Italian Summer in a Glass

“The days were long and the nights were long and the life was good.”
—Gertrude Stein, Fiesole, Italy, Summer 1908

A few weeks ago, drinking and dining with my friends/neighbors/mortal enemies (envy is a terrible thing) Chris and Glennis before they left for a week in Venice, Italy, we got talking about Campari.

Chris was pontificating that Europe had an appreciation for bitter foods and spirits that you don’t see as much in America. That set me to forming theories and pontificating in turn about how bitter as an entire taste realm was absent altogether from American cuisine — we like our sweet (OH, how we like our sweet!) and our salty, we’ll dabble in sour. But bitter is completely unrepresented — replaced, perhaps, by fried. And more salt.

I’ll admit, it took me awhile to come around to Campari. If ever I experienced it in Italy, where it makes the most sense to experience it, I don’t recall (other than mental footnotes of the ubiquitous Campari umbrellas on Piazza San Marco in Venice). When I lived for a time in a Santa Monica rent control apartment with my sister Laura — a yoga instructor, dater of Belgian nobility and affecter of all things European — she would drink Campari and soda over ice on hot summer afternoons. Eager to affect a European sophistication myself, I tried it. And liked it, sort of.

One thing I’ve learned over the years is that odd tastes that I “sort of” like at first often become favorites. So I continued to give Campari a chance — in soda, swirled into prosecco, infused into cocktails. And gradually it came to represent refreshing relief from a hot summer day in a Mediterranean climate (usually, our own).

The other afternoon, after a particularly hot, stressful six summer hours at home alone with my fussy two-year old while my wife ran errands with the two more reasonable children, I needed a drink. Desperately. I was about to pour myself a chilled glass of white wine, when I suddenly remembered the Campari in the liquor cabinet. Not only refreshing, but at 24% alcohol (48 proof), possessing the likelihood of supplanting frayed nerves and furrowed brow with feelings of euphoric indifference.

Campari and white wine didn’t sound right. There was no prosecco, but I did have sparkling water. However, I was feeling like something a little more fancy. So I included some lemonade. And, as far as I can tell, invented a new drink that, like all good drinks, was better than the sum of its parts.

Because I’m an English major and writing geek, I like to give my cocktails names — see my July 4th watermelon concoction, The Declaration (one of my greatest christening triumphs was a blood-orange martini beverage my friend Dan made, which I dubbed “The Transfusion.”) So I considered all the options for my Campari/lemonade/soda drink. And given its vaguely Italian lineage and the fact that it rescued an otherwise dismal day, I decided upon Giornataccia, which translates from the Italian as “bad day” (or “bad hair day,” depending on whom you ask — which I guess could itself be as good a reason as any to need a drink).

Sister Andrea having a giornataccia in Venice.

All good cocktails should have a good name. And all good names should have a good story. Enjoy!

*   *   *

serves 1

2 oz. Campari
2 oz. fresh sweet lemonade
4 oz. sparkling water
1 slice fresh lemon

Place several ice cubes in a 12-oz or larger glass. Pour Campari over ice, followed by lemonade and sparkling water. Swirl, and garnish with a lemon slice.

10 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Benjamin Thompson
    Jul 20, 2012 @ 01:33:34

    I adore Campari. Try mixing it with a cocktail that includes ruby red grapefruit. Peeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeerrrrrrrrrrfect. Of course, there’s always the Negroni, equal parts: Gin, Campari, and red vermouth with an orange slice, though I always double the gin so it’s 2:1:1.


    • scolgin
      Jul 20, 2012 @ 01:57:38

      You are a serious student of mixology. I admire you and raise my glass to you (the perfect margarita: lime juice, agave syrup and anejo tequila).


  2. mom
    Jul 20, 2012 @ 15:01:02

    it could be genetic, I’ve loved Campari since I was young…I think maybe Nana liked it too although there weren’t many spirits she didn’t like.


  3. pal-O
    Jul 20, 2012 @ 15:53:30

    One of the best gifts I ever received from our friendship was your introduction of Campari to me on that very warm day I visited a few years ago. I love it as I do many bitter tastes. No body else I know really cares for the taste which is no matter because it leaves the whole bottle to me.

    ps: fix that ‘a’ to ‘an’ in English Major


    • pal-O
      Jul 20, 2012 @ 15:56:48

      Typing with a badly broken finger (seriously playing tennis of all things), so if you can fix this English Major’s mistakes I would appreciate it…8^)


  4. g
    Jul 25, 2012 @ 19:59:44

    We fell in love with having a spritz – white wine, soda, and Aperol. When Chris comes back from Tampa, we’ll have to get together for one.


    • scolgin
      Jul 25, 2012 @ 20:06:22

      That sounds great. Chris owes me a slow-smoked pork shoulder. And I’m hoping you’ll do a guest post on Venice and the Rialto fish market.


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