Friday, December 23, 2011

The Christmas Jinx - La Sfiga di Natale

This year Christmas was on its way but I just didn't want to get the message. We had an exceptionally warm fall and Christmas was not in my thoughts until the Immacolata Virgin day (8th December), the day when the Italians start putting out their Christmas decorations. The tour of the Enchanted Village was kind of an exception. On the 8th I finally realized that Christmas was coming whether I was prepared for it or not.

However, this year, the Christmas Jinx (la sfiga di Natale), the little monster who likes to come just before December 25th, came back to ruin it all. What could go wrong two weeks before Christmas? Anything could ruin it when I was a child: a bad mark at school, a broken piece of antique (probability of this happening in my parents' house: 90%!) or a snappy comment to my mother. Anything really could turn Christmas into a disaster in my childhood. Because of that, many Christmas arrived in Italy with my parents and I angry, resentful and with a heavy feeling of loss. "Another shitty Christmas!", I would think each time. There were years I just wished Christmas would go away.

Later in life, after I moved to England, the Christmas Jinx kept coming back in different forms: snow near the airport where I was supposed to fly, a new job three days before Christmas and my parents falling down. Every year, the same farse. Same blown up expectations, same telephone calls, same special arrangements with friends, same fantasies about people I was going to see and the things I was going to do. I was already imagining the taste of home (food), the Italian booze (good wine), the old Signora with the three layers of makeup on her face gift wrapping my present, the "Buon Natale" wishes after midnight mass, the smell of panettone, moscato and hot chocolate in the backroom of the San Lorenzo Church, the unwrapping of the presents under my parents' nativity, then, on Santo Stefano's day, the calm after the storm: the Christmas movie at the local cinema after a nice aperitivo. It'll be great! Can't wait.

"NO!" said the Christmas Jinx Monster this year. "This year you will not go to Italy for Christmas. Sorry!".

The bad luck started coming in early December. I was having a problem walking with one foot. The pain kept increasing and the week before Christmas my ability to walk went down to zero. Then three days before our big trip to Italy, the ugly truth came out from the podiatrist's mouth, "See that line on the x-ray? You have a broken bone in your foot". I was told I had to wear this boot and wait six weeks until it heals.

My lovely boot
Those words fell on me like the curse of a spirit. The next day, I was at home, frantically trying to pump air into my giant boot with the feeling as if my left leg was about to explode and fire my wounded toe as a missile. No kidding. I was struggling to carry out my daily duties without experiencing pain - and by duties I don't mean cooking, feeding or potty training Tronk. No, I mean, going to the kitchen to get some water or going to have a wee without toys stuck to the velcro of my boot! Later that afternoon I had something important to do - run a Children Christmas party with around 40 people. No, I could not postpone it (see video)

The day after the party my foot was in agony and there was still nothing packed for our upcoming trip to Italy (this year we had to purchase three tickets at a high cost as Tronk is older than two to have the luxury of spending Christmas in my own country).

"No! I cannot go on this trip!" I said to John after spending a night trying to find a pain-free position. So there I was, sitting on the couch, with ice pack on my toe, first investigating the number of restaurants open on Christmas day - zero! - then, the available take out food options on that day - chinese!

The only thing that seemed to help me feel better in the truly Italian way was to know that there were a few other people in bad shape: my mother suffering of shoulders' pain, friends in bed with flu and even an old school mate unable to walk (just like me). My Facebook status (later deleted): Mal comune, mezzo gaudio! (Misery loves Company) Christmas was about to greet me like the Damocles sword. And I kept thinking:

All I want this Christmas is booze!

It turned out that even with a broken foot I could still join the madness one day before Christmas and buy a few decorations. I was hopping like an old crippled woman all over Target and the Christmas Tree Store. At the end, I managed to take home a few New England cheers: a wreath, a pine garland, a pine ball and a brand new Christmas tree (one of those "profane trees" that my parents disapproved of in favor of the nativity).

Tronk on Christmas Eve
As soon as I put our presents under our new Christmas tree, it all suddenly started to fall into place. I suddenly realized that we were about to have our first Christmas together as a family, with our own customs and traditions. We opened the presents in PJs, without having to go through my parents' fuss. This happened to be the perfect choice for keeping Tronk busy while I was cooking.

Amazing what Santa can do compared to the TV to keep a child entertained! It all turned out great. No Chinese for lunch but delicious Italian ossobuco cooked in tomato sauce with mashed potatoes and green beans, loads of French wine and a yummy chocolate panettone for dessert. A nice Italian movie and Christmas mass later in the day with Tronk announcing to everyone in the church that there was Jesus, the wise men and angels all around us.

He just did it when he saw the person next to him kneeling
 What happened this year reminded me of what my mother often says, "Non tutto il male vien per nuocere". The closest English equivalent would be "Every cloud has a silver lining". I have got to keep a positive attitude.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow! - Lascia, lascia che venga giu' la neve!

I am telling you, Christmas is on its way!
This year, for some reason, I was not able to get into the Christmas spirit. Me, the one who used to be so excited when the kiosk with minced pies and mulled wine would suddenly appear in Covent Garden in London. Me, the one who would always feel emotional when I would hear the first Christmas Carol of the Season in early November. "Time for wearing my red coat!" I would start telling myself, while thinking of all the things that the Christmas Season would soon bring to me. For me, and for almost every Londoner, living in a tiny apartment with a kitchen used as a living room, Christmas was the greatest time of the year. Time to celebrate and to treat myself, without having to worry about my bank account, time to buy gifts for my loved ones and, above all, time to socialize! And how could I possibly complain for having to accept one more drink down at the pub instead of having to work late at the office? It's Christmas lady! You've got to have one more drink!someone from the office would invariably say.

"I wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!" (see last year's Christmas posting). I only had to hear a few notes of this tune and for me Christmas was on its way, along with all the things that I was really looking forward to about the Christmas Season; not just food and drinks with family and friends but also time to think and to re-evaluate decisions, while looking for a more deeper meaning of Christmas. For me this would usually happen during the midnight service with the chorus at the San Lorenzo Church in Turin, a tradition we had for years in my family. Then on Santo Stefano's day (the day after Christmas), a moment of silence on my part would follow, in front of my father's nativity, which he has been putting together since he was a boy to create every year the spiritual meaning of Christmas in our family. 

Here in New England, since I had William in 2009, I have started dreaming of a really white Christmas, just like in this song:

I'm dreaming of a white Christmas
With every Christmas card I write
May your days be merry and bright
And may all your Christmases be white

Ironically, last year and most probably also this year, snow in New England, the State which gets buried under snow for 4 months per year, did not come I believe until after Christmas. Certainly, after we left Boston for the Christmas holidays, on December 23rd. So this year, once again, I have forgotten that Christmas is on its way. Well, until yesterday, when I said to John in panic: "OMG! Two weeks from now we are going to Italy. What?? Cards? Gifts? We'll better sort all this out today!"

I blame it on the snow that has not come yet and on my two year old, who cannot stand any shopping experience in a non familiar store for more than 20 seconds. If I add the requirements of having to travel by public transport with no stairs and of going to an area with large, clean and accessible restrooms plus a children playarea or a toy store nearby, where Tronk can jump, push and scream to his wish, the number of shopping options I have left are down to probably one or two. As a result, here in New England, I can only acknowledge that Christmas is coming until I see the snow outside the window. The houses topped with Christmas tree decorations and commercialized cartoon characters don't seem to do the trick for me here. I just look at them and smile but when I look at them I just cannot get into the Christmas mood. 

Can't you see that Christmas is coming??

I now do. Wondering how did it happen? Yesterday I finally saw the snow. Yes, snow was falling! And I found something better than CVS to truly get into the spirit of the Season. I discovered... the Enchanted Village.

Neve! Neve! Neve! (Snow! Snow! Snow!)
William at the Enchanted Village
Originally created in 1958 by a Bavarian toy maker, the display is a reconstruction of a little New England village with 28 fully decorated holiday scenes, 250 "automata" figures and real snow falling (and melting) on us.

One of the animated scenes at the Enchanted Village

Judging from the cute (or corny, as my husband would say) exhibit, life was hard back then in New England, yet so much simpler. No big chains, no mass production, only small independent stores selling products that were fresh, handmade and nicer to look at. And the children were playing with snow balls in the street, in their handmade toggle coats, elegant hats and matching scarves. Beautiful! "This is what I needed to see to get into the Christmas mood. We should come to this village every year!", I said to John.

There are two things I completely failed to acknowledge: (1) the Enchanted Village in 1950 was seen at the time probably as tacky as the giant Snoopy standing next to Joseph and Mary in a nativity scene in someone's yard today (2) the Enchanted Village exists because a big ass furniture chain has decided to bring the original display from 1950 back to life thanks to the large chunk of money the chain invests every year in entertainment. 

Thank you Jordan's Furniture for making me feel the magic of a white Christmas (un Natale con i fiocchi).