Nestled into a sunny patio nook at The Pink Door this afternoon, I closed my eyes to savor my new-found love: campari and soda with a slice of orange.
There are lessons to learn from growing to like a bitter drink. I’ve been cajoled over recent years to give campari a try, yet with each sip, my nose crinkled as the back of my tongue hitched and recoiled. Even while employing every last taste bud, I could never find what others claimed was delight.
I realized today that the key ingredient in appreciating campari is that slice of orange. Not a wedge, not a twist—a slice.
I am overjoyed to have learned this lesson, as the days between Civita and I are now six, and the Italians love their campari. I don’t so much fear standing out, rather I deeply desire to discover what it means to be Italian—to learn to appreciate what they appreciate.
From the outside, I wonder if the toughness or bitterness of campari will be personified in the life I’m about to lead: a rustic hilltown, to and from which I will carry my groceries on my back. I’ll stumble, I’ll be troubled by dirt and pebbles in my shoes, it’ll be hot, I will miss the conveniences of American life at first—but mixed in with all that change and immensely slower speed, I’ll also discover a dense, co-mingled sweetness:
Freshly hosed terraces releasing cooling vapor before dinner. Exploring ancient caves and grottos. Homemade gelato to cool off the hottest afternoon. Practicing my Italian with natives and finally understanding what they’re saying. Espresso after dinner. Knowing the shopping routine in Bagnoregio down pat after a few weeks.
….The sweetness of knowing that I’m staying up late to write a book about living in my motherland—while living in my motherland.
As anyone who knows anything about Italians would agree, they are particular in how they do things—especially in food preparation. These specificities can appear extraneous from the outside, but there is always a reason behind them, which is often only evidenced in a humble dish that nearly brings diners to orgasm at the table.
That type of nuance is especially true in the concept of that thick, juicy—and very particular—slice of orange.
A wedge doesn’t possess the generous surface ratio, or ability, to float atop the glass during a sip. A twist isn’t nearly enough to provide the sweetness necessary to mellow and enrich the bitter flavor. Rather, a slice provides an infusion of sweetness throughout the drink, and soaks up enough bitter flavor to balance the orange’s sweetness when you finally peel the flesh from its rind at the end of your drink.
In a glass of campari—yet another Italian lesson involving food—we learn not to dread the bitter or crave only the sweet: it is the two, perfectly co-mingled, that flavor one another, providing a foil for the best qualities of each, and encouraging us to notice the details.