campari nation...

Bustling pedestrian humanity at the entrance to La Galleria, the high-zoot shopping experience in Milan city center. One of the establishments along this corridor is also reputed to be the birthplace of Campari, the famous red Italian apertif.

My first experience with Campari was actually a few years ago in Africa. Teshka and I were on a trip upcountry in Togo, staying at the typical no-tell motel. The heat, the bad bed, the broken toilet seat. The broken-in-half bar of soap. In other words, as far as Africa goes, this was the Waldorf Astoria.

In the evening we retreated to the motel "lounge" for something cool to drink before "dinner". I asked the waiter, "l'eau minerale avec gaz, s'il vous plait. Quelque chose comme Perrier."

Some mineral water with gas, please. Something like Perrier.

So we were quite surprised and more than a little puzzled when he returned some 20 minutes later, flourishing in front of me a glass containing approximately 3cm of bright red liquid. What's this? I took a sip, just to see how this might somehow be like Perrier. Mmmm? The liquid was a bit sweet, but also a little bitter, and thick, almost syrupy. The entire effect was reminiscent of some childhood cold medicine.

Meanwhile, as I continued to sip, my mind continued to gnaw on the puzzle of misunderstanding that brought me this drink. Finally -- voila -- it occured to me. Our waiter had heard "comme Perrier" as... Campari! So instead of French mineral water, I was drinking some expensive Italian cough syrup.

Oh, well. Not too bad. I can sortof see why people may like it.

Later, then, we actually bought a bottle. And then another, and then another. And from time to time we began having Campari cocktails in the evening at home before dinner. Our preferred concoction, roughly:

  • 1 1/2 oz. Campari
  • 1/2 oz. Cointreau or Triple Sec
  • 1/2 squeezed fresh lime
  • ice

Sweet, fruity, that touch of bitterness, a refreshing and pleasing drink for the tropics.

Now forward to our vacation in Italy. Most of the time we were too absorbed with prosecco, that delightful Italian vino frizzante, to be interested in Campari -- or much of anything else! But the guidebook's mention of "birthplace of Campari" made us feel obligated to give the spot a visit and pay homage.

As it turned out, homage was about all we could pay. Not only was the place we were looking for closed on the day of our visit (closed! how could any joint in this rent district ever afford to be closed!), it would have cost us 5 euro coperto apiece, the cover charge, just to sit down.

Later, in another part of town, we found a Mexican place and had our fill of enchiladas and margaritas instead. After 3 weeks of Italy, and pasta and nothing but pasta, we felt like we had died and gone to heaven.

Milan, October 2009.

Graflex Crown Graphic 23, 80mm Heligon, Neopan 400.