To just north of Venice at the weekend to go to a wine tasting at Smooth Tony's. On the way Bruno and I stopped off here, at Nardini's Distillery Tap in the historic town of Bassano del Grappa, so you get the idea of this town's principal business. The firm is still family owned and run of course, no stock market quotation or selling out for lots of wonga to some French luxury goods conglomerate here, this is Italy not Blighty after all. All the bottles in the bar are of different types of grappa and they don't sell anything else.
It was packed at four in the afternoon, with people enjoying a range of different grappa-based snifters.
This is the view from one side of the bar of the historic bridge, that's if you can still have the power of vision of course.
And this is the view from the other side. Not bad eh?
Bruno and I started with some serious 50º grappas and then moved on to their Tagliatella which is a grappa-based liqueur and difficult to find outside of the Veneto region. Then we saw some people knocking these back so we had one each.
They're called cinquanta-cinquanta (50/50) and we never found out what the make-up was as we seemed to have mislaid the power of speech. But long live Nardini and Italian tradition!
There I am, just vacantly tootling along, thinking either about nothing at all or which bottle to open this evening and then a word just zooms along and - bang! - after years of failing to see the etymological link, there it is staring me in my face (faccia in Italian but that one's too obvious). 'To avoid' in Italian is evitare, and then I heard someone on the wireless say "inevitable" - light bulb time! But why don't we have 'evitable'? Well, we do actually but has anyone ever heard it used? I haven't, but it's there in Chambers. And then there's one of my favourites (another that no one uses), 'beaker'. And guess what Italian for glass is? Bicchiere! Bingo, another shaft of illumination that I should have clocked years ago, especially with all the beakers of Sercial I've caned in Gordon's.
Etymology is one of the few interests I managed to acquire at St. Custard's when in an early Latin class, our master 'Plum' Tucker wrote one word on the blackboard:
and then asked us how the word came about. We just sat there in our freezing Devonshire classroom, smelling of manure and Horlick's tablets, and then underneath he wrote two Latin words:
paene (almost) + insula (island)
and ecco! revelation. Thanks Plum, against all the odds something stuck.
Yesterday morning I was reminded of the huge, unbridgeable, dizzying, yawning chasm that exists between Anglo-Saxon drinking culture and the Italians' view of booze.
Andrea came for a English conversation lesson as he does every Saturday morning. He is 25, tall, slim and predictably good-looking. His manners are impeccable. He has a degree in engineering and a good job, a nice new car, a very attractive girlfriend who he will almost certainly marry and they will have two gorgeous children and a wonderful, happy, fulfilled life together. All in all he is an extremely nice, decent chap. Obviously I dislike him intensely.
Anyhoo, yesterday the conversation meandered hither and thither and talking about last weekend he happened to mention that he had had gastric flu and, returning from a day out on Sunday, havomitato as soon as he got home. "The English verb is vomit, yes? So I vomited?" he inquired pleasantly. "Well, you're right there but we don't use it that much. We tend to say 'I was sick' which is the word we also use for when we are ill. It takes its meaning from the context. Between friends 'though, you would probably say 'I threw up". He was busy writing down this new vocabulary. Very precise is Andrea.
"Of course Andrea, there are many slang references to being sick, the Australians in particular have many funny ways of describing the act of throwing up." "Really?" he asked innocently. "Well, one that was very popular was 'calling God on the big white telephone'. I looked at Andrea, his brow creasing with thought. "Why call God.." he asked, thinking out loud, "...to ask to make you better?" "Not really, it's more when you have had too much too drink and you have to be sick..." and here I got down on my knees and made a circle with my arms around an imaginary lavatory bowl at which his quizzical look deepened, "..ohhhhhhh God", fake retch, "ohhhhhh God", fake retch. I looked up, through my tears of near laughter, at his face, blank with disbelief, as I struggled to stand up, wondering if he would be coming back next week.