Thursday, December 16, 2010

We Wish You a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! - Vi auguriamo Buon Natale e Buon Anno!

Today, in Harvard Square, I saw a box of English mince pies in the front window of a shop that sells food imported from Europe. I was so excited I went inside and bought one. While there, I couldn't help talking to an English person who was also buying mince pies. That red box brought me back to Christmas in London.

We wish you a Merry Christmas
We wish you a Merry Christmas
We wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
Good tidings we bring to you and your kin;
Good tidings for Christmas and a Happy New Year!

This song was always accompanied by mulled wine, hot chocolate, Christmas puddings and mince pies. The Oxford Street lights, the West End skating Santas and the Gospel singers in Trafalgar Square. Christmas carols in Covent Garden, ice skating around historical palaces and loads of drinks. This was my Christmas in London. I wanted to tell a story about it. You'll find it at the bottom of this posting, in case you are keen to read it. I hope William will read it one day.

This year in the US I have been so bad at keeping in touch, or sending cards and gifts to my friends for Christmas. Below is the card I should have sent everyone this year. It is John's Christmas card for me this year. I found it on John's computer by pure chance because my mother called me from Italy to ask me to send her a couple of photos of William in digital format. So I searched for pictures on John's machines and John's secret Christmas card for me immediately caught my eyes.

What did I do for Christmas this year? I managed to put very simple lights on the patio (yes because here in the US decorating your house is the number one top priority at Christmas and in the street where we live it's like being at Dysneyland!). I also managed to find the Christmas gifts for William (that are age 3+ but are not potential chocking hazards, that don't look like stacking cups and that don't fall apart in millions of pieces I have to go find under the coach - not easy). I got him presents. I completely forgot everyone else.

Only a couple of days ago John and I started discussing what we wanted for Christmas. It might be because we haven't had the Boston snow yet. That usually tells me that Christmas is coming here. Also, when William is with his tata (babysitter) I can hardly find the time to go shopping for myself. By shopping I mean buying stuff like a couple of white socks for William, prosciutto cotto, make up removal lotion and the conditioner that doesn't burn my hair. Honestly, I can't be bothered to go shopping for fancier Christmas stuff here. I don't know if this is because I have become a boring stay at home mom or if it is because here in the US there is no need nor visible appreciation for fancier stuff. When did I last go dressed up to a party? Opps, I forgot, I am actually going to a party today. It is a baby party. One of those parties where the babies dress up and the moms come in something slightly better than their PJs. I am wearing a red sweater, the only pair of clean jeans I have and I am bringing the minced pies. I hope they will not ask me if there is meat inside.

What else? This year I have been busy taking photos and videos of my two happy men. This is priceless but very simple compared to my London life. I wanted to take William to one of those Christmas Villages they have here in the US with colorful candles, lights and candies but our weekends have been pretty full. We have been busy buying a house, moving in and making the new house feel like a home. Not a small thing. Now what I really want this Christmas is to have fun with my two happy men and with the rest of the Kruse family. It will be William's first Christmas in Wyoming. Most probably the first of many others. Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow! (but only after we have landed in Denver! :))

My Christmas in London

Three days before Christmas. I am on the train on my way to work. A commuter is setting next to (and cheerfully chatting with) a homeless guy who is complaining about something. "It is Christmas mate! I can offer you a pie, if you want!" "I don't need a fucking pie!" Everyone laughs.

I am getting off the train at Victoria station in Central London. For breakie (i.e., breakfast) I receive a couple of Christmas treats as part of a promotional offer. Sweet I don't have to buy breakfast. I am 10 minutes late, but then I get a call from my boss saying that it is ok to be late to work today. He doesn't sound sober. Last night we all went home pretty late from the company Christmas party. Last Christmas he got so drunk at the company party that he took his clothes off and then suddenly disappeared in his underwear. The next time I saw him the following Monday morning, he was in his office briefing a few of us on a new project.

I slowly make my way to the tube through the secret entry way at the back of the bus station bypassing the massive crowd stuck outside the main entry. Going down the long escalator to get on the Victoria line, the one that makes you feel like your are descending Everest, there is the saxophonist who is playing Winter Wonderland. Every year, the same guy in that same location.

At work everyone is eating Christmas pudding and mince pies. My hung over work mates are wandering around the office like zombies, trying to find people to chat with, hoping that it will soon be lunchtime and that we can all go to the local pub for more drinks. After lunch, some of us make our back way to the office, trying to be professional. Others are off for the day. 4 pm is the unofficial time for the people still in the office (me included!) to start drinking again. They start wandering around each other desks with glasses of sparkling wine in their hands. You ask them what wine they are drinking. They don't know. "It's Christmas mate! Have a drink!", this way they persuade the ones still working to stop. Many empty bottles appear on various desks but I am probably the only one paying attention to that. I can't stand more drinks so I am off for the day. On my way home, I receive a call from a friend. Fancy a drink at my place? Why not? At her house, we start dipping our pringles in humous and continue to drink and chat. Our favorite topic: men! I am pleasantly drunk (or just chilled, like the Brits would say). It's too late. I have missed the last tube train. My friend waits for the bus with me. About ten minutes in the frosty cold. Here it is,    kisses and hugs. "Have a nice Christmas" "You too! Have fun in Italy".  "I'll call you to see if you got home ok, all right?" "All right then", I say. I manage to grab a seat on the second floor of an overly rowded double decker bus and, like a child, I fall asleep and for some magic phenomena I cannot possibly explain, I then wake up the morning after. My head feels heavy and I manage to reach work half asleep. That's all right. I have had a jolly good time, like the Brits would say.

It's Friday, late afternoon. I am waiting outside a Gothic church in Kensington in my long black coat. It is all frosty outside and many people of all ages are waiting outside the Church to go to see the traditional candlelight concert inside. They are all British except for few foreigners like me who have heard about the concert from the locals. Inside the Church, a beautiful chorus starts singing the traditional carols. There are candles lit all around the packed Church. There are people standing everywhere, downstairs and upstairs, some in uncomfortable positions. Nobody is moving, neither during the songs, nor during the silence of the pauses. They all look like statues. I am filled with emotions and wonder whether it is appropriate or not to look at the people around me. They are all still nailed down in the same positions they took when the concert started. I try hard to imitate them, but I move and drop few tears here and there. Still, I don't make any noise.

Then the magic begins. I am no longer thinking about the movements of my body. I am feeling lighter than ever and I am staring at the soloist while trying to capture the subtleties of the pauses. My heart is filled with joy and I don't need to smile to share the magic of that moment with the strangers around me. I am hooked. Jingle Bells is the last carol and the concert is over. We leave the Church one by one, in silence. Some are smiling, others are trying to hide their emotions but you can see that they are trying. I belong to this second category.

I go to the nearby Cafe' in the Crypt through the entrance that is not obvious. I pick the one table still free at the back against the stone wall and start writing by a weakly flickering candle. I am taking a few bites of a friable scone with clotted cream while sipping white tea from a hot terracotta cup. Next to me, there is someone reading a Jane Austin novel. One table over, there's a woman writing Christmas cards. Then there is a bloke who looks like a professor, probably correcting the work of a student. Beyond him, a homeless guy having a soup. We are all sitting there, occasionally glancing at each other with some Medieval Christmas tunes playing in the background.

The next day, it is late Saturday morning. I still am a bit hungover. Christmas is in two days. Is that possible? I need to find gifts for my parents! Where? I have a couple of places in mind, one in Notting Hill and one in Carnaby Street, but on a Saturday afternoon the tube will be crowded and if I catch the bus I will not get to either shop in time before they shut. I jump on the first bus coming to my door step and get off at Trafalgar Square in Central London. Hari, hari, hari, hari... I am waiting for the Hari Krishna people to go by.

I make my way to Hamley's, a toy store where I often go in to warm up and daydream on cold rainy days. The Christian fanatic is still screaming outside - I bet he is there right now - "Hey you, yes I am talking to you, have you heard of Jesus? Do you know who Jesus is? Yes, I am talking to you young woman!". "Ok, ok, I've heard you but I have to buy a gift for my dad!", I quickly say and enter the store.

Voila', here it is. This is the perfect gift for my father: a playmobile toy with a little magician inside. It says age 4+. Perfect, my dad will love it! (he is an eccentric architect with many hobbies, including magic tricks). "Going to Italy for Christmas? Oh, that is lovely! Have a nice Christmas and see you in the new year!", says the magician at the till with his Santa hat. He doesn't know me, but I recognize him as I worked there my second Christmas in London doing the classic cups and balls trick.

For my mom's Christmas gift, I am heading to Fortnum & Mason across the street from Hamley's. There, the luxurious aromatic teas, the Christmas puddings and colorful cakes you only see in adverts catch my attention. "It is Christmas, you MUST treat yourself!", I hear my friends say in the back of my head. "Ok, ok, all right then." At the end instead of looking for my mom's gift I end up sipping hot chocolate and eating pudding.

One day to Christmas. Still haven't found my mom's gift. Londoners often say that everything that exists on earth can be found in London. The problem is to know what you are looking for. I am on the phone with my friend Kristin. She says "Why don't you go to John Lewis (it is THE PLACE to go to for buying gifts in London)". "Thanks Kristin!" Hold on a minute, it was in that store that I ended up fighting with a woman last year over a pair of gloves. Ok, I am not going there. Instead, I take the bus to Trafalgar Square, then the short-cut to Leicester Square. There at the funfair with the old fashioned carousel, there are a couple of drunken fat slags wearing short skirts with no tights, singing a mixture of Christmas carols and cheerful tunes like "Don't worry, be happy. Tu, tu, tu, tu, tu, tu, tu, tu, tu, tu, tu, tu, tu, tu, tu... Don't you worry, be happy! It's Christmas, come on, smile!". I smile and continue walking past the guy who is playing Jingle Bells with the road traffic cone at the corner of Shaftesbury Avenue in Piccadilly Circus. From there I spot one of the sex shops in the red light district that carries all kinds of wacky things. There! I head straight in without a second thought. I knew I should have come here. I'll get this naked baby pissing. Can't get more original than this. My mom will love it!

The best gifts I could possibly give my parents.

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