Not long ago I reconnected with an old friend via Facebook, a friend with whom I had not talked for the better part of the past nineteen years. She and I had both been living in Cuernavaca, Mexico while students at the U, but upon returning to Minnesota, we naturally drifted along into our real lives, without one another. I wondered about her now and then through the years, remembering fondly the time in Cuernavaca that I convinced her to do her assigned speech topic in Spanish about funeral practices in Mexico, only because every day I passed a funeral parlor on my way to Spanish school and I was dying (pun intended) to go inside! She was in advanced Spanish and was game to try it and we ended up going on a fascinating tour of this neighborhood funeraria, where the proprietor let us see everything, holding nothing back.
With the recent popularity of Facebook, I thought maybe I could find my friend again and I was right. I located her without difficulty and dropped her a long note referring to her by the nickname we had for each other in Cuernavaca, El Difunto ("The Deceased"). She was delighted to hear from me, telling me she had also tried to find me a few times over the years without success. We've now settled into a pleasant Facebook friendship, meaning we don't communicate one-on-one often, but we keep in touch via our status updates and the occasional comment on one another's pages.
My friend has spent the last nineteen years in search of something, but what I don't know. I do know that I am jealous of her attempts to find what she's looking for, which has taken her to lots of cities and towns, ending up in places where she knows nobody but ends up staying a few years before moving on. Currently she is in Tuscany living on a gorgeous rural farm like something out of a Hollywood movie. She's doing physical labor in between weeks where she cannot communicate with anyone. I don't really understand it, but I love it. Just before she left on her most recent month-long sabbatical from communication, she posted on Facebook a status update about her long weekend spent on the Italian island of Elba, which floats serenely between the Tyrrhenian and Ligurian Seas off the coast of Italy. She wrote, "I spent three days here, drinking Campari sodas, swimming in the sea, and eating as much gelato and chocolate as humanly possible." That status update really hit me on some level that I can't explain. Every syllable sounded decadent and hopeful and beautiful and just purely happy. I loved that update and, because of it, became somewhat obsessed about trying a Campari soda.
I wasn't even sure what Campari was, besides some sort of Italian liqueur, but I knew I had to have it just in case it might make me feel, if only for a moment, that I was swimming in the sea off the island of Elba. After work one evening last week I stopped by Surdyk's where I had to ask for assistance in finding it because I really didn't have any idea what Campari was, just that I had to have it. When I saw the bottle I knew I was going to love it because there was no way that something with such a deep, ruby color could not taste like heaven. It looked like sweet grenadine but had gorgeous Italian words on the label, guaranteeing its deliciousness. I had read that orange slices were the proper accompaniment for Campari so I also stopped by Lund's to purchase a fresh orange. When I arrived home I was practically salivating just thinking about the taste sensation I was about to experience, except that I realized I'd forgotten to buy soda. So amped was I for the entire experience that I refused to even open the bottle of Campari that night, I wanted to wait until I could do it right.
A few nights later I finally picked up a bottle of soda and it was time for me to experience Italy without actually going there. I went home and pulled out one of my good Riedel glasses and poured in the suggested ratio of one part Campari to two parts soda, plus an exquisite slice of juicy, sweet orange to garnish. The color of the drink was beyond compare, pale scarlet with a little wedge of sunshine poking out of the center. Stunning. Finally I was going to know how Italy tasted, even if I couldn't afford to actually visit the European island in the sea. I raised the glass to my lips and delicately sipped the ruby liquid until it surrounded my teeth, passed my waiting tongue, and then slowly trickled down my throat. The intense flavor that filled my mouth was, sadly, not so much my idea of Italy as much as it was my idea of Hell. It was bitter and ugly and not even the sunny orange wedge could save it from its own vileness. I can't remember hating a drink more than this. All my fantasies of drinking Elba in that Riedel glass were dashed to the rocks in just seconds. Campari, the death of a dream.