Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Fernet Branca

photo: Rome, January 2004

AH, FERNET BRANCA. The first time we traveled in Europe, in 1974, we traveled with another couple, who we met in Chiomonte, whence we went on by train to Torino, where we rented a tiny car.

We drove to Milan, where we had a long long lunch—I must write about that one day—and then George (who drove very quickly) drove us all up to Bellagio, where we planned to stay a day or two. As the road climbed I began to suffer from that long long lunch. I rolled from one side of the back seat to the other as he careened around curves on the climb toward Como.

I was beginning to feel sick. Finally I insisted that he stop in the next village, at the next cafe. I staggered into the bar and bought a bottle of Fernet Branca. Back in the car, I took a swallow or two and felt better immediately.

When we got to Bellagio I was ready for dinner.

Since then I have never traveled without a small flask. Years ago Eric even made a wallet card for me, which I still carry always. It has a drawing of a pig on it, and nicely lettered across the drawing the legend
nel caso d'emergenzia,
Prego di Somministrare

There's a good article on Fernet Branca on Wikipedia, with a surprising revelation about San Francisco. I can vouch for the fact that the American and Italian versions of Fernet Branca are different, and I much prefer the Italian version. (Fernet is much cheaper in Italy, by the way; I used often to buy a bottle there at the duty-free shop when coming home, but current restrictions have made this impossible.)

The combination of Fernet Branca and a very popular American cola beverage sounds unpleasant to me. On the other hand, a Fernetini—three parts gin, one part Fernet Branca, lemon-peel garnish—can be a pleasant thing on certain occasions.

And a shot-glass of Fernet Branca can make a good nightcap. I think I'll have one right now.
But first I opened W.G. Sebald's Austerlitz, and there near the very beginning was a description of an old man in the Antwerp train station drinking Fernet...

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