Dinner Table Stories
Tony Soprano never arrived for the pousse-café
Sometimes silence becomes present at drawn-out dinner conversations, now that the end of 2019 is dawning.
After the ubiquitous comments regarding recent current events, people expect you, as a connoisseur, to talk about your expertise in table manners, bottles, and wine glasses. We’ve written this text for those moments.
Part of this “Connoisseur Guide” will be a TV series, inserted in our customary news commentary in this Blog. It will reclaim for the MEGA Blog readers, certain episodes, anniversaries, highlights, and events in the story of drinks and food as a cultural performance.
This is the first issue of the predictably discontinued series. The stories have anecdotes and facts that apart from enriching the reader’s palate will also serve to demonstrate social erudition and will be greatly entertaining. Especially when the conversation begins to dwindle.
“The Sopranos”, (HBO, 1999-2007 won 21 Emmy Awards and 5 Golden Globes) was a series which critics from the sector considered the most profitable series in the history of contemporary TV. In September 2016, the magazine Rolling Stones drew up a list of the “100 best TV series of all time”, and gave The Sopranos the first place.
In the series, Tony Soprano, the capo, ate what David Chase, the scriptwriter, wrote. David’s last name isn’t Chase; it’s DiCesare. He’s a writer-director of great prestige who comes from a Neapolitan family. Chase has won seven Emmy awards.
As it happens, during the third episode the series spectators and the scriptwriters began a dispute. The Sopranos kept going from pasta to pizza, and sandwiches, too fast, and too frequently.
Furthermore, and worse, in the series, there were too many refrigerators. Consequently, Chase incorporated an Italian chef as a secondary character. At least this person spoke knowledgeably about the different styles of artisan pasta, the glorious ethnic dishes, food preparation, and the secrets of sauce.
This worked out very well, but unexpectedly, while on vacation in Italy, at the end of June 2013, James Gandolfini (whom no one called James and was known as Tony Soprano) died of a heart attack.
The actor and his character were infused with non-ethnic excess. According to the New York Times, in his last dinner before the heart failure, he ate a large amount of foie gras, and fried prawns which he smeared with mayonnaise and hot sauce. He didn’t drink wine, but rather “rum, piña colada, and beer”.
“This mixture of non-Italian drinks was the cause of his heart attack” was commented in whispers by his friends in New York. They maintained that a grappa would have been much more appropriate as a digestive.
- Truth and fiction
When Salvo Montalbano, the famous detective of Italian literature, sits at the table, he eats what his creator (the deceased writer and theater director Andrea Camilleri) knows and wants.
That is, everything “substantiated Sicilian ”. This regional cooking is more than adequate for the fictional commissar’s appetite, as well as for the most read Italian writer.
Television, which seems to know about mobsters less than movie producers, said that when James Gandolfini died, it had lost a “dramatic giant”.
Television and Sopranos fans mourned his loss. Camilleri, the most successful Italian crime-novel writer, could never have imagined even in dreams that the fictional capo’s heart would fail so early on. It happened in Rome after some foie-gras.
Gandolfini represented a tough, sad-faced man who had a psychiatrist and ate anything when he was depressed. And when he wasn’t as well.
Chase the scriptwriter never had him taste or comment on wine. Clint Eastwood, the other side of the American tough guy, eats hamburgers, drinks beer from a bottle, and straight bourbon with no ice on a small glass. Eastwood is always going for a run or boxing. Tony went to the psychiatrist more frequently than to the gym.
Neither Tony nor Chase seem to have read and learned from the book “Mafia Sits at the Table” by Kermoal and Bartolomei. This book is famous for its story about how capos prepare the menus for their parties with the same care and dedication as they prepare their crimes.
In many societies, food constitutes a liturgy, a ritual in which each detail is perfectly planned.
In The Sopranos, that’s not present. Tony was another Don. A different, sad and sometimes soft one, state the specialized critics. They lamented in hushed surprise that he had died eating French foie-gras, and not Spaghetti alla Bolognese, nor ravioli all’a arrabbiata. Neither the famous deserts or the typical sweets of the Italian regional after-dinner talks.
Famous Italian digestives
At the dinner table of a cuisine as rich as the Italian, the list of digestive drinks (the pousse-café, the French would say) is long. When you decide to investigate, you’ll always stumble on many.
Among internationally consolidated famous bottles you’re sure to find Grappa, Strega, Sambuca, Limoncello, Frangélico, Amaretto, Fernet Branca.
At Italian dinner tables, bitter taste prevails. The story begins in the Middle Ages when monks at the monasteries endeavored to make medicinal concoctions, using alcohol and herbs. Later on, these liqueurs arrived at the upper classes.
However, the secret of their production remained a family secret in many cases, until the end of the Twentieth Century.
Professor Alberto Soria