We are lucky enough to have some friends stationed in other bases around Europe and for Thanksgiving, we met up with one couple and their flown in family in Italy. He works for the Outdoor Recreation Department of the military base and was leading a group of single soldiers to Cervino Mountain, the Italian side of the infamous Matterhorn Mountain. The hotel, having catered to American skiers before, served an Italian version of Thanksgiving dinner on Thanksgiving Day. We enjoyed a five course meal, sans any frustrating normal Thanksgiving family conversations, and enjoyed turkey (but mostly veal) and Italian apple pie (an apple flavored dessert cake served with different kinds of flan). Not only was this gesture delicious, but very gracious of the Italian hotel owners to try to accommodate some Americans who may be missing home.
Dusty and our friends spent the daylight hours skiing, both down from the top to Italy and then down to the Switzerland side. There wasn’t a working cable car to take me to the top or I’d have joined them, but Dusty dragged the GoPro and the camera to the top so that I could see the infamous Matterhorn view. See it here!
Upon his return from the mountain on the second night, we ventured outside the hotel/restaurant into the banks of snow to enjoy the rest of the town. We passed pizzarias, ristorantes, sci (ski) rentals and other quaint little hotels like our own. This was such a small, one street town that we quickly ran in to the other soldiers and families from our hotel at the different eateries along the way. We sampled wine, cheese and olives in true Italian fashion at one lodge bar and then found a small pizzaria for dinner.
We sat down next to a group of Italian men, some older, some younger and two kids, everyone still clad in their ski gear. Towards the end of dinner, we noticed one of the waitresses filling up what appeared to be a wooden bowl with a half dozen spouts on the side with steamed coffee. We watched as she approached the table of the Italian men with the bowl, put the bowl down and then surprisingly, lit the entire dish on fire! Blue flames danced on the entire bowl’s surface for a minute and then she replaced the lid of the bowl to snuff out the fire. A single flame shot out one of the spouts and she tapped it with a spoon, almost to scold the blue flicker. The Italian men had clapped and cheered during the scene and once the flames were out, one man raised the spouts of the bowl to his mouth and drank. The next man rotated the bowl to a new spout to drink and the next man followed suit. They saw us staring (oops) and in Italian, ushered us over to their table.
“You want to try?” One of the children translated for their fathers to us in English when they saw us stumbling over the few Italians words we knew.
Dusty thanked them and being the daring soul that he is, took the bowl to try. “What kind of drink is it?” I asked, unsuccessfully trying in Spanish to see if any of the words were similar enough to get the message across. They aren’t. Dusty drank and I could see he was fighting the urge to sputter. This was a strong drink. The men at the table all laughed and the closet one to us clapped Dusty on the back.
“For the ski, for the snow. It is coffee and liquor and oranges. It’s made with genepi (I later learned this is an Italian liquor made in the Alps). For the cold,” the child answered, gesturing to the window. Dusty opened the lid as he passed it to me and sure enough, there were orange peels floating on the surface.
I took the warm bowl in both hands, rotated spouts, said a quick prayer and took a sip. It was hot and strong and burned like no other, but the taste was so rich that it didn’t matter. It tasted like warmed rum with just a hint of coffee and orange but it was just delicious. We thanked them and tried to retreat back to our table, but that’s American thinking. When an Italian invites you to their table, not only are you there to share the food, you’re there to stay until the drinks are dry and the bar’s closed.
Several rounds of the drink later, we had learned that this was an Italian drink specific to the Cervino mountain region of the Alps. The Cervino/Matterhorn slice of the Alps has its own culture and this drink is only ever served or found on the Italian side of the mountain. By this time, I had also been shown dozens of pictures of some of the men’s grandchildren, wives, daughters, vacations to the coasts (for future reference, Italian men generally wear speedos, no matter their age) and the latest renovations of their homes in Rome. Dusty shared pictures of his hikes that former weekend in the Italian Dolomites and I brokenly spoke to them about seeing Pope Francis in Rome.
We went back out that night feeling quite warm amidst the flurries, but more from the welcoming embraces of the Italians who had befriended us than just the *cough* pretty powerful mountain drink.