In the 1970s I remember seeing ads on Manhattan buses for Cynar, the Artichoke Apertif. Big garish Mussolini typography with an alien looking artichoke on the label. “Who in their right mind would drink artichoke liquor?”
A couple years ago, while dining with master ThinkPad designer Richard Sapper, he mentioned his preference for a taste of Cynar. I asked the waiter who was totally confused and eventually went to the bar and asked the bartender if he had any.
“Arti-what?” he asked.
As an ex-bartender in the alcoholically sophisticated bar-city of San Francisco, I was exposed at an early age to some weird stuff like Fernet Branca (easily one of the more strange digestifs) and 150 proof Chartreuse. But never had I tasted Cynar until last month in Italy while on Dave’s Excellent Adventure. I’m a total addict now, and even persuaded a highly skeptical companion that it was indeed, when served with soda and a slice of orange, one of the lbetter things in a glass after a long day of marching through Tuscan hilltowns or thwarting the amorous advances of psycho street mimes.
It’s made by Campari, who makes all sorts of Italian goodness, but I haven’t seen a bottle on a liquor store shelf… ever. I guess I could special order it, but for now I have a bottle I brought back with me.
Here’s some good recipes over at Chowhound that utilize Cynar.
The mime was working the crowd next to the loggia and the entrance to the Uffizi Gallery. White-faced and in an orange jumpsuit with the helpful word “Jailbird” stenciled on the back. He wore a single green glove – a sanitation worker down on his luck – furtively hamming around behind the backs of unsuspecting tourist girls, whose hand he would grab and as they turned to see who hadaccosted them he would shout, “HA!” and give them a terrible fright.
“Stay away from him, he’s a f#$%^r,” said my daughter, wise to the ways of the Florentine alleys after a term across the Arno. I was tired – having just surmounted the 450 plus steps (and my severe acrophobia) to climb to the top of Bruneschelli’s dome of the Duomo – and I was in no mood for any mime bullshit. Too late. Five people between me and the crazed white faced garbage man and he locks eyes on me – as Quint said in Jaws, he had a doll’s eyes, dilated crazed Siberian husky eyes. There was nothing I could do but shrug and endure.
First we embraced like long lost brothers and I understood what did me in – I was wearing an ancient orange Orvis polo shirt which made me look like a large tangerine. He in his orange jumpsuit … it all made sense but then it made no sense. Lesson learned, wear orange at one’s own peril.
Then we danced a little and the mob of people sitting on the stairs along the loggia started to laugh. The laughter was like mime fuel. He smelled poorly.
We stopped. He dropped to one knee and put his ear to my stomach. He held up one finger to the crowd. They laughed. He held up two fingers to the crowd. Twins. They laughed louder. I thought of Alec Baldwin playing Junior in Miami Blues and how he casually snapped and broke the finger of a Hari Krishna in an orange robe who had bothered him at the airport, the surprise causing the Krishna to die of a heart attack on the spot. There were too many witnesses for me to maim the mime, so I continued to smile while inwardly counting down the moments until the mime assault would end.
Finished with establishing that my paunch meant that I was pregnant – go ahead, laugh at the fat man – the final indignity involved lifting my shirt, baring said paunch to the mob (and the astonished, apoleptic, laughter-oxygen-deprived faces of my wife and daughter) and then planting his face on my abdomen and doing the mime equivalent of the 14th century letterpress – aka The Motorboat – leaving behind a bas relief of his white makeup with two eyeholes, my navel as a nose and below, two horizontal black lines from his lipstick.
The crowd went insane. Truly insane. I turned, showed them the greasepaint on my chiseled six-pack, saluted and walked on. A beaten man.