Greetings from Italy, where Johann and I had the good fortune to spend time visiting friends in the Piedmont region. Our American friend, Erin, just moved there to be with her Italian boyfriend, Francesco, who was born and raised in the little village of Visone (which is just a four-hour drive from here). Shortly after our arrival, it was time to head to Visone’s wine bar. Francesco ordered us a round of what he called a “spritz,” which is an iced cocktail made with Asti Spumante and orange liqueur. It was even more delicious than it was pretty to look at. And it came with a free platter of appetizers consisting of locally-made prosciutto, cheese, and various types of bruchetta (which I believe are technically called “crostini”).
As Francesco’s many friends and family members stopped by to say hello, more tables were pushed together and more drinks and appetizers appeared. Before long, we were a noisy, fun group of 20. And those who didn’t have the time or inclination to join our party waved from their cars as they passed by or interrupted their walks to greet Francesco before heading on their way. “He knows everyone, Erin, absolutely everyone,” I said. “He should run for mayor. Just think, you could be first lady of this place.” She laughed. “Look around you,” she said. “I already am!”
Francesco was as generous as he was popular, and it took us a while to realize that it was never our turn to pay for a round of drinks because Frannie was calling the bar from outside on its terrace to order more drinks and have them put on his tab, a trick we tried to stop him from getting away with once we caught on.
We were lucky to be in Italy during Notte Bianca, which literally means “white night” but is the name for the festival during which Italian shopkeepers, restaurants and bar owners stay open all night (“notte in bianco” means “night without sleep”). Larger cities organize bands and entertainment, which go on all night long and give party-goers plenty to do besides going to bed. We attended the festivities in the nearby town of Acqui Terme, named for its hot springs and known for its thermal spas.
At the end of the evening (which was around 1:30 a.m., we didn’t make it until dawn) we headed for the fountain in the center of town, which bubbled over with steaming hot spring water that smelled of sulfur. We each dipped our souvenir glass (complimentary with the purchase of dinner) in the fountain and took a sip. While the taste wasn’t fantastic, Francesco promised the results would be profound. Sure enough, after a long evening of cocktails, wine and Limoncello, it was like taking a sip of instant sobriety and not one of us suffered from the hangovers we probably deserved the next day.
The rest of the visit flew by, but featured lunch prepared by Frannie’s mother, dinner at a hilltop restaurant with an amazing view, a tour of a local vineyard owned by a family friend and a kitch-tastic evening at a concert by a Queen cover band called “Radio Gaga.” We’ve been invited back for the annual truffle festival (the region is known for having the best white truffles in the world) this winter and can’t wait to see Erin and Frannie again and explore the region further. Ciao!