This world is full of surprises I thought as I drank my cappuccino this morning and took a bite out of my cornetto which is the Italian equivalent of the French croissant. I have to say I thought I was drinking an Italian invention and eating a French one albeit that I prefer the Italian version of a croisant because it uses no butter. I am not a fan of butter , not because of any health kick but because my mother never really increased our consumption of it when it came of rationing in the early ’50’s . She had gone off it after years without and so she kept just showing the butter knife to the toast but never really applied any. At boarding school it was fabulous. Two pads of butter was the evening ration and for some reason most of the other cadets craved the stuff. My butter became one of the great bartering tools. Jars of marmite were proffered, packs of 10 ciggys, extra drill substituted, bunks made, the list went on and on . I have never eaten butter since. But back to the coffee and croissant. Italian and French creations? No chance it seems. The Austrians got there beforehand ! I know it isn’t enough they get the best bed chairs by the pool and managed to convince the world that Hitler was a German they have grabbed a couple of the world’s favourite breakfast items.
You need to cast your mind back to September 11th and 12th in 1683 and the Battle of Vienna. The Austrians defeated the Turks at the gates of Vienna after a two month siege. To celebrate the glorious victory an Austrian baker sat down and or actually probably stood up and prepared a new snack the ingredients of which still make the croissant. Meanwhile out on the battlefield the Turks were in full flight, they ran so fast they left their entire siege camp in tack. The Austrians rummaged through the goodies and found a strange powder that the Turks drank neat ( Turkish coffee ) The Austrians decided to quickly improved on it and added stirred milk to make a cappuccino. What the Italians and French did later was give them names. Cappuccino as early readers of this blog already know was named after the colour of the habit used by a group of monks.
Brioche is what they call a cornetto in the North of Italy.
So Italy didn’t provide the world with its morning drink and Caffe Nero in the UK need to change their name to Herr Schicklegruber. But if we didn’t give the world the cappuccino what did we give them. Well the ubiquitous pizza of course and I guess organised crime. No one had really organised it before the Italians decided to do it but the idea spread like wildfire.
It, of course really took off in America and many might say that was just Italian pay back for sending the world the hamburger and the place to buy it in McDonalds.
I am of course actually very fond of America and indeed have eaten my fair share of hamburgers over the years though not often in McDonalds.
When searching for my new A.A. Gill book yesterday I came across this piece written by him in Vanity Fair for next month’s edition. It is well worth a read. I particularly like page two and the Salman Rushdie piece as well as the final line of the essay.
So how can I finish by combining Austria, Italy , America and why not the Swiss. Simply by showing you one of the greatest films ever made. The superb Orson Wells and his speech in The Third Man as Harry Lime talking about Italians under the tyranny of the Borgias producing Michelangelo and the Swiss with peace the cuckoo clock. I’ve given you the full 6 mins so you can see a little of Vienna and enjoy the music so be patient for the clock.