Monday, January 29, 2007

A few photos

There's more to tell about Christmas and New Year's, but photo posts are easier, and maybe even more popular, so....

Here's a look at that potted tree. Can you see the popcorn and tangerines? They're just above the explosion of gifts marked "Nora."

This grainy photo is of Nora and me twirling on the cup ride. In the center of Rome, in Piazza Navona, they set up a Christmas festival every year. Toys, a carousel, carnival games, and cotton candy.

Working on the train.
I would send Christmas cards too, but I've never been able to exploit this child's labor as well as her Mimi.

Quite possibly my favorite photo of my dad ever.

My mom standing in an actual alley in Venice.

Gondola in Venice.

Gondola in Venice.

Friday, January 26, 2007

More Differences between an Italian Christmas and a Texan Christmas

2. Fruit Cakes. Here in Italy the Panettone is treasured. Grocery stores and bakeries set up veritable entrenchments of panettone boxes in the aisles. (Pyramid-shaped boxes, like that one on the right, that come with their own nifty handle.) They come in an assortment of flavors, but the tried-and-true, original fruit cake variety is the most popular. The Italians go nuts for them. In December, every pedestrian in Rome can be seen carrying a Panettone home to their loved ones. An obvious cultural difference to the implied "I don't like you very much," that comes along with the five fruit cakes sent in the US each year. The origin of that difference? Another one of the Great Roman Mysteries. The cakes taste just as good as they do in the states-- like the overly-browned crust of a dry yellow cake with bits of crunchy raisins and nuts. (As opposed to the cakes with bits of gelled fruits and nuts in the states.)

3. Media. This Christmas I did not see Frosty the Snowman, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, A Very Special Peanuts Christmas, Kiss Saves Santa, or 24 hours of A Christmas Story. I also did not have to listen to "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree," "Jingle Bell Rock," or Holiday Favorites on Muzak.

4. The Santa Experience. He comes here too. He's still pulled by reindeer, and he brings presents. He also fills the stocking, BUT he does not put all the candy and trinkets in your stocking that he brought for you. Why? Because a witch attacks his sleigh every Christmas Eve, beats the reindeer with her broom, and takes off with half the loot. Then 12 days later on the Day of the Epifany, she brings it back. Maybe she feels guilty after living with candy for 12 days. Maybe she nibbles away until she gets full. Another Great Mystery.

Post Script
I decided to do a little investigating into La Befana (the witch) to get to the bottom of this 12-day hostage of candy. And here is one reason why I believe you should never make judgments about a culture until you know the language.
Apparently La Befana represents the visit of The Wise Men to an old lady during their voyage. She gave them a place to stay, but declined their offer to join them in the search for the Christ child. To this day she regrets that decision and is still looking for the Christ Child (inexplicably filling stockings with candy and coal and sweeping floors across Italy along the way).

I suppose when the waitress told Jack and I about La Befana, we misinterpreted her pantomimes and the little Italian we knew, and instead of "she sweeps your floor" we got "she beats the reindeer." And we've been spreading this bastardized version across the world.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

We're Terrible

Over a month and not a word.
And now I have about... oh ...10 minutes to post something. Let's see what I can manage.
Major differences I noticed and can remember with only 10 minutes between a Texan Christmas and an Italian Christmas.
1. Christmas trees here are potted. All of them. These aren't the special Christmas Trees, and they don't come with special instructions. I know that they should because Cam got one a year ago. She was not supposed to water the tree. Instead she was supposed to carefully arrange ice cubes around the trunk, allowing very cold water to soak the dirt in a slow, drip-by-drip fashion. Because it's hot in Texas, I guess. (It occurs to me that the many trees that form the "Piney Curtain" in East Texas do not get the same sort of treatment from the residents there. And yet they survive.) first I was very excited by this potted tree. We rearranged the furniture to make room for our little tree, and strung it with ornaments, popcorn, and tangerines. (This is not an Italian thing. This is a crafty Jack thing.) Then I realized that putting the tree in the house required the furniture to be rearranged. Rearranged so that the tree was the focal point of our living room instead of...say...the blue refrigerator that sits in our kitchen/living room space. Having a Christmas tree in your living room is not really exciting or practical in March. And nobody has a yard. I started to find great amusement in the realization that these Italians must buy potted trees every feel better about having the tree...and then they must dump them in the street on January 7, just like us Texans.
But that didn't happen. Ours is still there--out on the street. As for the rest of's still a mystery to me.