Lots o' Choc 

History for the tasting

SUN 10/9

The botanical name for the cacao tree is Theobroma cacao, meaning "food of the gods." It's a name befitting both chocolate's origins -- a drink served at Olmec and Mayan religious ceremonies -- and the reverential look that comes over people's faces when they enter the Bittersweet Chocolate Cafe in Rockridge. On Sunday afternoon, chocoholics can pay homage to the food's 2,500-year history, from pre-Columbian to cutting edge, at The Culture of Chocolate: Tracing the Mystique and Worldwide Journey of Cacao at the Hearst Museum of Anthropology on the Berkeley campus. The afternoon event (1-5 p.m.) takes an intellectual approach to one of life's sweetest pleasures, kicking off with a forum that brings together six experts, including Berkeley anthropologist Rosemary Joyce, who will discuss the Mayan and Aztec use of cacao beans as currency. Other speakers will pick up the narrative, explaining the Aztec emperor Montezuma's fondness for the drink chocolatl, which he liked to drink from a golden goblet shortly before retiring to his harem. The conquistador Hernando Cortés was reportedly so impressed with the drink's reviving effect that he loaded his ships with cacao beans when he returned to Spain.

From there, it was less than half a millennium until Alice Medrich opened her chocolate and dessert store Cocolat in 1976. Medrich will speak, as will other contemporary chocolatiers. But only after the panel discussion's conclusion do audience members get to the payoff: the chocolate tasting. The event's organizers say not to think of it as a tease, but rather as an exercise in sweet anticipation to heighten the senses.

There's a lot to anticipate: an array of bittersweets, milk chocolates, and exotically flavored bars provided by the Bay Area's premier chocolate-makers and merchants. There's something for cavity-prone foodies as well, with snacks that show off chocolate's use in traditional Mexican cuisine. Chef Agustín Gaytán will be making a version of chocolatl, the early Aztec drink flavored with vanilla and spices, while the restaurant Tacubaya will serve up tacos with mole sauce. The event is sold out, but visit HearstMuseum.berkeley.edu or call 510-643-7649 for late returns. -- Eliza Strickland



Island of film

We hold this truth to be self-evident: Every East Bay city deserves its own film festival. Alameda declared film fest independence just last year, but organizers have managed to obtain more than a hundred cinematic submissions from around the world for the Second Annual Alameda International Film Fest. Local flicks of interest include 24 Hours on Craigslist, Oakland Raider Parking Lot, and Neptune Beach (about the island's previous incarnation as a beach resort and boxing center), plus various other shorts, longs, docs, and 'toons. Shows start this Monday and run through November 11 at four island locales: Central Cinema, the Lucky 13 bar, Speisekammer restaurant, and the Auctions by the Bay Theater. Info: AlamedaFilmFest.com -- Nora Sohnen

SAT 10/8

Animation, Inc.

Behind the Scenes at Pixar conjures images of a Roger Rabbit-esque journey into a three-dimensional animated world, where normal humans interact with the Incredibles, Woody and Buzz from Toy Story, the lovable insects from A Bug's Life, and the fearsome creatures of Monsters, Inc. In actuality, this event allows community members a peek behind the Gatsbyesque gates at 1200 Park Ave. in Emeryville, for three hours of classes, demonstrations, and screenings -- including all eleven of Pixar's short films, which have never been shown en masse before. $100 per person; proceeds benefit the Emery Ed Fund, which raises funds for E'ville schools. For tickets and info, visit EmeryEd.org -- Eric K. Arnold

SAT 10/8

Tribe Vibe

Further evidence that Berkeley is ahead of the consciousness curve: For the past fourteen years, the city has celebrated Indigenous Peoples Day. Saturday's free celebration features a full-fledged Native American pow-wow -- in non-white-man language, a Helushka or Irushka -- which is not just a dance, but a spiritual affirmation, a recognition of tribal culture, and a testament to survival. Other festivities include exhibitions, contests, rounds, and intertribal dancing -- as well as arts and crafts booths, Native American food, and drum circles. It all happens from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at Civic Center Park (MLK Jr. Way, between Center and Allston); visit Red-Coral.net/Pow.html for more info. -- Eric K. Arnold


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