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FLORENCE, Italy—Thirsty, I exited Florence’s Basilica of Santa Maria Novella, home to works by Botticelli and Brunelleschi. I crossed the beautiful piazza to a collection of kiosks, where I was immediately confronted with four of Europe’s most popular exported beers. Then, a fifth option, a wild card straight out of the universe of “The Simpsons”: Duff.
As a lifelong fan of America’s favorite cartoon family, I jumped at the chance to sample the mythical brew that Homer immortalized as “the beer that makes the days fly by” and “the only beer for me, smooth creamy Duff.” Indeed, the bottle in my hand professed to be “The Legendary Duff Beer.”
Nevertheless, my Florentine encounters with Duff were only beginning. In the world-famous Ponte Vecchio Market, Duff Brewery sweatshirts were sold alongside Universita di Firenze apparel and the jerseys of Italian soccer heroes. Duff was everywhere—in supermarkets, in bars, on tacky merchandise. Florence was a pelvic-thrusting Duffman and a belching Barney away from Duff Gardens.
Motivation for the Duff fetish—other than manipulation of American college students like myself—is unclear. I doubt Duff beer is popular among local Florentines, and the beer’s label reveals that it is brewed in Germany, not Italy.
But during my 16 years living in Europe, I’d never come across it. Though friends of mine have since claimed to have “seen it around,” there certainly seems to be an abnormal concentration of Duff in Florence.
Further research reveals that Duff’s link to the Italian city may reach deeper than the wallets of enthusiastic Simpsonites. Among Florence’s 29 sister cities is none other than Cambridge, Mass. There, “Simpsons” co-creators Al E. Jean ’81 and Mike L. Reiss ’81 met as freshmen at Harvard in Holworthy Hall, where Conan C. O’Brien ’85, a future “Simpsons” writer, would later live.
Before my trip to Florence, I never really understood the meaning of “sister city.” Nor did I understand why Florence’s parents felt the need to have 30 children—at the very least they could have mixed it up with a son here and there.
Then I looked it up. As it turns out, a “sister city” promotes cultural and commercial ties with its counterpart. The Florence-Cambridge connection makes a lot of sense once you think about it. There are few commodities that carry as much cultural and commercial significance as Duff beer.
However, the smooth and creamy brainchild of Cambridge’s 80s luminaries was lost somewhere in the cultural exchange. It only took a few sips to realize that Duff was a disappointment, slotting in a couple notches below Heineken and thirty notches above Keystone Light.
Alexander Koenig '14, a sports writer, lives in Currier House.
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