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Honey Journal — The Italian Job

Wednesday, Nov 24, 2010

Honey Journal #33

Name: Jalongo and Vignolini Miele Italiano di Flori di Eucalipto

You can buy it: In fine food stores in Italy or on the Internet here.

Country: Italy

Color: Carmel

Flavor: Soft caramel chew with a tang of eucalyptus.

Consistency: Solid. You have to peel it with a spoon

Fragrance: Sweet musk

Notes:

Tempus fugit. The older you get the faster it goes. In two months, we leave on our next Prager Listener Cruise to Southeast Asia and I’m still thinking about the honey I want to write about from the last cruise. So, in the spirit of wrapping up some unfinished business, I want to tell you about an Italian honey I found, the bees who make it, share some observations about the ruins at Pompeii and wish you all a very sweet Thanksgiving.

The honey: Several decades before the big wave of Italian immigrants arrived on the shores of this country in the late 19th century, Italian bees had taken up residence. Beekeepers in Europe discovered that the Italian bee combined a mild disposition (they didn’t swarm) with a great work ethic, producing more honey faster than any other bee strain. American beekeepers heard about this discovery and imported some hives. It wasn’t long before the Italians came to dominate the American bee scene. Almost all the honey we get from Europe and the US is the product of Italian bees. So, along with other great Italian imports like La Guardia, Fermi, Sinatra, Capra, Coppola, cappuccino, sports cars, leather shoes and fine suits we owe a debt to the Italian bee.

I found this honey in a shop in Rome and it’s just a delight. For the name alone you’d want to own it. Mild, but distinctive, a caramel chew cut with a tang of eucalyptus. Sample it while listening to Il Travatore or watching The Godfather.

Thoughts on Pompeii:

Pompeii, of course, is the city on the base on Mt. Vesuvius that was destroyed by a volcano in 79 AD. Most of the residents literally drowned in ash, some frozen in mid-action. My wife, Susie, has always been fascinated with this tragedy. She also has a thing about the Titanic. Both help explain her devotion to disaster movies, high and low. I’m not sure there’s a disaster movie she hasn’t seen, but now I digress, although only slightly. She really wanted to see Pompeii. Since we would be in the neighborhood (Europe), we planned a short pre-cruise diversion.

Now, if you’ve given any thought to Pompeii, don’t you imagine that it would be in some beautifully preserved national park? That was my image, at least. Well, the image is not accurate. The ruins of Pompeii are outside the city of Naples, in the center of lower middle class suburb, off a busy street. I must admit that threw me. Herculaneum, another Roman City devastated by the volcano and much smaller than Pompeii is surrounded on all sides by apartment buildings. Laundry hangs out above the walls of the ancient resort town. Here’s another thing I just didn’t think about. You go down into the cities. Makes sense once you think about it because they were buried beneath two thousand years of city growth. They were only rediscovered in the 18th century. Both ancient sites are fascinating, full of unexpected wonders at every turn. But, I must admit and I’m not proud to say it, I was expecting more Vegas. I guess I’ve spent too much time at Caesar’s Palace.

If you do plan a trip to Pompeii, I have three tips. One: hire a guide to take you around. There’s a lot to see and a guide will get you to all the highlights and provide much needed context. Two: Read Robert Harris’ novel, Pompeii It’s a fun way to get some very useful background. And, three, and maybe most important, be sure to visit the Naples National Archaeological Museum. This is where they have taken all the best paintings, frescoes and artifacts in order to preserve them from the elements. Very few people do this. But you should. It will transform the experience of Pompeii and Herculaneum for you, giving it a third dimension that you won’t have without it.

One more thought about Naples. It’s the pizza capital of the world. The Neapolitans have contempt for the rest of the world’s pizza. Don’t even ask them about Roman pizza. They’ll be insulted that you mentioned it in the same sentence as Naples pizza. The key is the crust: soft, supple and not too thick. You can go anywhere in Naples and get primo pizza.

A Thought on Thanksgiving:

My mother started a family tradition years ago of having everyone say what they’re thankful for before we commence eating. My sister, Amy, came up with the best all-time answer — indoor plumbing. A few other items come to mind, however. Here’s what I’m thinking about this year, prompted by a news story that caught my eye earlier in the week. 15 million people around the globe applied to get a residence visa to live in the USA last year. Only 50K were selected. To get this visa is literally to win the lottery. It’s not stretch to say that to be born here is to be a lottery winner. Compare this country, as Dennis always points out, to utopia and it doesn’t look so great; compare it to every other country in the world and it’s paradise.

Photos: 1) Wall painting from Herculaneum in Naples Arch Museum 2) Susie on Pompeii Str 3)Herculaneum framed by modern city 4) Fast food shop, Pompeii 5) Allen at Forum, Pompeii 6) Wall painting from Pompeii in Naples Arch Museum

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