Friday, July 31, 2015

Fly-by-Wire


 

Fly-by-Wire
 
Life is Good or so the maxim goes, and right then, as Maria Elena and I drove off heading for Boston’s Logan Airport, it certainly was.  Even the sun had made an appearance following a series of serious downpours after sunrise.  I took its arrival as an auspicious sign of good things to come, no need to consult an oracle or delve into the entrails of a dove, and pressed harder on the accelerator.
This trip would be both incredible and probable.  Without question it would be incredible simply because we were off to Italia and probable in that we’d anticipated this particular trip for many years.  Now it was about to unfold.  Our wait was over.  For the first time, members of our immediate family would accompany us to Italy and bask in its incomparable charm for an entire month.  The first to arrive would be our daughter Jamie and her thirteen year old, our granddaughter, Gabriella-----Gabby for short.  Jamie’s husband, Michael, and younger daughter, Harper, would follow in two weeks.
Because Jamie is a teacher, we’d come in the summer, after school let out.  Italy in the summer was something we’d avoided in the past, not due to the crowds, but to the 30˚ C+ heat that time of year.  And unless you are high atop some Dolomite peak, you can forget about August in Italy altogether.  When I was in grammar school, just before June’s summer recess, I recall the back of my white uniform shirt sticking to my desk.  Much to my mother’s dismay, I came home with patches of golden shellac all over my back.  You knew it was hot when that happened.  In Calitri in July, circumstances were a little different – my chair was not shellacked and I never wear a white shirt - but the message was the same, it’s HOT!   When, for instance, I go to the barbecue grill on the rooftop terrazzo and the thermometer on the cover already registers 100˚ F … that’s fair warning that it is hot this time of year.  Jumping only slightly ahead, I was at the kitchen table eating lunch one day.  When I lifted my arm, my skin stuck to the vinyl covered tablecloth.  As my arm came up, so did the tablecloth.  Again, you know it is clammy hot when this happens.  An added downside was that as the tablecloth rose with my arm, it toppled my wineglass.  The damage wasn’t simply limited to spilled, nourishing, robust … and any other fitting adjectives you might propose to describe wine … but the tabletop flood only ended with the distinct sound of breaking glass.  Hot as Italy is in summer, let me return to my story.
My expectation that this trip would be different was confirmed only hours later in the dawning twilight before sunrise as we drank Guinness at our Dublin layover before continuing to Naples.  Gabby had to settle for juice, which seemed to settle her nerves, this being her first ever of hopefully many more flights to come … and not just a flight anywhere, but to the romantic heart of Europe.  By the time we arrived at our home in Calitri, our tenderfoot travelers were well into cultural shock, what with the differences in language, sights and sounds following a mesmerizing, seemingly never-ending day of cars, buses and planes.  They slept until 11am the next morning!
They recovered rather quickly with sleep and time.  Each passing day saw them become more adventurous.  It wasn’t long before they felt confident enough to walk downtown on errands by themselves.  Together they had mastered a growing list of words like pane, grazie, una pizza – mezzo salsiccia e mezzo margheretta, buon giorno and of course gelato - due gusti.
To continue their immersion in the culture, we took a few side trips right off to places like coastal Agripoli to visit its castle and sample real buffalo mozzerella; the lost city of Paestum; and to nearby Venosa for vino at the coop, to wonder its Norman cathedral, Roman ruins and a wonderful lunch at hidden Ristorante D’Avalos.   Coincidentially, it just so happened that we had arrived during the celebration of nearby Pescopagano’s patron saint and were able to witness the Volo dell’Angelo (Flight of the Angel).
The neighboring community of Pescopagano, which many refer to as Pesco for short, is located just over the boundary between Campania, where Calitri resides, and the region of Basilicata.  My pastry-making friend, Francesco, says the reason Pesco is such a beautiful town is because Calitri lies before it!  Indeed, from lofty Pesco, riven with peaks and precipices, Calitri can be seen stretching across the foothills in the undulating valley far below.  We can easily see it up on its lofty mountain perch from our terrazza.  The origins of this proud mountaintop town go way back and are as old as Calitri’s, sharing many similarities in traditions and dialect.  
The history of the area began with the settlement of Neolithic farmers along the then navigable Ofanto River.  Archaeological evidence indicates that Pesco was already inhabited centuries before Christ.  These early inhabitants settled in scattered hamlets.  Historically, Pescopagano was initially called Petra Pagana (or Pescus Paganus).  Petra for boulder or rock and Pagana, interestingly, for a popular Mediterranean pagan cult dedicated to the god Silvano, the diviner of human fates.   The Sibyl was a Greek oracle-like prophetess, who hearing his words, gave insight into the future.  In a world that believed in the predestined nature of man, she was often consulted when major decisions had to be made.  To put her in present day perspective, we might think of her as a combination of columnist Dear Abby and the American psychic, Edgar Cayce, who answered questions while in a trance-like state.  Reportedly, during the fourth and fifth centuries BC, at the ancient entrance to the village, the Porta Sibilla (Sybil's Gate), there once stood a statue of the Sibyl Cumana.  Later in Roman times, a statue of another mythological divinity, this being the god Janus, was added.  Their presence helps explain the occurrence of pagano in part of the town’s name in reference to its once pagan beliefs.
Pesco occupied an area long tormented by war.  The Samnite wars and war between Rome and Hannibal, who’d established an important foothold in the area, are but two.  Much later in 555 AD, the territory was occupied by the Goths who fortified Pesco followed in turn by the Lombards.  Between the ninth and tenth centuries it was attacked several times by the seafaring Saracens.  Because of them, residents of neighboring towns, like present-day Conza in the Ofanto Valley, took refuge in this lofty precipice stronghold.  The marauding Saracens themselves settled there in the ninth century and constructed a fort.  Thus Petra Pagana and its protective fortress clinging to the mountaintop, some of which can still be seen, is mentioned in an early catalog of villages and their Barons as Castellum Petrae Paganae.
A long history of social isolation, neglect and hard times dominated the region for centuries, which brings me to the story of its patron saint and protector, Saint Francesco di Paola.  Saint Francesco (1416–1507), from distant Calabria, was an Italian friar and the founder of the Roman Catholic Order of Minims.  The order sought to live unknown, hidden lives away from the world as hermits, thus accounting for their name, Minims or minimalists.  Saint Francesco followed the teachings of St Francis of Assisi after whom he’d been named.  Like him, Francesco was never ordained, but ordained or not, there was no stopping him.  At a very early age, Francis showed signs of extraordinary sanctity, profound humility, obedience, a love of prayer and self-denial.  He began his religious life living in a cave.  There he remained alone, in solitude, for over six years, giving himself to prayer and the humility of self-denial.  In time he attracted followers to his way of life.  By 1435, he and his followers, on the approval of the Pope, created a new order where humbleness and meekness were to be the hallmark of their brotherhood, as it had been in Saint Francis's personal life.  Along with the traditional vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, their lives stressed a non-violent existence.  This preference took the added form of veganism with the added twist of doing no harm to any creature----a dietary stance that in addition to abstinence from meat, fish and animal products, included the self-denial from all animal-derived foods, such as eggs, butter, cheese and milk.
In time Francis became famous for his many miracles and though he’d sought a life we’d describe today as one ‘off-the-grid’, his fame grew.  While he cured many of illnesses such as the plague, he was also known for his gift of prophesy.  Word of his abilities spread far and wide to the point that in the late 1400s the Pope ordered him to attend to King Louis XI of France in the illness leading to the king’s death.  He had to remain in France on order of the king’s successor, Charles VIII, until Francis’ own death.  Of the many miracles attributed to him, he is credited for at least one that I know of that occurred in Pesco after his death.  It helps to explain why Saint Francesco di Paola is to this day their patron saint.  Though I’ve gone on a riff about the Saint for a while, there is yet one missing piece needed to adorn this tale.
Vast tracks of forest and the solitude afforded by its mountainous habitat made the area around Pesco especially attractive to bandits, or as they’re known there as briganti (brigands).  Like a plague, gangs freely roamed the area as late as the mid-1800s.  Things hadn’t improved much since the Saracens had done much the same.  When one such gang of pillagers, led by Carmine Crocco, was approaching Pescopagano, intent on sacking the place, they met a monaco (no not a relative of mine, but a monk) who pleaded with them not to enter Pesco.  They didn’t harm him but in complete disregard continued with their plan.  When they’d entered the first Pesco home, they were greeted by a statue of Saint Francesco di Paola and in shocking surprise realized that the old man they’d met on the road into town had been the Saint.  While they had no respect for their fellow man, the briganti apparently still feared God and His earthly representatives.  Thus, in a miraculous turnabout, they abandoned their quest, never to return.  Thereafter the story of Saint Francesco’s intercession spread.  It was through this and other incidents that Francesco became the patron saint and protector of Pesco with his feast day celebrated annually at the end of June.
We have good friends in Pesco, Joe and Anna Maria.  Life has a habit of speeding past our eyes between heartbeats, so following a career in the U.S. Navy, Joe retired to Pescopagano, his wife’s home town and well as home to his ancestors.  She’d followed him around his entire career and now it was her turn to lead.  Understandably, he’s known there to just about everyone as ‘American Joe’.  His face is as familiar to the town’s residents as that of their patron, St. Francis.  He’s lived there long enough to be a pretty good judge of the place.  As for the weather, high up as they are, Joe says there are but a few summer days a year followed by the onset of cool winds and a cold winter.  Actually he says there are only two seasons in Pesco, one being winter and the other the 17th of July!  Long tours at sea may account for some of his polished whit, where new experiences during long days at sea pale to the many that can be recounted, embellished, and retold again.  I love his humor that for Joe has become an art-form.
       Anna Marie, had written us saying to forget about Paris, Rome or London.  Instead we needed to attend their town’s festival that accompanied the celebration of San Francesco.  And so the four of us headed off on our ascent to lofty Pesco from Calitri.  
Nearing the town, I came close to hitting Joe in a temporary moment of distraction as Joe waved his paddle directing traffic in the road on the outskirts of town.  Un-phased by it all, Joe came to our window and invited us to park at his house along with advice on where to rendezvous later.  Joe has a volunteer’s heart and is willing to help out wherever needed.  Recently, he was asked to run for civic office.  He didn’t win, which may have been a blessing since he had no idea what his job would have been.  He thought possibly town idiot but I thought Director of Cultural Affairs more appropriate.  That day, as part of the town’s volunteer security detail he was directing traffic.  Later, he performed crowd control during the procession in celebration of Feast of San Francesco di Paolo and again afterwards during the much anticipated Flight of the Angel.  Fact is, we’d driven to Pesco to see for ourselves what this flying angel was all about.  We had no idea.  Maybe one of those newfangled remote control drones?  Considering how high up they were, I could even imagine something like a kite or glider in the shape of an angel that might be launched from a terrace in the evening out over the sprawling valley far below, but I wasn’t even close.


We’d arrived just in time.  A religious procession was just getting underway to the surprising coordinated clap of thunder from the overhead detonations of high-flying mortar rounds.  For a brief moment I wondered if Joe had anything to do with it.  The town’s band from flute to tuba led the way.  Following close behind were altar boys with long candles and a crucifix as well as a procession of children dressed in white priestly smocks, some arm-in-arm.  Then came, telling from their wings, two female angels.  They escorted a young boy, also exhibiting wings.  He may have been nine or ten years old and obviously of some importance because of his costume and special attendants.  We learned only later that to be selected for this role was a high honor.  He’d been chosen from among his peers following a thorough selection process that included character and academics.  

The young boy wore something that reminded me of a first communion dress a girl might wear.  His collar was frilled with smocking tied with the bow of a blue sash trailing off down his chest.  His legs were in white hose crisscrossed with leather bands in the style of ancient-like Roman sandals.  But what made him stand out most was his golden helmet, brilliant in the sunlight.  It too was in the Roman tradition.  A golden blade, like a dorsal fin, replaced the familiar decorative brush atop a centurion’s helmet. 
Followed him was officialdom – the town’s priest, with all the outward enthusiasm of a mortician, flanked by a pair of formally dressed, always serious Carabinieri along with a group of men carrying, what I surmised to be, a statue of the revered patron himself, Saint Francesco.  Festooned with plums and chevrons, the regiment in the officer’s steps wasn’t enough to prevent the intermittent glint of their swords in the late afternoon sun.  Their passing officially ended the beginning of the procession.  Behind them, with no need for invitation, the townspeople filled in, extending its length tenfold.  We joined the group and while new to all this, Jamie and Gabby, leaving their inhibitions behind like the suitcases now under their beds, followed suit though maybe somewhat hesitant on just what to expect.  We rounded a substantial part of the old town as handfuls of flower petals fluttering down on us from balconies draped with the finest of linens.  Occasionally our roaming cavalcade, with by then a long tail, would stop and pray en-masse at prearranged altars arrayed here and there along the route, clearly an honor to those families who had prepared them.  Sometime later, like magic, we re-emerged in the road where we’d begun.
Pesco has a long and somewhat narrow piazza lined with trees.  To one side of its length was the main road we’d used to enter Pesco and where we’d joined the procession.  To the other side of its span was an inviting park sprinkled with benches and trees, which overlooked the Ofranto River
Valley.  At one end of this plaza stood a three to four story temporary white structure.  At its top, facing us, was an A-shaped pointed door, something like sliding patio doors, though not transparent.  You could tell they could be slid aside to create an opening wider than a normal door’s width.  It was obvious, because exiting from the would-be breach in the sliding panels was what can best be described as an industrial strength clothesline.  The cables that made up the line, suspended high above the piazza, ran its length all the way to the far side where the priest and town detachment of Carabinieri had now positioned themselves.
Grouped in knots of discussion, accompanied, now that the band had disbursed, only by the chirping sound of cicadas, everyone waited.  We could detect activity atop the building.  Movement was visible behind the panels.  When they opened a few minutes later, we could make out the helmet-topped boy we’d seen earlier, who’d led the procession. 
He was now suspended horizontally beneath the makeshift cable clothesline and moments later, to the applause of the crowd, began his flight across the piazza.  Modern flight control technology is all about fly-by-wire but it seems the Pescopaganesi (now there’s a mouthful) were way ahead of their time.  Records indicate that the Flight of the Angel dates from 1898 when the first seraphim, Giovanni Gonella, was pulled along a wire by way of a pulley fashioned by the local Toglia brothers.  The actual Volo dell’Angelo came about in gratitude for the miraculous cure of a sick child, believed cured through prayer and the intercession of Saint Francesco.  Though I found no record, I wondered if the first of many Pesco angels could have been the healed Giovanni himself or one of the Toglia family children.  I did discover, however, that the home the briganti had entered, only to be turned aside by what they found, was owned by one, Achille Miele, of the same last name as my friend Joe.  I knew that somehow Joe had a hand in this, though admittedly somewhat  removed!
To give the lad a more in-flight appearance, something like that Superman look, one of his legs was supported at the ankle preventing him from bending at the waist.  As he slowly closed the distance to the far end, he threw rose petals in offering that fluttered down on us, and when these were gone he began to utter what I can best describe as an appeal to their saintly protector, whose image lay immediately below him, on behalf of the people of Pescopagano.  Stopped and suspended in space, just short of the priest and his entourage, he recited a memorized speech with but a single hesitation.  He’d stopped and was quiet for what seemed an interminable length of time.  It was as though he was sorting out competing thoughts.  The halt was rewarded with applause once he’d caught up with himself and continued.  As best I could tell, his words professed the faith of the people, who through their vigilant Saint Francis, wanted God to continue to protect their community.
With his reverse flight, back to the platform from where he’d first emerged, but backwards in this case, the formal ceremonies concluded to a barrage of fireworks.  For yet another year the Angel of Pesco had renewed a local bond of faith, keeping tradition alive.  Now the street vendors and concession operators took over.  One vender in particular featured something like an attention grabbing car ornament, only absent the car.  No, not a glossy jaguar or prancing pony decoration.  Instead his business symbol was the physical, fleshy, severed head of a pig with a lemon jutting from its open jaws.  It certainly lacked curb appeal by my standards.  This was not something easily forgotten, nor was his product line.  He prepared and sold muso del maiale from the back of his mobile butcher concession.  Originating from the Amalfi Coast/Naples area, this dish is reserved for special occasions like this, and though hard for me to comprehend, at times it is served as a starter at weddings. For a small fee he would first thinly filet the fatty, bacon-like jowl and snout of a pig, place the bits and pieces into a plastic take-away try (here the term is Take-away, not Take-out) and after a liberal sprinkling of salt and generous douse of freshly squeezed lemon juice, serve you your street-food treat.  Apparently nothing goes to waste.  Here was ample proof that all can somehow be imaginatively recycled.
      I’d seen this local specialty before and had even tried it, as hesitant as I’d been at the thought.  My experience then was as it had been years earlier in Germany, only I didn’t know it would be at the time.  We were out one evening looking to enjoy the experience of a small German restaurant.  We’d asked our taxi driver to bring us somewhere of his choosing, somewhere we could experience the true local cuisine of the area.  He did just that and deposited us at what to us appeared to be a combination Hansel and Gretel and Shirley Temple Heidi movie set.  Inside we were served a basket of bread along with a ramekin filled with a buttery substance but of a white consistency.  What remained was my continued displeasure.

Skirting the pig snouts once again, I finally did settle for some pig, but as added insurance it would be from another part of this barnyard favorite.  We had by then rendezvoused with Joe and Anna Maria and together took our time surveying the
offerings of the various food vendors now lining the main street.  A large crowd in front of one retailer confirmed that this had to be the place, consensus certainly said so.  Between sausage and pork panini sandwiches, heaping full with mushrooms and fried peppers, mayonnaise optional, and bottles of Peroni, our group filled a table long into the evening before we reluctantly rolled down the mountain (clutch in just about all the way) back to sleeping Calitri.
Calitri would soon enough have its own festival, but not for a few weeks yet.  Thousands would converge on the now annual Sponz-fest music festival held during the last week of August.  But this night, the valley’s attention had been on Pescopagano.  The Mezzogiorno may yet be poor in industry and lacking in symbols of wealth, but it is rich in heritage with its treasure stored in its people.  Our soirée in Pesco had been proof.  It revealed a montage of heritage, folklore and traditions, a combination Cirque du Soleil high wire performance in a carnival atmosphere of children’s rides and actual cheek-by-jowl sidewalk venders.  And thus our lives trickle by, a shared visit, the innate charm of a simple Italian meal among friends and now family, one memory at a time.
Hopefully, Jamie and Gabriella had fallen under Italy’s spell and were destined to return.   New anticipation had been kindled in us.  I need only consult the Sibyl for confirmation on the exact date and pray to San Francesco di Paola to make it happen.  We now cling to that thought in expectation of the day.
 
From That Rogue Tourist
Paolo



























Skirting the pig snouts once again, I finally did settle for some pig, but as added   







 

 

 
 
 
 
 



Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Bitter and Sweet of It



The Bitter and Sweet of It

My story begins, here in the States, on a Friday.  Normally, Fridays are highlighted by a dinner of omelets, preceded of course by cocktails of the Margarita variety and a thrown together plate of appetizers, whatever might be handy.  Sometimes something like cheese would fill our free hand, though at times our nibbles were more thought-out, venturing instead to something like toasty nachos.  This routine is a leftover tradition from the days when we would arrive at our weekend retreat after a long week of work.  Now in retirement, it is our permanent home with no need for my quick omelets, or cheese, or nachos, though certainly the need for an aperitif or two remains.
This particular Friday was overcast.  Seeing the weather was somewhat depressing, we collectively decided to go to a movie, direct from tinsel-town to our town, as a change from our ordinary routine.  Two votes was all it took to make it unanimous, so off we went to the matinee offerings.  This being Smalltown USA, our selection was from among three movies.  The first was a light, bubble-gum for the brain flick, Paul Blart - Mall Cop.  Neither of us could stomach that, which left the additional choice of a very noisy, almost concussive continuing saga of superheroes, Marvel's Avengers.  Also on offer was something we'd seen advertized. What had caught our interest was the BBC movie, Woman in Gold.  We opted for Woman in Gold thus skirting nonsense and fantasy for hard reality.
This film centered on an art restitution case involving the Gustav Klimt masterpiece, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I.  This painting had been stolen by the Nazis from a Jewish family living in Vienna following the 1938 annexation of Austria.  Maria Altmann, played by actress Helen Mirren, left everything behind in her flight to freedom at the outbreak of WWII.  Following a nail-biting escape, she makes her way to the US as a refugee seeking peace.  Eventually, many years later, she seeks justice for the return of her family's property, the Klimt artwork, which since the war's conclusion had become an Austrian national treasure.  In a series of emotional flashbacks, we grow to understand Maria's and her family's plight.  The torment and injustice they endured brought back vivid memories of our visit to Israel's Holocaust Museum, approximately one year earlier. 
Re-experiencing their lives, with Helen as our guide, we are afforded glimpses of their family life, their traditions, and their exquisite home.  It was in just such an instance, in one of these interjected flashback scenes, that I was surprised at what only momentarily rushed by in the background.  I couldn't of course rewind to be sure, but just for an instant, I was amazed when I saw what I believed to be a bottle of Aperol. 
Aperol was originally produced as a restorative health and diet drink by the Barbieri Brothers of Padua.  The presence of a bottle of Aperol in the movie fits the timeline.  It was about 1939 or 1940 by this time.  Silvo and Luigi Barbieri debuted their creation shortly after World War I at the 1919 Padova International Exhibition, so about this time, shortly before World War II, it was beginning to make a name for itself.  It was Silvio Barbieri who named Aperol after the French apreo meaning aperitive.  What was revolutionary about it was that this healthful spirit had a kick from its 11% alcohol content.  Just what the doctor prescribed and more.
Aperol falls into the dichotomy of a love-it or hate-it situation.  Many naysayers claim it tastes medicinal.  For others, it takes time to acclimate to its herbal flavor—it grows on them, becoming an acquired taste.  There is some truth in this assessment for it is classified as a bitters, an alcoholic beverage that is flavored with tart herbs.  I confess, at first I sided with the "mediciny" crowd, but I found it nowhere near as bitter as its corporate stablemate, Campari.  Besides, who drinks Aperol full strength? 
Purchased in the 1990s by Barbero 1891 S.p.A., Aperol later entered Gruppo Campari's portfolio of spirits approximately a decade later, which vowed to remain faithful to the original recipe.  There it began its climb, reaching new records of popularity in large part due to the push of aggressive advertising in addition to the ease with which it can blend with so many other drinks.  All the saints aside, Aperol is today the leading spirit in Italy and the inspiration behind an aperitif which has become its signature drink: the Aperol Spritz.  In the Italian Veneto region alone, it’s reported that the number of devoted customers who faithfully take their Aperol Spritz medicine is around 250,000 per day. 
Still made according to the Barbieri secret formula, it’s a complex fusion of over thirty herbs, fruits and spices with memories of orange, rhubarb and gentian root extract (also found in the carbonated drink, Moxie) giving it initially a citrusy sweetness, somewhat woody I must admit, perfectly balanced by swallows-end with a delectable herbal follow through.  In summary, the taste acquired, it's orangey sweet with a delectably herbal bitterness.  A Spritz, just what the doctor ordered.
Spritz is a word barely used in the States.  Not since the antics of Clarabell the Clown and Harpo Marx with their seltzer bottles, do I recall anything coming close to being spritzed.  The spritz originated in Venice from the Austrian-Hungarian practice of spritzen (German for splashing), where water was added to dilute glasses of strong Italian wine—something on the order of how an ancient Roman paterfamilias cut the wine of his female family members.  
As this palette pleasing aperitivo spread from the Venito throughout Italy, variations in its formulation began to appear.  The original Aperol Spritz was made with white wine.  A splash, dash or glug-glug of this or that soon became the preferred manner to consume Aperol.  Later, the spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down, replacing the vino, became Prosecco. The most popular of its many variations retains the use of Prosecco.  Brewing an incredibly refreshing Aperol Spritz, at least the way we like them, is simple and goes as follows:
Ice (use large cubes, never crushed ice, essential for the drink's slow dilution)
3 Parts Dry Prosecco (cold to impart acidity and effervescence) — more than a spritz nowadays
2 Parts Aperol
1 Splash of Soda (or Tonic Water)
Slice of Orange 
For the chemist in all of us the sequence is important.  To avoid the Aperol settling to the bottom, start by adding ice to the glass then pour in the Prosecco, next the Aperol and add the splash before topping it off with a slice of orange.  The size glass used is optional, as is the size of the container you choose to measure your parts.
I recall the first time I was introduced to the Aperol Spritz.  It was on a spring day in Rome, 2013.  It had been a long day of sightseeing, added to by the fact that it was a holiday and bus service in Rome was non-existent—with numerous holidays or frequent strikes, the result is the same—a piede (on foot)!  We'd walked the entire day.  Along with us were my sister, Lorraine and her friend, Harriet.  Our touring had included the Campo Di Fiori (Field of Flowers) overseen by a statue of Friar Giordano Bruno in hooded regalia who, branded a heretic by the thought police of his day, was later burned at the stake in this very square for professing scientific heresy; the Roman Forum; San Giovanni Laterno, home to the graves of six popes; the archiological sub-basement of San Clemente, a place that inhabits the past, and site of a 3rd century temple dedicated to the sun god, Mithras; the Trevi Fountain; the Spanish Steps; Piazza Popalo and a brief stop at Santa Maria in Aracoeli (Altar of Heaven) to see paintings by Carvaggio before arriving at the Pantheon.  It ranked with a death march, though everything considered, a pleasurable one.  Plumb tuckered out by this time, we felt like Trireme galley slaves and needed a drink.  Afternoon had taken hold when we settled in welcomed relief at a table of an outdoor cafe to the side of Fontana del Pantheon, the fountain located in the center of Piazza della Rotonda in front of the Pantheon 

Around us the chaotic scrum of certified tourists went on without us, many following the cadence of their pennant waving follow-me leaders.  No longer participants in the melee, we'd transitioned into self-made observers.  At a table beside ours, so close that they touched in an almost intimate act, which considering the significance of the real estate we were squatting on made sense, a young couple was already enjoying their drinks.  The ice-bound, bright orange-tangerine, almost fluorescent color of their cocktails caught my attention.  As close as we were, no more demanding then talking to my sister, I inquired what they had there and thus proper  introductions were made to the Aperol Spritz.  That first swallow of its unique flavor was a invigorating awakening, reveille to thirsty taste buds.  Between cathartic sips of our own coolers, we learned that our neighbors were on a six week honeymoon all the way from distant Australia.  This, their first stop, would be followed by Paris and then London.  About then, Maria Elena reminded me how on our honeymoon drive to Cape Cod, we'd opened the wedding gift envelopes we'd received that day in the modest hope it would pay for our brief stay.  Boy, how times have changed.  Thinly stuffed envelope memories aside, a second round for the four of us only added to our relaxation there in the piazza under a shading umbrella.  It was transporting, for now, well past relaxed, we were without a care in the world.  Its prescriptive 11% alcohol by volume had kicked-in, so, so nicely. 
Having by this time overwhelmingly secured its popularity with us, the delightfully frizzante (crisp) Aperol Spritz once again lent itself as a revitalizing summer drink when we visited Amalfi.  We'd arrived on the pier bordering traffic snarled Amalfi by way of a ferry from Salerno.  It had been a pleasant day for a pleasant boat ride—better to avoid driving the coastal road and use the ferry service.  Our only detractant was a noisy load of less than inconspicuous students out for an apparent cultural field trip.  Acting as though they were burgeoning pirates, they'd ruled the waves the entire crossing, one going so far as to moon a passing vessel awash with sightseers.  I tried to imagine the scene from their perspective, but thankfully failed.  Surly that untoward sight alone had to have been worth the cost of their passage.
Back on solid ground once more, we first had to cross Piazza Flavo Gioia.  Something interesting about this fellow, Flavo—he was supposedly an Italian mariner from Amalfi credited with inventing the mariner's compass, when in actuality, he never existed!  Crossing this piazza on foot, we then cautiously, without compass, navigated the death-defying, coast-hugging road known worldwide for the excitement of its hairpin turns—the SS163 Amalfitana, to reach the town.  Maximum caution is recommended since everything seems to be in motion at once; coaches, vans, tour-buses, motorbikes, cars, trucks, and of course those pesky scurrying tourists.  There was no way around it since SS163 fronts the entrance to the town square from either Via Duca Mansone or Via Lorenzo D'Amalfi.
Amalfi is small, not much more than a gash or cleaving in the coastal bluffs sufficient to host a square, cathedral, and innumerable cafes and restaurants—just enough to cater to the frequent cruise ships that disgorge tender-loads of too-eager passengers.  From the fountain square, Piazza del Duomo, it meanders but a few hundred yards, if that far, along Via Lorenzo D’Amalfi, before it changes name to Via Pietro Capuano and dwindles into hillside paths when the ravine ends.  Essentially just as long Via Spaccanapoli splits Naples down its ancient center, so Via Lorenzo D’Amalfi and Via Pietro Capuano do to Amalfi.
The town is all about Saint Andrew, the brother of St. Peter.  Andrew's presence begins atop the town square fountain dedicated to the apostle and from there extends to innumerable mementos filling the souvenir gamut from refrigerator magnets to statues of the icon.  Here again legend plays a hand to report that he felt so unworthy to be crucified as Christ had, that instead he requested to be martyred on an X-shaped cross.  The fountain thus depicts him standing beside his cross, referred to as the Crux Decussata (X-shaped Cross) or simply, Saint Andrew's Cross.
Actual remains of St. Andrew were reportedly brought to Amalfi after the Fourth Crusade sacked Constantinople in 1206.  They include a portion of his skull, located in the Crypt of St. Andrew in the lower reaches of the Duomo (Cathedral).  Our first stop, in fact, was a visit to the Duomo di Amalfi where we toured a beautiful garden and museum in addition to the saintly crypt.  It, however, followed our first exertion of the day, a trek up the interminably long staircase leading to the Duomo.  Although the cathedral itself has been rebuilt and remodeled many times since the late 800s when it first began to take shape, this climb up an exterior stairway of 62 steps remains.  We refer to stairs as flights, and just as in an aircraft, once airborne, we eventually land.  In the case of stairs, it's funny how we revert to air travel terminology and invoke the term, landing as our destination.  This seemingly endless flight of stairs later, we reached the landing!
Inside the cathedral walls, we paused to walk the covered courtyard perimeter of the spectacular Chiostro del Paradiso (Cloister of Paradise).  Here in a pronounced Moorish influence, slender double columns connected by pointed arches enclose a garden that in medieval times served as a graveyard for noble Amalfi families.  The open gallery above this former cemetery afforded these wealthy merchants a prime view of the Duomo's ornate green and yellow roofed bell tower from their tranquil retreat.
Returned to sea level once more, following visits to the sanctified altar room of the crypt, which seemed distanced by centuries of decorum from the frenzied bustle in the town square outside, and touring the evident wealth of the Duomo museum artifacts, we sought restorative relaxation at Bar Royal not far along the town's social hub, Via Lorenzo D’Amalfi.  Of course we ordered Aperol Spritzers.  Following the lead of the Manchester United Premier League Football Team, where Aperol has become the club’s official spirit—the Aperol brand advertized and served during home games—this signature drink had become the official drink of our little company as well.  Without the least hesitation, our waiter brewed a few and was even kind enough to top them off, table-side, with additional Prosecco after a few sips and the fizz had subsided.  We could have remained there indefinitely, one longish draw after another, but there was a boat to catch.
As in our arrival, it was a pleasant cruise home.  As Amalfi reached the vanishing point on the horizon we felt secure in the fact that Saint Andrew was firmly ensconced as the patron of this coastal town. Unlike their forefathers, who'd lived off the bounty of the sea, today's inhabitants survive on a different kind of bounty, still up from the sea, marketing mythical surmises of compasses and crosses, in addition to imported bones.  Sitting there in the cafe by the side of abbreviated main street Amaifi, the Aperol Spritzers had helped mere visitors like us put it all into perspective.
Still in the vicinity of the Bay of Naples, it was as though our boat from Amalfi, hearing the Siren's song, had made a wrong turn and somehow deposited us on the Island of Ischia for our next pleasurable Aperol adventure.  In all honesty, though also by ferry, it was much later when Maria Elena and I once again visited Ischia.  Before dinner one evening we walked along the wharf of Ischia Porto, the islands main port.  Interestingly, this oddly circular shaped port was once a volcanic crater, which filled with water to become a lake.  In 1853 it was opened to the sea to create the port.
We were looking for that special place for an aperitivo, and we found it that evening in an enoteca (wine shop) at the far end of the marina-like wharf.  The enoteca had a clever name, Un attimo Divino (A Divine Moment), when in actuality, if I have its subtlety interpreted correctly, its name is a play on A Wine Moment.
Here we discovered Valerio Sgarra entertaining at the piano.  In addition to being a talented singer/songwriter, he is a musician.  Maria Elena thought his presence favored a bohemian style—his hat was just too Parisian.  She was correct for later we learned he had spent years in Paris as an entertainer.  As if these talents were not enough, he is an actor of theatrical notoriety in Naples.  The flames of the candles practically matched the color of our Spritzers, (of course we also had divine vino), as we listened to his throaty sound to the accompaniment of his guitar, at times the piano, sometimes even multitasking in lighter moments with the addition of a kazoo.  But there was more.  Valerio was also a budding author and had recently been published.  He was kind enough to present us with an autographed copy.  He described it in what at first struck me as an oxymoronic fashion, it being he said, an "unauthorized autobiography".  With the catchy title, Serenate A Mano Armata (Serenades at Gunpoint), I felt obliged to read it, or else.  All in Italian of course, I occasionally piece my way through its secrets.  I can report that so far, no reader has been injured.  
In the weaving semi-glow of the candlelight, seen through the Aperol tinted glass of my spritz, he struck me as a gypsy-like person, melancholy, at best of the unhappy sort.  Then again, we shared only a brief time together.  He was a student less of the scholastic kind, his hue more toward the romantic.  As a consequence, at an early age he'd drifted like a wandering musician from one venture to another, up and down the length of Italy—la vita di strada (life on the road), trained on the streets in his music and acting, his teachers the company of others.  But whatever made him and however it came about, the glass did not distort the enjoyment we experienced listening to him.  Today he acts, transcribes his thoughts and music, and entertains in clubs in Naples and Ischia.  What is success, how do we measure it?  If we allow it to be the achievement of self-set goals, than well done Valerio.
Like the backdrop in the movie that triggered these recollections, Aperol can be found occupying a spot on our shelf, ready to cool a thirsty afternoon fever or herald an evening's dinner experience.  Of course it is best to sip your aperitivo in situ, be it in Rome, Amalfi, or Ischia, but when you can't enjoy one in these gasp locations, serve it up anyway and move from the reality we live and move in to the transporting moments of where you were and with whom from a past memory.  The movie, these three glimpses at memories and more, made for a special Friday that week's end, work or no work.  There was something about that day, for adding to its significance, this was also the day we finished watching the final episodes of Rumpole of the Bailey.  Momentous as the occasion was, at least for us, no run-of-the-mill Margarita would due that Friday.  Instead, the uptown class of Aporal Spritzers were held high as we looked at the world once again through orange tinted glass to say adieu to the somber of Woman in Gold with its 'spritzible' backdrop prop, to Horace Rumpole and his wife, She Who Must be Obeyed, and move on from remembering our yesterdays to anticipating our Aperol Spritze tomorrows.
A mishmash of people, separated by mountains, lifestyles and cultural traditions, regional dialects, rivalries and something closely linked to ancestry, food...if one thing unites Italy, it is the Aperol Spritzer, a testament to the bitter and sweet to life itself.  Vita brevis  (life is short), so thanks to the Barbieri brothers, drink-up.


From that Rogue Tourist
Paolo