Residual juices from the berries and stone fruits of summer seep into my skin and onto my clothing, making me a magnet for gluttonous mosquitos and fruit flies. It is a hazard of my profession that has followed me from restaurant kitchen, to farm kitchen and back again to retail bakery.
I am convinced that my fruit fly/mosquito magnetism knows no season. If there is a flying, buzzing, sweet seeking insect within a reasonable radius, that insect will hunt me down and pinpoint my location without benefit of Google Maps. It has gotten so extreme that I can anticipate the high-pitched incessant buzzing, the whining, long before they descend within earshot. My immediate response initiates the flailing of hands followed by a few choice words. Is it possible to hear mosquitoes the way a dog hears a high-pitched whistle, or is it simply that I need a vacation?
It has been well over a year since my visit to Italy’s floating city, Venice. As promised, the city fed my appetite for homemade pastas, silken gelato, buzz worthy espresso, and staggering views. I reciprocated by feeding the appetite of the city’s insatiable mosquitos. What Venice boasts in water transportation and ornate cathedrals, it severely lacks in window screens and air conditioning. The unseasonal heat coupled with the steady buzz of mosquito wings made sleeping impossible. I pulled the sheets up tightly over my head, mummifying myself in non-breathable mosquito netting. One of my savvy travel companions voiced concern over my lack of oxygen. A muffled reply came from deep within the sheets. “Sometimes, Master/Master,” I gulped, “you have to make a choice.” The mosquito droned on.
Venice redeemed itself in numerous ways, most notably with the classic Venitian aperitif, the Aperol Spritz. The mathematics required for mixing the signature drink are designed for anyone slightly math challenged or sleep deprived. Three parts Prosecco, two parts Aperol, and one splash of soda share an ice filled glass, capped off with a slice of fresh orange. The Italian aperitif is deeply orange flavored, more bitter than sweet, with the slightest hint of rhubarb, vanilla and a medley of herbs. Aperol was created by Padua's Barbieri brothers, later purchased by the Campari company. Initially touted as a ‘tonic for active men,’ the liqueur was advertised as an ideal drink for the fitness conscious, gaining enormous popularity among women. Aperol is less acerbic, more drinkable than its sibling beverage Campari, with about half the alcohol content. Raising a glass filled with ice and neon orange creates drama, an instant cause for celebration. The cocktail is intensified by late afternoon sunlight, when Spritz drinkers are out in full force.
There is also an unmistakable civility associated with the Aperol Spritz. Much like Austria’s Kaffee und Kuchen, or London’s Afternoon Tea, Europe takes a pause between lunch and dinner. Some countries feel the need to add alcohol to the mix; a fine addition. We could take a lesson from the Europeans. In the states, we tend to drink and dash; grabbing a beer or balancing a cuppa joe in one hand while fishing for a Metro card with the other. We are always rushing for a train or a bus, heads buried in smartphones. I didn’t see a single Venetian bolting down the narrow streets, hell bent on being the first in line for the vaporetto. People linger over glasses shimmering with orange and ice, nibbling small bites of crostini until they move on to the next bar and the next round.
I can attest to the fact that a bottle of Aperol fits snugly in a suitcase. Incidentally, when the stash from the suitcase runs out, the blue-labelled aperitivo can be found in many liquor stores and a few select supermarkets. While you’re there, don’t forget to pick up a bottle of sparkling water and an orange to round out your spritz needs. It’s also a fine idea to swing by the Seasonal aisle for a few citronella candles and some insect repellent if you’re thinking about Spritz-ing al fresco, day-dreaming of Venice. I'll drink to that.