Do Bianchi: The origin of the name.
My pseudonym Do Bianchi (Venetian for “two glasses of white wine”) came about when I was writing anonymously for The Magazine of La Cucina Italiana back when I first started working in NYC in the late 1990s. The editor and I wrote 90% of the content and so we each assumed a few noms de plume.
Do Bianchi was inspired by the pseudonym of one of my favorite authors, Samuel Clemens. In the early part of his life, when he lived and worked as a journalist in San Francisco, saloon-goers could often be overheard calling out “mark twain!” In other words: “mark me down for two glasses of whisky.” In the latter part of his life, evidently embarrassed by the origin, he invented a series of less savory explanations.
Trying to come up with my own pseudonym, I remembered the line you often heard in Venetian osterie: “do bianchi!” (doh BEE’AHN-kee), “give me two ombre (or small glasses) of white wine!”
The Venetian term ombra means a small pour of wine to be consumed standing at the counter of a bar. The word’s origin is attributed to a wine carriage that appeared in the shadow (ombra in Italian and Venetian, umbra in Latin) of the campanile or bell tower of Piazza San Marco (St. Mark’s Square in Venice).
As the shadow moved, the wine seller would follow (in order to keep his wines and his patrons cool). One would say: ci vediamo all’ombra (xe vedemo al’ombra) or “I’ll meet you at the shadow.” By metonym, the term came to mean a glass of wine.
With all due respect, this is how Mark Twain chose his pen name—it had to do with navigating the Mississippi, rather than tipple. He had a couple of other pen names as well. This isn’t to say he, and others didn’t like Whiskey, just that the provenance of his pen name is not as you describe it:
Twain loved the paddlewheel steamboat and he loved the river. As a matter of fact, it was during his years on the river that he chose his pen name. “Mark Twain” was a frequent call of the leadsman. It meant that the water was 2 fathoms (12 feet) deep and indicated safe water.
The leadsman is the person who “heaves the lead” and “sings the mark”. In the days of Mark Twain, the mark meanings were actually sung as the paddle boat cautiously made its way along the river in potentially shallow water.
Twain claimed that his famous pen name was not entirely his invention. In Life on the Mississippi, he wrote:
“Captain Isaiah Sellers was not of literary turn or capacity, but he used to jot down brief paragraphs of plain practical information about the river, and sign them “MARK TWAIN,” and give them to the New Orleans Picayune. They related to the stage and condition of the river, and were accurate and valuable; … At the time that the telegraph brought the news of his death, I was on the Pacific coast. I was a fresh new journalist, and needed a nom de guerre; so I confiscated the ancient mariner’s discarded one, and have done my best to make it remain what it was in his hands—a sign and symbol and warrant that whatever is found in its company may be gambled on as being the petrified truth; how I have succeeded, it would not be modest in me to say.”
DB! Dying to know what musicians were there last night? Please do tell! I am a displaced Texan and Longhorn and am so happy that you’ve made it down there. I will, I will, make it home one day. The way your girl finally did. Now, back to the musicians…?
@Ana it was such a great night: Kevin Lovely, Miles Huzinga, Ephraim Owens, the “Kat’s Meow”, and the guy who really blew me away was Bruce Robison, who did a fantastic set. Of course, Ray and Kat were the showstoppers. There were a lot of other folks, too, who just jumped up and did a song or two. David Garza was supposed to come but got called away at the last minute… he’s so great… Let us know when you make it back to the ATX to visit…
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Grazie for the post on Susumaniello, which I am about to open now. Previews for a trip to Puglia in May.
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