On a recent flight from Vancouver to New York, I spent the duration listening to music and reading magazines. In that time I’m certain that the Bow Wow Wow song “I want candy” never once played on the in-flight radio, nor did the Archies’ “Sugar, Sugar”, but in retrospect, they should have, for once I was home, it became clear that there were definite saccharine shades to my stay in the Big Apple.
While I was there, I came across candy being touted as a form of relaxation, candy posing as art, and a scion of the high fashion world peddling the couture equivalent of candy from a two-story Midtown Manhattan Candyland-come-to-life.
My first chance encounter with the candy in question was on a sunny Saturday morning in Soho. I was shopping with my best friend, having just come from brunch at Bubby’s Pie Co. in Tribeca. Being that it was a sunny Saturday, of course, everyone and their dog was out, which not surprisingly consisted mostly of Pugs (apparently, Pugs are the new black).
Slowly, we made our way up West Broadway, stopping briefly to listen to five men standing on a doorstep sing a cappella. Continuing on, we popped in and out of stores, people-watched, and enjoyed the sun regardless of the bitterly cold wind. On the corner, we spied one of our favourite stores, Origins. My friend had been a loyal user for years, while I was just a recent convert. We went in to try to score some free samples, as well as to check out their new products. As I made my way to the counter with a basket of items I hadn’t initially set out to buy, one of the sales clerks offered me an Origins’ Peace of Mind relaxation gumball. Never one to say no to a free sample, I took one. In fact, I took two. My friend didn’t want one because it had sugar in it, so I felt entitled to take hers as well. I’m nowhere near as much a devotee of sugar-free gum as she is. What’s a little sugar? As for the relaxation gumball, it’s clearly the embodiment of our instant-gratification-loving fast-paced society in the shape of a tiny white chewable sphere. No time to sit and meditate, breathe deeply, or even take a moment to yourself? No problem, just chew your way to relaxation.
Upon closer scrutiny, a relaxation gumball, with sugar in it, seems about as effective as an aerobic meditation class. Skeptical or not, I popped it in my mouth. While minty and refreshing, it tasted no different than any other mint gumball. I certainly didn’t feel myself slipping into a blissful state with every chew. I pocketed the other gumball in case of a possible stress attack at the Guggenheim later that day. Modern art can be very stressful to look at. What does it all mean?
Little did I know that I wouldn’t need the gumball, at least not in the event of a possible sugar jonze, although it really could have come in handy to alleviate the stress of trying to decipher the many inexplicable art pieces: “But that’s just a pile of twigs? Is that art? Is it really art if I made that exact same thing when I was five?”
While I was paying for my admission, I had no idea that again my sweet tooth was to be sated. We made our way up the circular ramp of the museum, more often than not shaking our heads in bewilderment at what constitutes art. Apparently — and this was news to me — a room painted entirely white with absolutely no adornment on the walls is art. I left the room convinced that I’d just witnessed the second coming of the emperor’s new clothes. Tell them it’s art, and even if there’s nothing there no one will be brave enough to question it.
Nearing the upper section of the ramp, we came across an odd piece (okay, one of many). What stood out about it was that it consisted solely of the floor being blanketed in hard black candies in clear wrappers. I stood in front of the carpet of confections and took it in. My friend and I joked about what would happen if we took one. As we were about to move on to the next display, a security guard came over to us. Guiltily, I imagined she’d read our minds and was coming over to tell us to step away from the candy. Instead, she told us we could, in fact, take one.
When I tell people I took a piece of an exhibit at the Guggenheim, they look at me completely appalled. How could I have done something so disrespectful? Stealing art? How terrible. Yes, that’s me, the art thief, a twenty-something female-version of Thomas Crown. Not quite. Truth is, it’s an interactive art piece, and taking a candy allows for you to be a part of it. Don’t worry. There’s enough for everyone. The candy is replenished every night. The “Untitled” piece was created by American artist Felix Gonzalez-Torres (1957-1996). I was in such awe of the candy-strewn floor that I made a point of writing part of the accompanying caption down. It read, “The missile-like shape of the candy and its brooding, almost sinister, appearance allude to our culture’s pervasive militaristic outlook and hostile hegemonic stance.” While a compelling description, last time I checked, the only sinister thing about a licorice-flavoured candy is its foul flavour. Have you tasted a licorice candy lately? Definitely sinister, no doubt about it.
After getting our fill of art, we made our way from the Upper East Side down to Midtown. Kitty-corner from Bloomingdale’s is another upscale store, this one a purveyor of candy, but not just any candy, quite possibly the couture equivalent of candy. In the midst of the concrete jungle, on the corner of Third Ave and 60th Street, is a Candy Land-like oasis called Dylan’s Candy Bar. Opened by Ralph Lauren’s daughter, Dylan, the store is awe-inspiring by any standards. The two-floor candy-lovers’ mecca houses anything and everything your little sugar-loving heart could possibly desire, as well as many things it never would have thought to desire. Dylan’s carries over 4,000 different kinds of candy, which includes 21 different colours of M&Ms, 16 flavours of Skittles, and 12 colours of Hershey’s Kisses. They have a mind-boggling array of bulk candy, and a line of Dylan’s Chocolate Bars, all of which happen to be kosher. The store also boasts a collection of Pez dispensers that run anywhere from $2 upwards of $2000 for a Swarovski crystal-encrusted or vintage one, not to mention their array of lollipops that run from 3oz to over 3 feet tall.
Needless to say, as soon as I walked in the door, I was like a kid in a candy store, and began filling my basket at a vigorous pace. I started by selecting one of each flavour of Dylan’s Chocolate Bars. Then, I moved onto the bulk candy, which took up residence next to my chocolate-in-the-shape-of-sushi kit, complete with ginger-flavoured white chocolate for rice, green tea-flavoured candy paste for wasabi, and fudge syrup standing in for soy sauce. I also had to have Twinkie-flavoured lip balm and the Pez-scented hand soap. I did, however, draw the line at the indoor Smores maker, but only because I couldn’t possibly see how it would fit in my suitcase.
It was in the basement of the store that I came across something I had never seen before, a rare species of tree, the Candy Tree. As I did a double take, I realised it must only be native to the New York area. Officially, the tree is known as Dylan’s Chocolate Lovers Topiary Cone, and is said to be “a ‘tree’mendous ‘tree’at”. The fact that the Candy Tree’s foliage is made up entirely of mini chocolate bars like, Kit Kat, Mounds, Baby Ruth, Almond Joy, Pay Day, Butterfinger, Twix, and bags of regular and peanut M&Ms, is not the only thing that makes it exclusive and unique. This 4-foot tree is truly the couture equivalent of candy, and as such, will cost you about $600. I cringe to think what that is in Canadian dollars. Other than the odd Park Avenue mother buying one for a birthday party that likely cost more than my entire university education, who can possibly afford such a candy concoction? Not I. I contented myself with the vast array of under $500 candy, of which there were many.
Looking back, it’s clear that my trip to New York should have come with a cavity caveat. My suitcase, on the way home, contained one Peace of Mind gumball, a few sinister licorice candies, and a vast array of Dylan’s finest. In the end, even if I had wanted to buy the Candy Tree, I wouldn’t have been able to bring it home. You know how picky they are about letting you bring plants through customs.