book, about the 59 men who signed their monarch’s death warrant in 1649, plunges into vivid detail about what became of those assassins unfortunate enough to have survived until 1660—when his son, Charles II, was restored to the throne and sought bloody vengeance.

Earl Spencer gave an engaging lecture at Christie’s last week, exercising the sort of narrative chops first revealed when, fresh out of Oxford, he served as a commentator for “Today” at the wedding ofPrince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson in 1986.

The author said he tried not to take sides between the king’s friends and enemies. “I’m descended from four of them” on Charles’s side of the aisle, “and two of the killers of the king,” he explained. “So that probably evens things up.” However, he seemed to grow most animated during his auction-house talk when discussing how Charles II tracked down and tortured his father’s killers.

It was a performance he repeated over tea at the Carlyle hotel the following afternoon, though I’d have been content to skip the details, since I recalled most of them.

“They were dragged through the street on a sled wearing only a white shirt,” Earl Spencer explained. “Then hanged to the point of unconsciousness, but not death.”

What was the point, I inquired innocently, if the victims weren’t sufficiently sentient to know they were being put to death?

To the contrary. “They were cut down and woken up,” the author continued. “Castrated, gutted while still alive, had their guts burned in front of them and then would die either of blood loss or shock; then had their heads cut off and put on a spike.”

Was this rather baroque embrace of capital punishment a sign of the times, a tumor common to all humanity, or something peculiarly British?

“I think we’ve always been this rather harsh warrior race,” Earl Spencer observed. “Out of that came an empire.”

“I love the people-watching side of history,” he said. “You get the full range of human behavior, from the very brave to the downright disgusting.”

On that spectrum, how did my wife’s ancestor, a diplomat perhaps most responsible for Britain acquiring New York from the Dutch, rate? Earl Spencer describes him in his book as an “opportunistic turncoat,” a former enemy “too cunning to leave unemployed” whom Charles II kept on as his representative to Holland.

“I’m afraid he won the gold medal for despicableness,” Earl Spencer stated. No less than the diarist Samuel Pepys described Downing—who moved to the U.S. with his family as a teenager and was part of Harvard College’s first graduating class—as a “perfidious rogue.”

Surely we could find something more pleasant to discuss with the ninth Earl Spencer, Queen Elizabeth II ’s godson? How about that “Today” show gig? Earl Spencer worked as an on-air correspondent for NBC from 1986 to 1995.

The author—visiting New York with his wife, Karen, the founder of Whole Child International, a charity dedicated to improving the lives of orphaned, abandoned and abused children—said the NBC role came about after he proved a natural at color commentary during Prince Andrew’s wedding. Especially when the other networks cut to commercial just as the royal couple emerged onto Buckingham Palace’s balcony and kissed.

“And I kept chatting,” he said.

At a party that night, he recalled, “Today” producer Steve Friedman told him he had a job. The earl, showing impressive ambition for an aristocrat, made the offer official by writing a contract on a cocktail napkin and having the executive sign it.

He also noted the time that Princess Di appeared at NBC’s London bureau “at the peak of her global fame to take me out to lunch. All these hardened NBC hacks were reduced to jelly.”

Earl Spencer said his sister also helped inform his writing of “Killers of the King,” allowing him to put fame and power into perspective.

“When your big sister becomes arguably the most famous woman in the world,” he explained, “you realize the absurdity of fame. It really helps as a historian. They’re still human beings.”

“One of the most moving passages in this book is the king, knowing he’s going to be executed the next day, saying goodbye to his 8-year-old son and 13-year-old daughter,” Earl Spencer said. “In that scene, he’s no longer a king.”

Bring on the Blizzard

Snow Has a Way of Unifying the City, Ralph Gardner Jr. Writes

People sledding in Central Park in an undated photo. ENLARGE
People sledding in Central Park in an undated photo. PHOTO: BETTMANN/CORBIS

There’s probably no useful purpose in getting excited about a blizzard. Second grade is well in my past, and there’s little chance of anybody awarding me a snow day.

I’m also not the devoted sledder I once was. Actually, I still am. But since my children are all grown up, I don’t have the cover of accompanying them to Central Park after a blizzard and showing, through expert example, the subtle craft of milking a Flexible Flyer ride for every last inch of transportation.

Unfortunately, I’m too self-conscious to head over to Cherry or Cedar Hill alone and suffer the scrutiny of young moms and dads who falsely believe the terrain belongs to their coddled toddlers; that there is something unbecoming about a grown man launching himself down a sledding hill shouting, “Whee!”

Also, this storm happened to fall inconveniently on the day my younger daughter—whom I might have persuaded to join me—was leaving for South Africa on her junior semester abroad. So we were preoccupied about whether her flight would be canceled.

Fortunately, it was an early departure. She managed to beat the storm and, by 7:30 a.m., was safely on her way to Cape Town where, the last time I checked, it was midsummer and a balmy 75 degrees.

And yet. I was filled all Sunday with a sense of giddy anticipation. At around 10:30 p.m., my wife asked with annoyance what I was doing on my cellphone while she was trying to sleep; she’d volunteered to drive our daughter to the airport before dawn.

A group of boys rolling what may be New York's biggest snowball in Central Park, circa 1960.ENLARGE
A group of boys rolling what may be New York’s biggest snowball in Central Park, circa 1960. PHOTO: KEYSTONE/GETTY IMAGES

I wasn’t texting anybody suspicious. I was merely checking my various weather apps and news websites for perhaps the 200th time that day for the latest on the coming storm—trajectory, wind speeds, projected snow totals and any alerts telling me what I already knew: Being out on the roads in the middle of a blizzard isn’t a sign of intelligence.

I did the next best—or rather stupidest—thing, though. I went to Fairway. The purpose of my trip wasn’t to provision in case the weather event rivaled the blizzard of 1888, where snowdrifts were higher than houses and people were confined to their homes for a week.

Unless, you consider candy bars a form of sustenance. Because I loaded up on Cadbury Dairy Milks in light of the last week’s troubling news that the British version is being banned from sale in the U.S.

The storm may or may not turn out to be epic. However, the checkout line that wend its way through virtually the entirety of Fairway’s main floor was. Even acknowledging the hyperefficiency of the gourmet supermarket’s checkout clerks, it took the better part of 30 minutes to reach a cash register.

But despite the potential inconveniences and panic buying, there’s something about a snowstorm in New York. It brings out the 4-year-old in many of us.

I’ve never understood people who say they don’t like snow. Perhaps I’d feel differently if I lived in the suburbs and had to plow my own driveway. But there’s something miraculous about crystalline flakes of moisture falling from the sky.

Maybe it gets old by April. Meanwhile, snow ranks up there with rainbows and sunsets. On the border of make-believe.

And there’s something timeless about a major storm in New York City, in particular. If you walk through Central Park—though I’m advised it isn’t recommended for fear of falling tree limbs—or stand on Park or Fifth avenues looking south, it feels as if you’re not just blinking through the flakes but also into the past: at a Steichen photograph, or a Currier and Ives print, the clanking chains on city buses a reasonable facsimile of sleigh bells.

Snow has a flair for unifying the city. Of imposing a forced timeout. Of making you realize that, short of going into labor or suffering a medical emergency, there’s little that can’t wait.

Blizzards are winter’s method of telling us, in the kindest way possible, that we’re probably not as important, and our obligations as urgent as we think.

Perhaps best of all, it muffles the cacophony of the city, as if some higher power briefly hit the mute button, bringing car horns and jackhammers to heel.

One just started at the construction site across the street. But I’m rooting for the storm to win, to send workers scrambling for the subway, to drown out the noise with silence.

Sledding in Central Park would be fun. But there are other ways to enjoy nature in New York.

No Bull: Getting Taken for a Ride—and Loving It

A Bovine Hits Madison Square Garden

The 1,715-pound bull Kiss Psycho Circus, in a pen outside Madison Square Garden with the Empire State Building in the background.ENLARGE
The 1,715-pound bull Kiss Psycho Circus, in a pen outside Madison Square Garden with the Empire State Building in the background. PHOTO: CASSANDRA GIRALDO FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

A bull named Kiss Psycho Circus lumbered off a tractor-trailer into a makeshift corral in front of Madison Square Garden, where he was going to be ridden in the PBR (Professional Bull Riders) Monster Energy Buck Off.

The bovine looked around and blinked twice. For all his alleged ferocity, he appeared more dazed and confused by The Big City.

Dazed and confused pretty much sums up my attitude about bull riding, too.

Why would anyone in his or her right mind willingly get on a hostile 2,000-pound animal? Unless, of course, the rider is involved with a death cult.

At 1,715 pounds, Kiss Psycho Circus—OK, if I shorten it to Kiss?—is rather diminutive by riding-bull standards. I know his precise tonnage because the excuse for his appearance was a weigh-in to promote the Buck Off over the weekend; I suppose bulls tip the scales to great fanfare in much the same way heavyweight boxers do before a title bout.

One of the riders, Matt Triplett of Columbia Falls, Mont., also hit the scales and registered at a more modest 165 pounds—fully clothed.

Since the bull wasn’t granting interviews and I didn’t stray too close to his pen, I decided to talk with Mr. Triplett instead.

I had more confidence that the rider wouldn’t fly into a rage, break free and rampage up Eighth Avenue. Indeed the beast, and his humbled circumstances, triggered a troubling association: The shackled King Kong at the moment the giant ape was introduced to the world.

As I said, my main interest was in discovering why someone would volunteer to ride an animal that nature clearly never intended to give rides.

But Mr. Triplett, who is ranked fourth among PBR competitors, questioned my very hypothesis.

Bull riders L.J. Jenkins and Matt Triplett.ENLARGE

“They’re athletes, just like the rider is,” he explained of the bulls. “They’re bred like race horses. It’s bred in their genes to buck just like a racehorse is to run. They love their job just as much as we do.”

I was almost as curious about Mr. Triplett as I was the bull. He told me that he took his first bull ride when he was 12 years old. He’s 23 now.

“He bucked me off,” remembered Mr. Triplett, whose father was also a bull rider and who supervised that session. “I was tired of getting a steer.”

I frankly thought a bull was a steer. Mr. Triplett had to explain everything to me. A steer is castrated, a bull isn’t, the rider told me—in somewhat more colorful language.

“I told my dad he had to load me a bull,” Mr. Triplett recalled, returning to his inaugural ride. “I lasted four seconds. But it was the best adrenaline rush of my life.”

The other cowboy who attended the weigh-in—I’m not sure arena bull riders meet the dictionary definition of cowboys, but the men were, after all, wearing ten-gallon hats—was L.J. Jenkins of Oklahoma City.

Mr. Jenkins explained, contrary to what I assumed, that a ride’s potentially most dangerous time comes before it even begins. (The goal is for the rider to stay aboard the bull for 8 seconds.) That moment is when bull and rider are locked into the “bucking chute,” waiting to go before the crowd.

“They can start bucking with that steel all around us,” Mr. Jenkins explained. “You get guys who get knocked out.”

Mr. Jenkins said a rider will risk a bull prone to mayhem in the chute if he promises a superior ride, one that follows a predictable pattern: “Sometimes bulls who are bad in there, they’re so good outside of there—a bull you can get a good score on.”

The 27-year-old Mr. Jenkins went on: “I’ve broken my ribs, punctured my lung” and something about his liver, “all in one day.”

It happened in 2006 when a bull stepped on him but once. “This sport is getting hurt,” he explained.

Mr. Jenkins added the accident occurred after he couldn’t disentangle himself from his rope and got pulled under the bull. He didn’t blame the bull.

“There is nothing I could have done,” he said. “There is nothing the bull could have done. We’re going to get hurt. It’s just when and how bad.”

Mr. Triplett also has broken body parts and suffered a couple of concussions.

Kiss Psycho Circus outside Madison Square Garden last week.ENLARGE
Kiss Psycho Circus outside Madison Square Garden last week. PHOTO: CASSANDRA GIRALDO FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

I would have thought the career choice of these young men might make it a challenge for them to find mates. But the competitors say it’s just the opposite.

Indeed, Mr. Jenkins was accompanied by his fiancée, Christen Dye, a model, who compared watching him ride to having a heart attack.

“It was more his personality,” said Ms. Dye, who met her husband-to-be at a PBR event when she was working for Monster Energy. “I thought it was really cool when he had a good personality.”

As Mr. Jenkins put it, modestly: “It’s the cowboy way, I guess.”

Added Mr. Triplett: “We’re getting on the wildest animals in the world. We’re adrenaline junkies. Girls like that.”


Bringing Medicine to Heal

Ralph Gardner Jr. Treks All Over to Find a Cure for His Tendinitis


New York is not a city for the old, or even the young, and decrepit. You need full mobility to sidestep marauding cabs, and to leave the subway as fast as possible, just on general principle.

Hence a troubling condition—tendinitis—that I’ve been dealing with lately, and thus far unsuccessfully. It has also put me at a decided disadvantage against my fellow citizens in that unforgiving marathon that is merely coexisting in this marvelous metropolis.

It began with a temporary ache in the heel about a year ago, perhaps from running, that turned chronic. My limp manifests itself most visibly when I transfer from a sitting to a standing position, whether from a chair, taxicab, or a seat on the subway, if I manage to secure one.

As I said, this is a city where you need to feel, and even more important look, your best at any given moment for the same reason that a gazelle gains no benefit appearing wounded when a hungry pride of lions is circling the herd.

The podiatrist I consulted confirmed tendinitis and encouraged wearing a heel lift, and stretching out the tendon approximately two dozen times a day. Apart from the pain involved, until I next find myself unemployed, where am I supposed to find the time to devote myself to a quasi-perpetual workout?

When I failed to follow his instructions and the condition worsened, he prescribed physical therapy.

I enjoy physical therapy. What’s not to like about someone doting on your body, massaging your heel, attacking the problem with advanced ultrasound technology, and cheering on your stretching exercises, especially for the price of a copayment?

I only balked with the arrival of a new year and the presentation, upon signing in for my twice-weekly visits, of a bill representing my $300 medical insurance deductible.

This would seem small change if the therapy had worked. But even at my most self-deluding I can’t say it has.

Hence the next step—acupuncture. This was a rather spur-of-the-moment decision, prompted by the fact that my mother’s acupuncturist was visiting her and I was hoping to piggyback off her appointment.

The acupuncturist appeared somewhat alarmed when she spotted the protrusion just above the left heel that I’ve been advised is a symptom of tendinitis and the body’s unsuccessful attempt to heal itself.

Nonetheless, she got to work sticking me with needles, not all of them in the region that was causing the trouble. Then we sat around for about half an hour. After she extracted the devices, and for a couple of days following, the tendon felt better, though not enough that I wasn’t convinced the improvement wasn’t the power of positive thinking.

In the meantime, I’d run into a friend at an upstate supermarket and had a disturbingly middle-aged conversation regarding our respective maladies. He informed me that he was coming from the gym, part of a new health regimen that began when he visited the Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health in Stockbridge, Mass.

In particular, he swore by Lee Albert, a neuromuscular therapist. One session and my friend’s problems—I can’t recall what they were, but they sounded at least as bad, if not worse, than mine—vanished like magic and he was restored to energetic health.

I was prepared to do the same, even if uncovered by insurance, and even if at a yoga retreat—the occasional practice of which fills me with a self-consciousness even more dolorous than the pains shooting from my heel—in exchange for returning me to the Mad Max urban road warrior I’d once fancied myself.

Mr. Albert, who emanated gentle confidence, diagnosed my problem before I even sat down. He told me my pelvis was crooked.

How he knew this I’m not entirely sure. I also took it personally since I like to think of myself as reasonably symmetrical.

But he compared me to an automobile out of alignment. “When your pelvis is crooked your feet don’t plant the way nature designed them to,” he explained. “If your car is out of alignment your tires wear out quickly. When your pelvis is out of alignment your tires—which is knees and feet—wear out quickly.”

He said doctors focus on the uneven tire wear, without fixing your front end.

Mr. Albert, the author of “Live Pain-Free Without Drugs or Surgery” (Dudley Court Press) proceeded to manipulate my body for the next 50 minutes. He also showed me how to place my arm atop my head to relieve tension; prop up my lower back with a pillow to alleviate neck and back pain; and sit with my feet pigeon-toed to take the strain off my knees.

Finally, he sent me home with a one-page crib sheet filled with exercises.

The only problem is that responsibility now reverts to me. If I couldn’t cure my tendinitis with the help of the entire medical, alternative-medicine and healing-arts communities, how am I supposed to repair a crooked pelvis on my own?

Perhaps the next step is finding a trained professional to help expunge my vanity.


Queen Mary Model Heads Cross-Country to Mother Ship

South Street Seaport Lends Scale Model to Long Beach

A 20-foor model of the Queen Mary sits in its display case at the South Street Seaport Museum in Manhattan, before heading for Long Beach, Calif.ENLARGE
A 20-foor model of the Queen Mary sits in its display case at the South Street Seaport Museum in Manhattan, before heading for Long Beach, Calif. PHOTO: KEVIN HAGEN FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

The South Street Seaport Museum is lending one of its masterpieces to the ocean liner Queen Mary, these days a floating hotel and tourist attraction in Long Beach, Calif. It’s a 20-foot-long scale model of the Queen Mary, with hundreds of handcrafted details such as masts, riggings and lifeboats.

On Wednesday morning the vessel—made as a marketing tool in the early 1930s from a single, white-mahogany log—was slid out of its custom-made glass case, into a crate and onto a tractor-trailer.

“The model will overnight in a secure facility,” explained Maria O’Malley, the collections manager for the South Street Seaport Museum. Depending on the weather, “it should be in Long Beach by Sunday morning.”

She added: “I will be there to meet it.”

The piece, built by the model-making firm Bassett-Lowke, will be the centerpiece of a new ship-model gallery aboard the ocean liner, which retired from sailing in 1967.

If it were up to me I’m not sure I would have let the model go, even though I wasn’t previously aware it existed, let alone in New York City, before I visited Tuesday afternoon.

Commodore Everette Hoard, the Queen Mary's historian.ENLARGE
Commodore Everette Hoard, the Queen Mary’s historian. PHOTO: RALPH GARDNER/THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Ms. O’Malley described the loan as a “one-year renewal,” which I assume means it could be gone longer.

Then again, I’m not entirely rational when it comes to ocean-liner models and the high-seas romance they symbolize. In keeping with my bathroom’s marine motif (by that I simply mean it boasts a sink, bathtub and toilet), a cast-iron miniature of the SS United States enjoys pride of place on the shelf above the john.

If I owned a model of the Queen Mary, there’s no doubt it would harbor there, too.

One of my favorite images from childhood was an illustration in Compton’s Encyclopedia of the Empire State Building and the Queen Mary featured side-by-side. The Empire State was taller, but not by much. However, at 1,019.5 feet, the ship was “taller” than the Eiffel Tower.

My dream, or rather 6-year-old “Yellow Submarine” fantasy, was to hitch a ride aboard the ship. I might have been aware that when my mother’s family arrived in the U.S. for the first time on April 20, 1939, it was on the Queen Mary.

However, I wanted a stateroom underwater, with a porthole where I could sit all day and watch the fish go by.

Another child who entertained such visions—though not specifically submerged ones—is Everette Hoard, commodore of the Queen Mary and the ship’s historian.

“What would a ship be without a captain?” asked Mr. Hoard, by way of explaining his “mess dress” with four gold bands on each arm.

Movers work to crate a 20-foot-long model of the Queen Mary for a trip from Manhattan to California.ENLARGE
Movers work to crate a 20-foot-long model of the Queen Mary for a trip from Manhattan to California. PHOTO: KEVIN HAGEN FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

He wore it to a reception Tuesday evening, appropriately enough at the New York Yacht Club, to promote the ocean liner’s new museum, science center, classrooms and 4-D theater. That’s where the South Street Seaport Museum model is heading.

“I’m not a mariner,” Mr. Hoard conceded, “but the Queen Mary maintains a person for the enjoyment of our guests. I have loved ships since I was a child.”

I suspected that if anyone could relate to my underwater cabin fantasies it would be him. “I think that’s a wonderful idea,” he told me. “That ought to be the next generation. They have just about everything else on cruise ships now.”

Approaching it from a sober, adult perspective, however, there probably wouldn’t be much to see.

“In a liner crossing the Atlantic it would have less value than a cruise ship cruising clear water ports like the Caribbean—where the water is unusually clear and shallow around the islands,” Mr. Hoard said, giving my ideas far more respect than they deserved.

A toy fans out to show diagrams of its 12 decks.ENLARGE
A toy fans out to show diagrams of its 12 decks.PHOTO: RALPH GARDNER/THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

It’s probably not the oddest question he’s gotten: the Queen Mary entertains approximately 1.5 million visitors each year.

I shared with him a memory of my mother’s: that when they arrived in New York there were newspaper reporters waiting dockside to interview disembarking first-class passengers.

It was common for socialites’ comings and goings to be printed, Mr. Hoard explained as we stood at a table filled with Queen Mary memorabilia. It included models of the boat and their original boxes, a medallion given to first-class passengers on the boat’s maiden voyage, and a children’s toy that fanned out to reveal diagrams of each of the ship’s 12 decks.

Among the ship’s legions of famous passengers were Bob Hope; Winston Churchill, who traveled under the alias “Col. Warden” during World War II; and Cole Porter, who entertained fellow passengers in the Queen’s Salon.

“I turned 21 in the Churchill Suite,” said Mr. Hoard, who never traveled aboard the Queen Mary when it was in service. “Good these walls can’t talk.”

It’s DIY Time for Chocoholics

Life is sweet indeed at Voilà Chocolat: Anna Urena helps Bailey Chou Almeraz make lollipops.
Life is sweet indeed at Voilà Chocolat: Anna Urena helps Bailey Chou Almeraz make lollipops.                                                          STEVE REMICH

Valentine’s Day remains a month away. But it’s never too soon to start planning, which explains what I was doing last week at Voilà Chocolat, a new chocolatier on West 79th Street.

Unfortunately, the treats from that adventure are now all gone—consumed primarily by myself—so a return visit may be required.

Before I go on about Voilà, though, I have to say that I have trouble comprehending why—in this gender-neutral age—the pressure is still on the guy to come up with candy and flowers. Until my wife and daughters shower me with bonbons and roses, I refuse to believe we live in a post-sexist society.

Now, with that said, Voilà appears a reasonably new twist in the chocolate category, which isn’t typically associated with disruptive, Internet startup-style innovation.

At Voilà, you make your own chocolate; though, buying it is also an option.

The idea came to Voilà’s founder, Peter Moustakerski, when he took his daughter to a store where she could design and make her own pottery, soap and candles. The occasion was her birthday.

“That day I was awakened to this consumer retail concept,” Mr. Moustakerski told me. “If this works for pottery and candles, why wouldn’t it work for chocolate?”

Hayden Chou Almeraz works on his creations.ENLARGE
Hayden Chou Almeraz works on his creations. STEVE REMICH FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

I could probably come up with a few reasons, even though I defer to no man, woman or child when it comes to my passion for chocolate.

My brothers and I were terrible eaters. Were it not for chocolate, we probably wouldn’t be alive today. Chocolate wasn’t a snack food at our house. It was the centerpiece of our diets.

Nonetheless, I’d probably put chocolate in the controlled substance category—not the arts-and-crafts one. It’s more like heroin, or at least a good single malt, than soap and candles.

And in the same way I wouldn’t harvest poppies or malt barley, I wouldn’t make my own chocolate. Chocolate, in short, is the quintessential guilty-pleasure impulse item.

A former management consultant, Mr. Moustakerski seems to have considered all that: “I spent 2½ years testing this idea.”

Mr. Moustakerski is also from Bulgaria, having left a year before the fall of the Berlin Wall. Bulgaria doesn’t leap to mind as a traditional hotbed of chocolate connoisseurship; I’ve never heard anyone describe it as the Switzerland of the Balkans.

I got no argument from the new business owner. However, Mr. Moustakerski said because merchandise was limited—and not just of chocolate—the likes of his mother and grandmother learned to make from scratch.

“That connection with food and the time and effort people invested in food is deep in my DNA,” he said.

Valentine Day’s goodies galore, created by master chocolatier Christophe Toury.ENLARGE
Valentine Day’s goodies galore, created by master chocolatier Christophe Toury. STEVE REMICH FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
A selection of candies that can be added to customize the chocolate. ENLARGE
A selection of candies that can be added to customize the chocolate. STEVE REMICH FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Also, Voilà’s chief chocolatier is Christophe Toury, former chocolatier executive pastry chef for Jacques Torres. So it isn’t as if Mr. Moustakerski is slaving away in the kitchen all day sweating cocoa beans, or however chocolate gets made.

Indeed, you’re not so much making your own chocolate at Voilà as molding, squeezing, pouring and dipping melted chocolate made by somebody else. In short, any dolt—I’m thinking of myself—should be able to produce a presentable box of chocolates.

Here’s how the concept works: Take a seat at a “chocolating pod,” where the melted or “tempered” chocolate—milk, dark or white—is poured into heated bowls. There’s also a host chocolatier to guide you through the process.

The options include making and decorating chocolate lollipops; truffles—“We premake the ganache, they get a ready-made center they can dip,” Mr. Moustakerski explained; chocolate-dipped treats such as candied pineapple, orange, kiwi, pretzels and biscotti; and chocolate bars, of course.

A session runs from 30 to 60 minutes and costs from $35 to $60, depending on what you’re making. And before you leave, the chocolate is cooled in a refrigerator so your treats don’t melt on the way home.

Chocolate is the quintessential guilty-pleasure impulse item.

Mr. Moustakerski sees his 79th Street location—next door to the venerable Dublin House where you can drop by and perhaps charm the bartender into trading a shot for a truffle—as but the concept’s overture.

“We’re not thinking Starbucks,” he said, “but we’re thinking 50 stores in six years.”

Voilà’s target demographic, as Mr. Moustakerski told me, is…parents with children, office parties, book clubs, people on dates. In short, life on Earth.

As I may have mentioned, I was skeptical. But if chocolate is your vice, making your own feels like minting money. You suddenly need not fear where your next fix is coming from.

And since you’d no sooner discard the remnants of a bowl of rich chocolate than you would a wad of $20 bills, you’re invited to pour any extras onto your tray; sprinkle it with items such as cocoa nibs, caramelized hazelnuts, sprinkles and those tiny candy hearts; let it cool; and then, using a small hammer, break the “bark” into pieces.

Wasting food is a sin. That goes double when the food is chocolate.


Watching Basketball, Beyonce

Ralph Gardner Jr. Watches Basketball, Beyoncé at Nets Game

Beyoncé and Jay-Z at a Nets-Rockets game Monday at Barclays Center.ENLARGE
Beyoncé and Jay-Z at a Nets-Rockets game Monday at Barclays Center. GC IMAGES/GETTY IMAGES

The New York Knicks will always be my team—the 1970-1973 Knicks, that is. In light of the current team’s travails I felt I would be doing no cosmic damage to our relationship by switching my allegiance to the Brooklyn Nets, whose record is somewhat better, if only for one night.

Also, my older daughter now lives in Brooklyn, making me a Brooklynite-once-removed. If nothing else, it predisposes me to the borough and its sports teams.

And while I’d have preferred a scenario where the Nets had won in the final riveting seconds of double overtime, the fact that the team essentially lost four minutes into the first quarter meant I could focus on more important things: Barclays Center’s food offerings. And Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s relationship. They were seated courtside.

The early moments of any professional-sports event are typically consumed getting my bearings. Which means locating the closest beer vendor or hot dog stand, and perhaps the men’s room.

Thus, I’m pleased to report that I was totally on top of the incident that effectively ended the contest when Kevin Garnett, who I understand from my daughter is the Nets star player, head-butted the Houston Rockets’ Dwight Howard and was ejected from the game.

The altercation arose after Messrs. Garnett and Howard appeared to exchange a gentle elbow (Garnett) and a light push (Howard).

I’m not a rabid sports fan. However, if your purpose in life is winning basketball games and justifying your $12 million annual salary, it would seem there are probably more sophisticated ways to seek revenge on an opponent, without arousing the ire of referees, than a head-butt.

At a minimum, it seems an unwise thing to do, particularly in the opening minutes of a basketball game, unless you wanted the night off.

Dwight Howard, left, and Kevin Garnett got into a scuffle.ENLARGE
Dwight Howard, left, and Kevin Garnett got into a scuffle. GETTY IMAGES

At that moment, I could easily have been tracking down a Brooklyn Lager or checking my email (as Beyoncé seemed to be doing for much of the evening). But I saw the incident from start to finish, including the ancillary pushing and shoving and efforts at restraining the combatants by their respective teammates, coaches and officials.

I was also all over the evening’s second highlight-reel moment: that came when center Mason Plumlee found himself in possession of a surefire breakaway dunk, only to pummel the ball against the backboard, the ricocheting projectile going into low Earth orbit rather than the basket.

In my estimation, that should earn you extra points, if only because it makes you so much more relatable to fans whose own lives don’t always go as planned. Even though Mr. Plumlee ended the game with a career-high 24 points, it was hard not to come away with the suspicion that the gods were frowning upon the Nets on this particular evening.

Which was fine. Because that freed up a lot of time to observe Beyoncé and Jay-Z.

I’ve reached an age where, while I’ve heard of the couple, I can’t tell you exactly why they’re famous. But my daughters, my younger daughter, Gracie, in particular, was covering their every move more effectively than the Nets seemed to be the Rockets.

As much as the couple obviously supports Brooklyn basketball, if I were them I think I’d prefer to watch the game at home. There are probably a thousand eyeballs trained on them at any instant, ours among them, dissecting their body language for displays of affection.

I also learned, after the fact, that there were pregnancy rumors swirling around the couple.

The fact they were at a basketball game rather than, say, having a sonogram apparently didn’t dispel them. But it added to the drama of the evening among their social-media followers.

“I really think they’re cute,” Gracie said the next day. “I really loved when he rubbed her shin.”

I caught that move, too. So basically I was 3-for-3 for the evening.

My Cuban sandwich also constituted an occasion, at least compared with typical arena fare. While I was forced to wait a rather long time to be served, the delay came during the interlude after Mr. Garnett was ejected and the referees were attempting to restore order.

So I didn’t miss much of the actual game.

My favorite personality on either team was Rockets head coach Kevin McHale. My affection stems from the days when he played for the Boston Celtics in a Hall of Fame front line with Larry Bird and Robert Parish.

I also felt an affinity based upon our respective ages and relative decrepitude. Gracie pointed out to me, during a moment when she wasn’t focused on Beyoncé and Jay-Z, that the aging basketball legend was limping along the sidelines.

“He looks like he has your same issue with tendinitis,” she said.

So he did.


A View Only Money Can Buy

The view of the Empire State Building and the World Trade Center from 432 Park Ave.ENLARGE
The view of the Empire State Building and the World Trade Center from 432 Park Ave.KEITH BEDFORD FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

I’d been trying to wrangle a visit to the summit of 432 Park Ave. since last summer. So I was pleasantly surprised when I received an email in mid-November from Harry Macklowe, the tower’s developer, inviting me for a tour.

The luxury condominium at Park Avenue and 56th Street dwarfs the surrounding neighborhood—and the surrounding neighborhood isn’t quaint brownstones but skyscrapers in their own right.

The luxury condo at 432 Park Ave.

In fact, 432 Park Ave. became the tallest residential building in the Western Hemisphere when it reached its peak height in mid-October. At 1,396 feet, the skyscraper is taller than either the Empire State Building or One World Trade Center—minus their antennas.

Still far from completion, the super-slim high-rise has already become a symbol of ostentatious wealth. Its tenants aren’t expected to be primarily extremely rich Americans, but the international plutocracy: Chinese billionaires and absentee Russian oligarchs, though with the plummeting price of oil there may be fewer to pick from.

I say I was pleasantly surprised that Mr. Macklowe contacted me because a column I’d written only a month earlier didn’t have the friendliest things to say about his structure, which sticks out like a sore thumb—or an even more emotive finger.

Our visit to 432 Park Ave. was scheduled and canceled several times, though, because of storms. The building is so tall that the weather is sometimes different at the bottom and the top: At this time of year, it may be raining at the base and snowing at the summit.

“It’s roughly a 20 degree differential from the ground floor to the top,” said John Sjölund, the tower’s senior project manager, as we boarded a construction elevator and headed to the 96th floor. “A couple of days, we went through a cloud bank and the hoist went above the clouds.”

Unfortunately, Mr. Macklowe couldn’t join us. I was told he was leaving on vacation the next day.

I was slightly disappointed because I had a couple of questions I wanted to ask him about 432 Park Ave.’s immodest size: “What were you thinking?” and “When you look at the building do you ever fear you went too far?”

Central Park from on high.ENLARGE

However, I wasn’t entirely heartbroken I didn’t get to meet the developer because my main priority was absorbing the view. An observation deck open to the public won’t be among the condo’s amenities. And since I don’t travel in social circles that include a lot of oligarchs, I doubted I’d be invited to any penthouse soirees.

The construction elevator, which runs along the outside of the building, was enclosed. But a couple of peepholes had been cut into its walls, so it was possible to watch the city fall away below me.

I particularly enjoyed the view from above the “Chippendale” top on the Sony Tower, a block away on Madison Avenue.

And we were hardly half way up.

Eventually, even One57, another new luxury condo overlooking Central Park in the tug of war for the affections of the superrich, seemed to shrink to inconsequence in the distance.

I was told we’d be able to detect the curvature of the Earth once we reached the summit of 432 Park Ave. Regrettably, I neglected to verify that claim because I was worried about dying.

432 Park Ave. is the tallest residential building in the Western Hemisphere.ENLARGE
432 Park Ave. is the tallest residential building in the Western Hemisphere. RALPH GARDNER/THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

The 96th floor—one short of the top floor and being sold as a single apartment—was an open space with nothing to prevent me from taking an unscheduled flying lesson except for a swath of orange plastic netting.

There was also water pooled on the concrete floor, which I assumed was from the storms. Walls and the building’s 10-by-10 windows, each weighing almost a ton, had yet to be installed on the upper floors.

A construction worker pulled back the netting so I could see better.

“This screen messes up the whole beauty,” he told me, taking obvious pride in the vista.

And he was right: The view was quite literally breathtaking.

Park Avenue stretched past the Upper East Side and into Harlem. To the west, Central Park resembled a well-maintained rug.

The facades of the buildings on Central Park West shone in the late morning sun, though only from about 70th Street north.

A construction worker works on the 77th floor at 432 Park Ave.ENLARGE
A construction worker works on the 77th floor at 432 Park Ave. KEITH BEDFORD FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

I couldn’t tell whether the eclipse stretching across the southern portion of Central Park and the Upper West Side was caused by clouds or the shadows of this new generation of skyscrapers, predicted to plunge the lower portions of Central Park into darkness—particularly in winter.

To the south, the East River, blinding with reflected sunlight, snaked past Roosevelt Island and the United Nations.

Looking down upon the Empire State Building was also a novel experience.

Indeed, there appeared no feature on the skyline or beyond—heading out to sea, across to New Jersey or up the Hudson River and whether man-made or natural—that rivaled our vantage point.

And I’m sure it will be even nicer with windows, walls and furniture installed.


Artist Gets a Leg Up at MoMA

The Wall Street Journal

Ralph Gardner Jr. Remembers Robert Gober From Their College Days

’Untitled,’ one of the pieces in the Robert Gober retrospective, "The Heart is Not a Metaphor."ENLARGE
’Untitled,’ one of the pieces in the Robert Gober retrospective, “The Heart is Not a Metaphor.” STEVE REMICH FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Sol Rivera, a guard at the Museum of Modern Art, was standing beside “Untitled Leg,” a sculpture in “The Heart Is Not a Metaphor,” a Robert Gober retrospective on view through Jan. 18.

“We don’t want anyone to trip over it,” she told me, by way of explaining why she was manning what appeared to be a “fixed post,” in NYPD parlance, rather than wandering around the room admonishing visitors for touching or taking pictures of the art, as museum guards more typically do.

The leg was wearing a trouser, sock and shoe.

“It is real hair,” she added as we admired the 1989–90 work, made of beeswax, cotton, wood, leather and human hair.

“He has a lot of legs around the exhibition,” Ms. Rivera went on.

She launched into a story about how the artist’s mother worked as an emergency room nurse and told her son a story about being handed an amputated leg.

“He got obsessed,” she said. “He did a lot of legs.”

Ms. Rivera said her information came directly from the artist. “He comes around a lot,” she reported. “He gave us the tour.”

A 1992 piece by Mr. Gober with sinks and a forest panoramaENLARGE
A 1992 piece by Mr. Gober with sinks and a forest panorama RUSSELL KAYE/ROBERT GOBER AND MATTHEW MARKS GALLERY

She added that, whatever the show, she tries to learn as much about the art as possible. “My day goes easy if I like my job,” she explained. “Plus, if anybody asks you a question, you have the answer.”

I had one: I wondered whether the hair on the leg was Mr. Gober’s. Ms. Rivera couldn’t say, though she assured me it was real hair. “They had to put it one by one.”

My interest in the leg was slightly more empirical than it might have been for, say, body parts in a Robert Rauschenberg or Jasper Johns retrospective.

The last time I saw Mr. Gober in person—or one of his appendages—was probably 1974 or 1975.

I was visiting the dorm room he shared with a friend of mine at Middlebury College, our alma mater.

I might not have remembered the evening except for a couple of distinguishing characteristics. Neither his roommate nor I were entirely in our right minds.

Indeed, I recall us cracking an egg into a bowl and examining the yolk under a desk lamp as if were the first egg we’d ever seen; as if its humble yolk held the key to the universe.

There is probably nothing that feels quite as alienating as being stone sober when others are discovering God in the contents of the refrigerator. Nonetheless, Mr. Gober suffered us with quiet good grace and I came away with a strong sense of his seriousness. At a minimum he didn’t require stimulants to appreciate an egg.

That’s also the feeling transmitted by the works in “The Heart Is Not a Metaphor.” No matter how familiar or even humorous, they’re imbued with a certain psychological gravity.

There are the deceptively simple, handcrafted sinks from the 1980s that put Mr. Gober on the map as an artist and recall Marcel Duchamp and surrealism.

Playpens that seem all set to do day care duty for museumgoers with infants, except they’re perilously slanted or x-shaped.

And installations, such as one from 1995–97: Visitors can peer into an old trunk to discover a sewer grate whose depths reveal a partially hidden man standing in a pristine tidal pool and clutching a baby. There is another installation whose open door reveals naked legs soaking in a bathtub.

For all their eeriness (Ms. Rivera informed me the running water serves as a metaphor for purity and cleansing oneself, particularly in the wake of the AIDS epidemic) the pieces are inviting in the way the dioramas at the American Museum of Natural History are.

Except the subjects are people rather than caribou or mountain gorillas. And observing them feels a form of voyeurism, trespassing for the price of a museum admission ticket.

One of the final works was an untitled painting from 1975, and a view I thought I might have recognized: the Middlebury campus behind an easel and open window. It might have been the view from Mr. Gober’s dorm room.

Ms. Rivera couldn’t confirm the location. However, she asked whether I’d seen the gallery filled with sinks of running water and a paint-by-numbers forest panorama.

Somehow I’d missed it.

“It is real peaceful,” she said. “Go check it out.”

She also said the space was stacked with newspapers, some of which bore Mr. Gober’s photograph.

I’d agree the room would have been calming were it not for the prison bars over the windows. And for the newspapers—some fake, some real—whose headlines documented the scars of the AIDS epidemic.

“Vatican Condones Discrimination Against Homosexuals,” one of them read, juxtaposed with a Saks Fifth Avenue New York Times ad of a woman in a wedding dress.

Upon closer inspection, I realized the bride was Robert Gober.

He’d changed a lot since college.