As a reader of mystery books and Italian gialli I have great affection for Andrea Camilleri’s Inspector Montalbano. But coming in a close second is Vicequestore Rocco Schiavone, the protagonist of a series written by Antonio Manzini. He’s bad-tempered and dour, dabbles in some illegal activities but is a good investigator. He’s imperfect and intelligent. He’s from Rome but has been posted to Aosta as punishment for taking the law into his own hands and beating up the criminal son of a well-connected person. He hates everything in Aosta, the cold, the mountains and the ugly snow boots everyone wears. He smokes weed in his office. He has lovers but is in love with and has long conversations with his wife – who is dead. The stories are gritty and tightly written, often a commentary on contemporary society. They’ve also been adapted into a highly watchable and atmospheric TV series starring Marco Giallini who inhabits the role of Schiavone perfectly.
Coinciding with the many events commemorating the 500th anniversary of Leonardo da Vinci’s death, the Metropolitan Museum is displaying one of his most extraordinary works, Saint Jerome in the Wilderness. The painting is on loan from the Vatican Museums. This unfinished work, which was started around 1483, brings to mind other paintings by Leonardo because of its background landscape and tones of ochre and green. But what draws one in is mostly the face and posture of the saint which strongly evoke his devotion and at the same time his torment. It seems almost trite to say it but Leonardo’s psychological understanding and artistic genius are on full view in this painting. See it.
After enjoying a Negroni as a weekend evening aperitivo I happened to notice a New York Times article discussing the cocktail – which is ever more popular and is celebrating its 100th birthday this year. When I looked into the history behind the cocktail and its name I found the story goes that it was born in Florence sometime between 1917 and 1920 with the year 1919 being the most commonly referenced. It was named after a local aristocrat, Count Camillo Negroni, who was known as an elegant bon viveur. One day the count asked the barman of the Caffe Casoni if he could modify (or fortify) an americano, a popular drink then, by substituting gin for soda. Soon the drink “in the style of the Conte Negroni” became the new rage. The recipe for the classic Negroni is straightforward: equal parts of bitter (typically Campari), sweet vermouth and gin. The drink must be stirred in a cocktail shaker and then poured into an ice-filled glass. Usually an orange rind twist is added. The alternative Negroni Sbagliato (or incorrect) came about when a barman used a brut spumante instead of gin while mixing the drink. Nowadays there are myriad, often delicious, variations on the Negroni but the original version is hard to beat.
Going through old family photos I was struck by the fact that all the men – especially in the first half of the 19th century – were always wearing stylish fedora hats. This made me think of my own teenage years when I went on a search for a perfect men’s Borsalino hat to complete my (I imagined) chic bohemian look. It made me wonder about the mystique attached to the name “Borsalino” and what its history was. It turns out that the iconic hat factory was founded in 1857 in Alessandria, in Piemonte, and named after its founder Giuseppe Borsalino who had trained in Paris as a hat maker. Hats were extremely popular and the Borsalino factory was turning out some 2,500 hats a day by the beginning of the 20th Century and the word “Borsalino” came to be synonymous with a wide-brimmed felt hat. One of the most enduring and recognizable images of the Borsalino is of Humphrey Bogart wearing it in the movie “Casablanca.” As time went on, particularly in the 1970s and 1980s the wearing of hats became less popular and the company produced and sold many fewer hats and even filed for bankruptcy. It has since been taken over by a private equity firm and relaunched, focusing on new markets, innovation and sustainability but without losing touch with its tradition of glamour and cultural significance. Time for a new Borsalino hat?