Sunday, May 7, 2017

Patent Medicine - take two swigs and don't call me in the morning

Jude and I spent the month of March in Rome.  Why?  Why not?  Afterall, four weeks in the apartment we rented cost us what two weeks in the same place would've.  There's just something about those steep monthly discounts AirBnB sometimes offers that are simply too darned attractive to avoid.

The night we arrived in Rome we were bushed.  We needed to find somewhere to eat and a restaurant just down the street from us seemed like it might be OK.  Even though we were the only people there the food was edible and we were happy to find sustenance before we collapsed into a Failing Spring-Sprung Old Bed.

After dinner I asked the waiter what kind of digestif they might be able pour me.  The waiter told me that Grappa was very popular around those parts.  To me Grappa is like Evil Lighter Fluid From Hell.  The expression on my face must've clearly transmitted my thoughts.  The waiter suggested he couldn't stand Grappa either and didn't understand the craze for the stuff.  So, I ask, what is your preferred after dinner libation?  *answered* OK, then.  I'll try some.

Do you remember Patent Medicines?  Me neither.  A bit before our time, don't you think?  Still, I remember reading out the Great American Swindle Lick-r.

Turns out, Americans weren't the only crazies on the planet at the time.  European doctors developed and offered for sale various remedies for nearly any and every condition described in medical texts of the day.  These "remedies" were based on alcohol infused with all manner of nasty things.  Typical ingredients included plant roots and tree bark and leaves and flowers and sometimes fruits and a few things to make the drink almost palatable, such as honey or surprisingly bitter tasting orange skins.

In modern times these remedies are still made.  True story.  They've not been outlawed over here.  They simply changed the name from medicine to something less obviously false.

The Italians call theirs les Amari.  That's plural for a single Amaro.  In English we call these Bitters.

We knew none of these things that first night.  All we knew is that one sip cured a stomach problem Jude was experiencing.  As for myself, the first sip was as unto a revelation, a surprise, no, a shock, and like any good drug, um, drink, I was hooked.  Happiness!  The patent medicine had worked it's advertised cure-all magic.

During our month in Rome we did as (some, perhaps few) Romans do and took an Amaro as a digestif after many dinners.  We tried perhaps a dozen different kinds of les Amari.  We developed and refined our tastes and preferences based on direct, personal experience, and surprisingly quickly cured ailments.

Americans might now bitters as something you add to mixed drinks or cocktails.  The Italians drink the stuff neat.  Most Amari we tried were drunk at room-temp.  But one Amaro is recommended to be served well chilled.  Instead, I take it at room temperature and love it's warm, full-bodied flavors, regardless of what the company recommends.

I've since tried several non-Italian bitters and find them thin and with underdeveloped flavors.   Thus far in our limited experiences the Italians brew the very best, most complex, perfectly beautiful tasting 1800's style Patent Medicines.  Fortunately there are three Italian specialty stores near our Paris home.  We're hoping they can be mined for a few good Amari when our current stocks the medicine run dry.

One Amaro in particular appealed to us.  It had been served in a restaurant located next to our apartment in Rome. I searched stores and markets and lick-r shops high and low for some.  We visited two of the highest internet recommended Amari outlets and we visited supermarkets and side-street hovels looking for our preferred remedy.  Les amari were easy to find, but the plonk we were looking for was nowhere to be found.

It came down to our second to the last night in Rome and we were getting desperate.  Nothing had turned up.  So we went to the waiter at our favorite restaurant and asked where we could find an Amaro  ****.  His eyes lit up and we were told to stop looking.  Don't buy it in the stores! *surprise*  He didn't want us to buy from anyone but himself.  I tried to tell him it was impossible to find, but I stopped myself mid-sentence and simply nodded and smiled happily at his suggestion.  His restaurant would sell us a bottle for a Good Price (the first instance when we heard the famous Italian phrase a Good Price).  The catch was that we couldn't buy the bottle just then (between lunch and dinner).  We would have to wait and ask for a bottle as we asked for our facture (bill) after dinner later that night.

We'd read that every Roman business transaction important and unimportant took place on a personal level.  If you know someone, they might be able to help you.  If you needed a new car or were looking for a new apartment, you talked to those around you and listened to your family and friends for their advice, counsel, and guidance.  Such was our experience with this particular Amaro.  It's rare.  It's very good.  And, it seems, it's only available if you know who to talk to.


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