if Monday is still a struggle, plan a little happiness, and slow down with one of my favorite Italian rituals

a gift from Hippocrates

We can thank Hippocrates for the Italian pre-dinner ritual of l’aperitivo, the noble descendant of the concoction he devised to stimulate the appetite. His was a sweet white wine infused with fraxinella, absinthe and rue, which meant it offered the added benefit of warding off plagues and pestilence.


Over the centuries, a white wine or Prosecco base has remained a mainstay, often mixed with soda and a bitter, such as Aperol, to make a spritz. Vermouth and Campari make a MiTo, derived from the cities Milano and Torino where they are made. Add soda water and the MiTo becomes an Americano. Or forget the soda water and add gin to make a Negroni. Add Prosecco instead of gin, it becomes the Negroni Sbagliato, which actually means a mistaken Negroni.


But there’s little mistaken about the art of the aperitivo. It is artistry, and not just in the drink. The Italians drink when they eat and and eat when they drink, so this pre-dinner beverage is always accompanied by savory snacks, and is best served with friends. Quantities are never overdone. The only excess comes from the sheer attention to detail.

Piazza Ducale

When I lived in Italy, I could stroll down the road from my apartment to one of Italy’s best kept secrets, Piazza Ducale in Vigevano. There I’d sit outside at one of the many bars to ready my appetite and in fact engage all of my senses, surrounded by the beauty of the 500 year old piazza, and the endless stream of locals, experts in slowing down and enjoying the moment.


Next time you’re in Italy, do as the locals do, preferably in the piazza under a setting summer sun. In the meantime, I’d love to hear what you do before dinner. Do you and your family or friends create special moments before you tuck in? Do you do it with an appetizer, a drink, or both? Might an Italian-style aperitivo be in your near future?

Buon appetito!

a bite to eat

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Yellow is the color we commonly associate with spring. It is the radiant color of sunshine, daffodils, lemons, bananas, emojis, highlighters, fluffy chicks, and the finest Pittsburgh sports shirts. It is a royal color. The early Tang dynasty banned common people and officials from wearing yellow, and declared royal palaces would be marked by yellow roofs.
It also denotes sickness—sallow skin, jaundice, or a bilious attack. It was the color of cowardice, as well as the star Jews were forced to wear, and of derogatory reference in the early twentieth century referring to immigrants from Asia.

Indian yellow

The pigment Indian yellow was popular among Indian painters in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Because of its odor, there was much conjecture about its origin. An Indian civil servant traced the mysterious yellow balls of pigment to a tiny suburb in Bengal. “There, a small group of gwalas (milkmen) tended a herd of ill-nourished cows they fed only on mango leaves and water. On this diet the cows produced extraordinarily luminous yellow urine—about three quarts per day per cow—which the gwalas collected in small earthen pots. Each night they boiled this down, strained it, and rolled the sediment into balls that were gently toasted over a fire and then left to dry out in the sun.”1

yellow books

The Italian word for yellow is giallo, which is also the word for thriller, because yellow book covers used to denote this genre of book. France, however, set the trend for yellow covers to mean sensationalist literature. In London in 1895, Oscar Wilde was arrested and later found officially guilty of gross indecency in court for carrying such a yellow book under his arm in public. Vincent Van Gogh painted a yellow book in two of his paintings. Yellow increasingly became symbolic of the rejection of repressed Victorian values, to the point where the final decade of the nineteenth century became known as the “Yellow Nineties”.

pause for yellow

Next time you see a daffodil, insert an emoji, or, for my writer friends, the next time you pick the dominant color for your book cover, perhaps you’ll #slowdown for a moment, and reflect on the story of yellow. And if you’re interested in reading more stories about colors, I highly recommend The Secret Lives of Color, by Kassia St. Clair, the inspiration and source for today’s post.

1T.N. Mukharji, “Piuri or Indian Yellow” in Journal of the Society for Arts, Vol. 32, No.1618 (Nov. 1883), pp. 16-17.



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