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Drinking the World Every Afternoon

A Negroni, Per Favore, As the World Burns

Dec.09.16

A Negroni, Per Favore, As the World Burns

by Caterina Clerici

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Sbagliatos in Milan

The atmosphere in Milan on Monday was eerie: a mix of fog and the looming political void.

When the results of Sunday’s constitutional referendum started pouring in late the night before, it was immediately clear that the country had answered with a roaring NO. It wasn’t a “no” to the proposed changes to the constitution, but to Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. Approaching a thousand days in office, Renzi arrogantly thought it would be a good idea to turn this referendum into a validation of his time in office. The result? Renzi lost what had effectively become a midterm election, and I needed a drink.

Despite asking all my sources at the prime minister’s residence, the Palazzo Chigi—who surely had nothing better to do the day after their boss declared his intention to step down—I wasn’t able to discover Renzi’s favorite cocktail. So I opted for a negroni sbagliato (commonly known simply as a sbagliato). The negroni was invented in Renzi’s hometown, Florence, where he was mayor for five years until becoming Prime Minister, and ‘sbagliato’ means wrong, as in this version of the drink, brut spumante replaces gin. I figured it’s a bit like him: solid, does the job, but not something you’re excited about.

The occasion deserved the best possible sbagliato, so I headed to the place where, legend has it, the wrong mix was first poured, by mistake, here in Milan: Bar Basso, an Italian drinks Mecca and a safe-haven for professionals and elites on all sides of the political spectrum; to each his aperitivo, after all.

“Italy is ungovernable: we’ve been stuck for ten years and we’ll continue being stuck for the next ten,” was the first thing I heard as I walked in.

A group of men in their sixties and seventies, wrapped in their coats and scarves, were talking politics while looking at YouTube videos on their phones. I later found out one of them had been the head of the city’s health department for ten years in the late nineties. He voted no. “But it doesn’t matter—whatever happens, Italians land on their feet.”

caterina_renzi_poster

I would have never thought I’d vote for Renzi, and even the first sip of negroni sbagliato couldn’t soothe my guilt. He speaks like a know-it-all classmate who throws in a word or two of approximate English in every sentence, just because. But more importantly, Renzi is the man who ruined la sinistra, the Left, the people I remember marching in the streets chanting slogans from 1968 as I grew up.

Still, I somehow found reasons to stand with the ‘Scrapper,’ as Renzi famously called himself as he tried to reboot Italian politics. Maybe it’s because I’m part of the ‘elite’ that has become too disconnected from la cosa pubblica and the dire economic state of the homeland, but what scared me most was the thought of political paralysis. Our system is admittedly rusty, but it had just recently started working again, if not perfectly. And I feared—and still do—the international repercussions of a no vote, which will be twisted into the destructive narrative of a growing anti-establishment wave, destined to reshape Europe and the rest of the world.

The victory of the no vote in Italy is different from the Brexit and the Trump-astrophe: here, we’ve long been fans of the anti-establishment voto di pancia, literally ‘voting with the belly.’ We witnessed the rise of our own Trump, Silvio Berlusconi, as early as 1994, and with him we welcomed our homegrown UKIP, the Lega Nord, into the government for the first time.

Now, we’ve reached a new milestone in political thinking: reverse-reverse-psychology. If we wanted to vote against the usual political caste, we should have voted YES, since every familiar face in the country’s political landscape, from Berlusconi to the old roster of leftist leaders to the ‘anti-establishment’ Five Star Movement, supported NO. But we didn’t!

The antipathy for Renzi and the utter rage caused by high unemployment rates and poor economic growth overshadowed the fact that he was the closest we could get to change. Or maybe it’s the Italian habit of voting against the government, often oblivious of the repercussions abroad and at home. Not all Italians land on their feet, and the parties that backed NO have a pretty unsuccessful record of providing for those who don’t.

“I wanted to get rid of some seats,” said Renzi in his concession speech late Sunday night, “but eventually the one that blew up was mine.”

Back in the bar, the four men were cheering. “Viva Mattarella,” joked one, referring to the president, who must now form a provisional government before Christmas. The other three replied with Italy’s beloved all-purpose epithet: “Ma vaffanculo!”


Every Friday, we bring you an angry rant about something terrible fuelled by alcohol.

The Essential Fuel for Evenings in Taiwan

Oct.23.17

The Essential Fuel for Evenings in Taiwan

by Selena Hoy

Boba in Taipei

Evening is descending on Ximending, and the food hawkers jostle for position, their pushcarts lined up along the curb. Each one is peddling a single kind of snack, made fresh before your eyes.

There are hot Yiling onion pies, the size of a child’s palm, golden crisp and sizzling on the grill. There’s stinky tofu, deep-fried and topped with pickled veg, its distinctive pungent funk attracting some and repelling others. The green scallion pancakes, cong zhua bing, large and flat and folded several times, come plain or with fillings.

Ximending, in Taipei’s Wanhua district, is vibrant with youth. Students flock here, their glowing faces bathed in pink neon. Music blares out of shops, and fashion stores stand cheek-to-jowl with massage parlors, the services and prices written on the window in red script. Two fat cats mind a suit shop in Wuchang Street, dispassionately observing customers and passersby. A large banner on Hanzhong Street reads “Taiwan Independence–NOT Chinese Taipei.” Teenagers are pinging off the edges of the alleys, zigzagging back and forth in a flood of frenetic energy, fueled by chewy, sugary tea and juice drinks.

The kids in Taiwan have been slurping and chewing boba tea (also called bubble tea, tapioca tea, pearl milk tea, or 珍珠奶茶 in Taiwanese) for a few decades. It first emerged in the 1980s, probably in Taichung or Tainan, and has been a staple drink ever since.

Even though it started out simple, with black tea, sweetened condensed milk, and a dose of small tapioca pearls, boba tea now comes in a dizzying variety of flavors and incarnations: fruit flavors or coffee; personalized levels of sugar and ice; large tapioca pearls or small, or grass jelly, sago, coconut jelly, or chia seeds instead.

My jam is taro milk tea with large black tapioca pearls, the lavender mixture thick and slightly chalky with tuber starch. I place my order with an efficient, friendly cashier (half sugar, little ice) and then melt into the crowd of people also waiting for their hit. She scoops a ladleful of pearls into my drink, then runs the cup through a machine that seals it with a plastic film festooned with colorful cartoon characters. She flips it upside down once to check the seal, then hands it to me.

Mourning the Death of a Muckraker in Malta

Oct.20.17

Mourning the Death of a Muckraker in Malta

by Steven Bonello

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Beer in Marsascala

In Malta, everyone will probably remember where they were when they heard that investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was assassinated. She was killed on Monday, shortly after leaving home, when her white Peugeot 108 exploded. Her son, Matthew, was still at home; he heard the explosion and tried to save her. She was 53.

I was at a pub in the resort town of Marsascala, enjoying a pint of Kilkenny with a journalist friend. We were just at that moment discussing Caruana Galizia when I got a call from my wife telling me that friends were messaging her with the news. I didn’t believe it; I told her it couldn’t be true. But after putting my phone down, I overheard snippets of conversation from the next table, stuff like: “if you live by the sword…” I knew then that it was true. When my shocked friend confirmed the news on her smartphone, it was just a formality.

I first met Caruana Galizia 26 years ago, when I wrote her a letter asking her whether she would write a short note for my second personal exhibition of drawings. That led to her introducing me to newspaper cartooning, something I’ve done ever since. Incredibly, for a small place like Malta, I had only run into her once since then—about two months ago at a local trattoria.

Caruana Galizia was both lionized and hated in polarized Malta. She was a merciless critic of Malta’s ruling Labour government, in particular the two government personalities involved in the Panama Papers scandal, both of whom refused to step down, and both of whom enjoyed the continued support of the prime minister, Joseph Muscat. But she was also scathing about Malta’s main opposition party, and its new leader in particular, whom she accused of having financial links to a brothel in London’s Soho.

The current Labour government was re-elected earlier this year after a snap election, called as a vote of confidence after Caruana Galizia published stories about the prime minister’s wife taking kickbacks from Azerbaijan’s ruling family and stashing the cash in a secret Panama account.

Under this government, Malta has experienced rapid growth. A building boom has been fuelled by skyrocketing rental rates and the need to accommodate an influx of foreign workers. The other side of that coin has been a withering of national institutions, scandals involving government ministers, shady deals with Azerbaijan, and the sale of Maltese passports under the so-called Individual Investor Program, while Malta-born citizens are denied the right to know who their new compatriots are.

This is the first time a journalist has been assassinated on the island. Malta is in shock. The nature of the assassination was brutal, even for Malta, where car-bomb murders happen from time to time.

DCG_last_words_(1)The last words Caruana Galizia wrote on her blog before she was killed have been spray-painted on a wall in Malta.

Most friends I have been talking to are confused, and still can’t quite believe it. The assassination was no doubt a professional job, perhaps pointing to hired, imported hitmen. The motive is still unclear. Caruana Galizia had made many enemies over the years, but the general feeling is that no Maltese would really have gone this far. People are speculating that the murder might have been ordered from outside. There are whispers that she was about to break new stories involving international crime rings.

All this is happening in a vacuum. Information about the murder has been scant, and in the days after Malta’s highest-profile assassination, the Commissioner of Police—regarded by many as an incompetent stooge—was notable only for his silence on the matter. The police finally called a press conference on Thursday evening, but answered no questions. The prime minister has gone on record to say the FBI and Dutch experts will be joining local investigating forces, which only reinforces the locals’ poor perception of the police. A police sergeant’s Facebook post celebrating her death hasn’t helped.

There is also a feeling that, as with other brutal crimes in Malta, this one will remain unsolved, and forgotten after the international spotlight moves away.

After we heard the horrible news, we finished our drinks in a hurry and, perhaps unforgivably, failed to toast the memory of a very brave woman. All I remember saying to my journalist friend was: “Fuck! And I have to do a cartoon about this next Sunday?”

#Resist in Virginia, with Love and Proper Beer

Oct.19.17

#Resist in Virginia, with Love and Proper Beer

by Alex Court

Imperial IPA in Virginia

“By the power invested in me by absolutely nobody I declare you husband and wife!”

Once those words left my lips I breathed a quiet sigh of relief. I’m no priest, but in a last-minute reshuffle I had been asked to preside over the ceremony of a couple of very good friends in the heavy Virginia heat, and I needed a congratulatory drink to calm the nerves.

Slipping past the international crowd that had assembled for the special occasion, I reached the bar and spotted a beer I’d never heard of: Dogfish Head 120 Minute.

Hoppy and tasty and cold, it hit my lips and I realized why the couple had selected this beverage to get the party started. An American bride of Ghanaian and Filipino heritage was marrying a British chap from Sheffield, a city well-known for “proper” beer.

Orange, Virginia was the venue they had chosen well in advance, and they had invited people with all kinds of cultural backgrounds. Everything had been planned before August, when white supremacists marched just 30 miles away in Charlottesville, Virginia carrying torches and chanting “You will not replace us.”

As I swigged back that bottle of beer the alcohol helped me relax. The speech I had just delivered mentioned the importance of celebrating multicultural and interracial love, and the importance of doing this now, in Virginia.

Finding the right words had not been easy for a white British bloke like me, partial to avoiding all kinds of conflict, but my wife—who is American and black—helped me find them.

As I asked the barman for a second beer, the mother of the bride thanked me for the kind words I had said about her daughter and son-in-law and promptly dragged me to a photo shoot.

Arranging couples in front of the camera, the photographer wanted one of the bride and groom and my wife and I. Four people—two black ladies and two white chaps—smiling wide on the steps of a glorious homestead.

We were not putting our bodies on the line at a rally against white supremacists, but as the camera snapped away, I thought perhaps we were protesting against hate in our own little way.

Absinthe, Meet Tropical Slushie Cocktail

Oct.18.17

Absinthe, Meet Tropical Slushie Cocktail

by Anna Hiatt

Cocktails in St Augustine

Down the bar from us sat a 20-something couple. She’d ordered what looked like an adult shaved ice. Taking picture after picture, she said with a laugh, “I don’t want to drink it.”

What’d she order, I asked the bartender. A Cabana Boy. The bartender took a banana leaf and deftly looped it in a circle, placed it in the glass, and began to fill the lowball with shaved ice—just like the shaved ice we’d had at the beach the day before. It had been soaked with almost sickly sweet passionfruit and mango syrup. Sickly sweet, but delicious, just enough to cut through St. Augustine’s midday heat. She spritzed the shaved ice with absinthe from what looked like a perfume bottle and set the drink in front of me.

I sipped my Cabana Boy and wondered if I should have passed on the second cocktail. I asked the bartender about the incoming hurricane. “People love to panic,” she said calmly. Last hurricane, a second bartender told me, he’d taken shelter at the bar; nothing would bring down the Ice Plant, a former ice factory. The plant was chilled as though the building still stored blocks of ice. I shivered, hunched on my bar stool, did the tipsy calculus, and decided to drink faster. The longer I let it sit, the more the shaved ice would melt, the more I’d have to drink, the longer I’d have to stay in the cold. Let’s get out of here, I motioned, back into the warm night.

The next morning, the pressure had changed. Pea-soup air. Hurricane Irma was coming. We ducked into Catch 27 in downtown St. Augustine for blackened snapper sandwiches and blackened snapper tacos and beers.

We left the restaurant to do one more drive through the city. The storm was coming in from the south: it was still a Category 5 and hadn’t yet torn up St. Martin’s. St. Augustine had quieted after Labor Day weekend, and in the days before Irma. Windows were boarded up, or being boarded up; I wondered if the Ice Plant’s bartenders would take refuge in the old ice factory. We admired a boat moored in the Matanzas River that runs along downtown.

A few days later, after we’d flown out, Hurricane Irma moved in. From my apartment in New York, I watched video footage from St. Augustine and scanned Instagram for evidence of the storm, and what it had done to our little paradise. The streets along the water flooded, though the water quickly receded; the remaining boats in the Matanzas River rocked hard. I couldn’t see ours, and I wondered when, or if, it had been moved. Our oasis momentarily disturbed, but still filled with stubborn Floridians.

The Ice Plant
110 Riberia Street St. Augustine, FL 32084
Cabana Boy: $12

Photo: Mallory Brooks for VISIT FLORIDA

Remember, People: Do Not Get in the Car with the Self-Professed Bad Man

Oct.17.17

Remember, People: Do Not Get in the Car with the Self-Professed Bad Man

by Michael Standaert

Beer in Ngapali Beach

Last year, long before the current wave of terrible violence began, I was in Ngapali Beach, a white-sand, beach-resort town in Rakhine State, having drinks with Sara—a hotel manager—and a local artist.

Our conversation got around to the “troubles” a few years ago. After news spread that Rohingya Muslims had raped a Rakhine girl, a Buddhist, violence ensued. As a result, tens of thousands of Rohingya had been moved to camps to the north of Ngapali Beach, around Sittwe.

Sara told me that during that time, right in front of where we were now sitting on the beach—where boys had been playing soccer just an hour before—a large group of local men had emerged from the shadows into the light from the bar, machetes in hand. They’d heard that “two boats with Muslims” were out there on water, and said if they came ashore they were going to kill them.

Sara finished her white wine and the local artist left after downing his lassi, and I was alone with the last of several caipirinhas. The bar keep made them strong and rummy, squeezed in several small limes and added brown sugar, on the right side of sweet.

There was still a little light, so I walked south down the beach to a clump of restaurants and ordered a local beer. A European couple, the only other customers, left after tiring of a slightly drunk local who was talking to them, wanting to take them to a disco. Each time he said disco, he’d wiggle his hips and shake his arms. Being alone after they left, I attracted the man, who sat down close to me and ordered a beer.

His name was Momo, he said. “I’m a bad man. Bad man. But good father. I own that restaurant there,” he gestured across the road, now dark. “I provide for my family. Take care of my parents, my wife’s parents.” But he was still a bad man, he laughed, because he liked disco.

I didn’t feel like walking back to the hotel, so decided to check the place out. We passed my hotel and about a half-kilometer on, took a left down a dark road into jungle. I could see neon and Christmas lights strung around a large wooden building. I asked if this was a disco, as he called it before. “KTV,” he said.

I decided I didn’t like the vibe of the place. It stank of mildew. Sweat. I stayed close to the door, which was still slightly ajar. He was talking with the doormen, asking about “girls, I want girls.” I could tell they were wary of having a foreigner in here while Momo was trying to line up KTV girls. The doormen were shaking their heads. I grabbed Momo and said, let’s go, some other time. He tried to tell me there are other places, but I convinced him to drop me off at my hotel.

“I’m a bad man,” he said as I shook his hand. He drove off, steady, not a swerve.

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