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Goodbye 2014, Hello 2015!

6 Jan
The last two weeks have been busy what with four – count ’em – four holidays in Italy! December 25 and 26 (Santo Stefano) we spent in Ortisei (see prior posts), then returning from vacation we had two more holidays to enjoy: New Year’s Day and Epifania.  Life is good!
New Year’s Eve we traveled to our favorite trattoria in Roma, Antica Taverna. The owner Paolo and our favorite waiter, Giovanni, took good care of us and we enjoyed a protracted dinner with too many dishes to name them all and a steady supply of good red wine. The dessert was the only item I managed to photograph, a delightful tortino al cioccolato.  It tasted 10 times better then it looks. It was THAT GOOD.  We slipped out before 23:00 in hopes of finding a cab before the whole city descended into chaos. The buses stop running at 21:00 on NYE because they can’t make it through the streets effectively. Can you imagine? Shutting down the buses because there are too many people in the streets? The Metro runs but unfortunately nowhere near our home. We can walk from Antica Taverna to home in 75-90 minutes, but it was really cold (for Roma) and walking did not seem like much fun. What luck! We found a cab at an obscure cabstand near the restaurant! Got home in time to endure 45 minutes of neighborhood revelry.  Some year we need to be brave and go down to the party in via Fori Imperiali and see the fireworks over the Colosseo. Some year.
This weekend was the start of the winter saldi (sales). We had a couple of purchases in mind and headed out into a bright if chilly Sunday along with THOUSANDS of people making their way to our destination, a major shopping street near the Vatican. We made our way by bus to transfer to the Metro at Termini. The Metro was packed like the Japanese subway on a business day. I wanted to take a picture of how crowded it was, but I couldn’t maneuver to do so packed in as I was with my arms pinned! We wondered at so many people heading out to shop! We might have bailed in the Metro station but by that time we were like cows going through chutes and there was no turning back. Moo. When we got to our stop, the hoards headed down the street toward the Vatican. It was then that we realized they were headed to Piazza San Pietro for the Pope’s angelis. Shopping was busy too, but not quite the cattle drive.
Today is Epifania, the official end to the Christmas season, also called Befana, when the witch La Befana visits the children leaving candy for the good ones and coal for the not-so-good children. Having no young children around and having spent Christmas out of Roma, we decided to have a small group of friends for a decidedly non-traditional lunch. Is Italian-Swedish a fusion cuisine? Our new friends and soon-to-be-landlords had voiced an interest in Swedish meatballs, and she wanted to make a special Neopolitan pastiera for dessert. Combined with a purè di patate casserole, Swedish pickled herring, Swedish cheese, a beet salad, and Italian salumi, it was cross-cultural event. Unfortunately as we got into entertaining we forgot to take more pictures!
So now we have to go a week-and-a-half until the next holiday, Martin Luther King’s birthday. Hope I can make it!

Year in Review

1 Jan

The older we get the faster time seems to move. (It’s an actual phenomenon that has been scientifically proven: the older you are the faster time seems to pass.) Only yesterday it seems we were dying of the heat in Rome, taking refuge in the mighty Dolomites enjoying brisk mountain air and alpine meadows. But that was July. Looking back over our time in Rome – now 19 months and counting – we have experienced so much, and yet my list of to-dos in Rome (not to mention all of Italy)  has more things on it that we have not accomplished than ones we have managed to check off. There’s a wonder around every corner and we shall never get to all of them. Roma: Una vita non basta!

New Year's Eve Vespers with Papa F! We were right on the aisle. Ric snapped this pic with his phone.

New Year’s Eve Vespers with Papa F! We were right on the aisle. Ric snapped this pic with his phone.

We managed to see a bit more of Italy this year, visiting some old favorites as well as new territory.

  • March saw us in Sicily for our 28th anniversary, where we were constantly cold, but where we ate magnificent food and saw our first-ever Greek ruins. Stunning! Must go back in warmer weather.
  • In May we ventured to the heel of the boot, Puglia, with my brother and sister-in-law. More great food, a fantastically different Italy, and lots of kilometers covered. Can’t count the bottles of wine consumed. Rick & Jane, we had so much fun with you those 10 days in Rome and Puglia! And we “discovered” Abruzzo on our way back to Rome. Wow!
  • In fact we were so enchanted with Abruzzo we went back for a weekend in July. Not many North Americans (or non-Italians) go to Abruzzo as it is not chock-a-block with must-sees, but it is an amazing place to escape the city, practice one’s Italian, and relax.
  • Later in July was our week in the Val Gardena. If only we could figure out a way to live there all summer.
  • Like most Italians, we got away for Ferragosto but only as far as Orvieto for a couple of nights.  It’s always nice to get on a train, and only an hour away is this charming Etruscan hill town.
  • Our youngest son came to visit in September and we made our 4th trip to Venice in less than three years. Three days there flew by and in wonderment Derek observed we still had not seen everything we intended to. Venice has a lot to offer and so many people try to “do” it in 2 nights and one day. We’re going back for the 5th time in April with friends who have never been.
  • The Cinque Terre calls to us each autumn and we made our third trip there in October. Hoping we can squeeze in a weekend there again in 2014.
  • After the Marine Corps 238th Birthday Ball in early November, we made a trek to Ravello just as the town was closing for the season. This is a must-go-back location sometime during the concert season.
Kids, don't try this at home. Our neighbor across the street shot off Roman Candles from his oh-so-tiny balcony on NYE. Note the Santa figure climbing a ladder hanging from the balcony. And this goes on all over the city!

Kids, don’t try this at home. Our neighbor across the street shot off Roman Candles from his oh-so-tiny balcony on NYE. Note the Santa figure climbing a ladder hanging from the balcony. And this goes on all over the city!

Other highlights in 2013:

  • I turned sixty. Can’t believe it, but my mother is there in the mirror every morning, so I guess it’s true.
  • We had a blind date with Nigel and Carol, new friends from England that we met through the Rick Steves’ Helpline and this blog. Hoping to see them again in February!
  • Made Thanksgiving dinner for 11 Italians. We had so much fun doing this! I only hope they will let us do it again next year.
  • Seeing our youngest son (not very young anymore, but still il mio bambino al cuore) after 16 months away.
  • Getting fit(ter) in the gym. I’ve lost about 45 pounds since moving to Rome and had to buy a whole new wardrobe last summer and again this winter.
  • Becoming more comfortable speaking Italian. I am “advanced intermediate” (B2/C1 for those that understand the scale) according to my teacher. I should be fluent by the time I am 85.
  • Seeing Tom and Karen, our in-laws, when they visited Rome after their cruise.
  • Visits by Michael Horne for gastronomic exploration of Rome. (Thanks for the intro to Vino Roma!)
  • New Years’ Eve Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica with Papa Francesco. He was right there, not 2 meters from me during the processional and recessional. The energy in St. Peter’s was palpable, the love for this man overwhelming.

As I wrap up this post, we are aboard a train that departed at 07:20 New Year’s Day, leaving

St. Peter's, NYE 2013. I read today that shortly after we left Papa Francesco came out in his Popemobile to see the Nativity in the square. Purtroppo we had left the scene!

St. Peter’s, NYE 2013. I read today that shortly after we left Papa Francesco came out in his Popemobile to see the Nativity in the square. Purtroppo we had left the scene!

Italy for the first time in 19+ months. The sun is just coming up, outlining the Apennine Mountains in gold. We are headed to Switzerland where, magari, we will do Winterwandern (alpine snow hiking) to wear off the cheese fondue we plan to eat. We have many trips planned this year including a return to Venice, the Dolomites, Florence, Lake Como, and Abruzzo. We have guests coming, too: Kim, John and Aubrey in April; John, Susan, William and Elizabeth (aka JSWE) in July; the Omaha Bartons in August; a return by Derek in September; Rick and Jane in November; and hopefully Helen, Eddie and Debbie will make it over too. Anyone else? Would love to see you!

Buon Anno 2014! 

Dear Family & Friends,

26 Dec

On Monday I was a little surprised to find it was Christmas week already. We had the usual advance warning of the Thanksgiving celebration, but

The Galleria on Via del Corso.

The Galleria on Via del Corso.

that was a false start: the “season” doesn’t kick off in Italy until L’immacolata, December 8, the celebration of the Immaculate Conception. The season does not end at midnight on December 31. Rather, the holiday season lasts until Epiphany, January 6.

In the U.S. we are bombarded with Christmas music beginning at Halloween. Here, the evidence of the coming holiday is a little more subtle. Decorations start going up in early

3 years ago, the lights on Via del Corso celebrated Italy's 150th year with red, white & green lights. This year, a rainbow.

3 years ago, the lights on Via del Corso celebrated Italy’s 150th year with red, white & green lights. This year, a rainbow.

December, but the majority are not illuminated until the 8th.  One barely hears a Christmas Carol outside of a concert or church venue until this very week of Christmas. The music continues to be part of the background until Epiphany. The lack of Christmas music early in the month is almost profound. In fact, less than two weeks ago I was having my nails done and listening to old Beach Boys and other seasonally non-specific American music (very popular here at all times of the year). While shopping at a major department store on the 14th we saw lots of decorations and holiday merchandise, but no seasonal soundtrack. Odd but appealing, this absence of public holiday music made it more fun to listen to our collection of 752 holiday songs on iTunes.

This priceless statue by Giambologna is in the U.S. Embassy. Here she stands amidst a display of poinsettias that only serve to make her more beautiful.

This priceless statue, Venus After the Bath,  by Giambologna is in the U.S. Embassy. Here she stands amidst a display of poinsettias that only serve to make her more beautiful.

So what did Ric and Laurel do? In the week following L’Immacolata, the Ambassador held a reception for all Embassy employees at his beautiful residence, Villa Taverna, my boss held a party at his apartment, and we went to an Advent concert at La Chiesa dei Portoghesi. This church has a fabulous organ on which an amazingly talented organist played an improvisational concert. We’ve never heard anything like it: non-traditional, more akin to a jazz session.

Seat of the Portuguese Catholic Church in Rome with an exceptional organ and organist.

Seat of the Portuguese Catholic Church in Rome with an exceptional organ and organist.

We were delighted to be invited to the Boncompangi Ludovisi home at Villa Aurora for a party on December 21, where the Prince and Princess (see Evening with an American Princess) entertained the residents of an orphanage they support.  Tucked into the evenings here-and-there, we wandered the city viewing the lights, baked Swedish Kringlor (pastries) as gifts for several people, and decorated Casa di Barton.

The magificent Villa Aurora, on a hill just a few steps off Via V. Veneto.

The magificent Villa Aurora, on a hill just a few steps off Via V. Veneto.

The Aurora Room, with it's famous fresco, and a gigantic tree.

The Aurora Room, with it’s famous fresco, and a gigantic tree.

Leo, Francesco, me and Alessandra enjoy one of the elegant salons at Villa Aurora.

Leo (back to camera), Francesco, and Alessandra – with me in the middle – enjoy one of the elegant salons at Villa Aurora.

A lot is crammed into two-and-a-half weeks from l’Immacolata to Christmas, versus the four-or-so weeks we have in the U.S. from Thanksgiving. Last-minute shopping is also a tradition of the season here as in North America. Every day beginning the 18th, the traffic became more and more intense, the horns sounding more frequently and with greater than usual annoyance. But after the usual pre-Christmas recitals, concerts, parties and receptions, almost two weeks of the holiday season remain and we take 4 holidays: Christmas, Santo Stefano (26th), New Year’s Day, and Epiphany (January 6).  Gotta love a schedule like that. Clearly there is no separation of Church and State, although Ric says that since the Carabinieri put their nativity scene outside of the station at headquarters in Parioli, that’s sufficient separation.

The tree in Palazzo Margherita, the U.S. Embassy, sparkles in red, white and blue.

The tree in Palazzo Margherita, the U.S. Embassy, sparkles in red, white and blue.

On Christmas Eve we attended an early (19:00) Mass at Santa Susanna, the seat of the American Catholic Church in Rome. Apparently Papa

This is outdoor space in 3 season, but for winter, encased in a transparent plastic "tent" heated by flaming torches.

This is outdoor space in 3 season, but for winter, encased in a transparent plastic “tent” heated by flaming torches.

Francesco’s policy of inclusion is working because lightening did not strike our Lutheran selves.  At the fashionable hour of 21:00, we took ourselves to our favorite trattoria where we have dined the last three Christmas Eves. They serve an all fish dinner, including mussels sautéed in wine (this is the restaurant where I learned to love cozze), shrimp pate, smoked salmon, marinated anchovies (yum!) and insalata al mare. That was just the antipasto course! Seafood risotto and paccheri with shellfish comprised the primi, and our entrée (secondi) was a whole steamed seabass (spigola) served with puntarelle bathed in an anchovy sauce. Two-and-a-half hours later we headed for home. Yes, we have become quite Roman in our dining hours and duration. We also ate all’aperto in that most restaurants have their outdoor tables encased in a plastic tent with heaters making it warm enough to remove your coat and be comfortable unless a high wind is blowing.

Christmas Eve by the light of the flaming heaters. The waiter took our picture.... I'd had an 18 hour day by this point. That's my excuse and I'm sticking to it.

Christmas Eve by the light of the flaming heaters. The waiter took our picture…. I’d had an 18 hour day by this point. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.

The eating must continue, of course, but we chose to forego the family tradition of Swedish plättar (pancakes) and save ourselves for Christmas Lunch, a two-hour affair at a quaint restaurant in the ghetto of Rome. All restaurants and shops are open in this quartiere on Christmas (unless it is Shabbat), making it a convivial destination with some fine options. Many Italians dine out on Christmas Day, we have found, so reservations are essential. There were quite a few people waiting hopefully for a table outside the restaurants lining Via Portico d’Ottavia. We waltzed right in at 14:00 to a fine table in the back by the garden.

We caught up with the Bartons of Omaha Christmas night, and look forward to their invasion visit in August. We also peeked in on Derek via Skype. With a few more Skype sessions planned, by the end of the season we will have seen many friends and family from afar. We will wrap up the season with a day of repose today, Santo Stefano. A wind-and-rain storm last night makes staying inside seem like the best idea. The weekend will have us wandering the streets again (have to work on Friday), but January 1 we’ll take off for Switzerland, a mutual gift to each other: Winter Hiking in the Berner Oberland. I’ll be sure to post news of our trip.

Many thanks for cards, e-cards and various greetings sent our way. However you choose to celebrate, we wish you the very best! Buon Natale, Felice 2014, e tanti tanti auguri!

In a piazza, a forest of Christmas trees surrounds a little cabin where Babbo Natale hears the wishes of the bambini.

In a piazza, a forest of Christmas trees surrounds a little cabin where Babbo Natale hears the wishes of the bambini.

One of Princess Rita's bichon frises dresses for the occasion.

One of Princess Rita’s bichon frises dresses for the occasion.

A different sort of New Year’s Eve

1 Jan
It was actually quite a thrill to see the Pope in person!

It was actually quite a thrill to see the Pope in person!

Our friends and relatives know we are not usually partiers on New Year’s Eve. Our Portland routine was take-and-bake pizza from Papa Murphy’s, a great bottle of wine, and a movie from Netflix. No way we want to be out driving on NYE! Oh, there have been a couple of private parties over the years, maybe trivial Pursuit with Barry and Veronica, and in 2011 we were flying home to Portland from our vacation in Italy on 31 December, but usually we are very low-key. So low-key that we have occasionally “missed” the turn of the year because we were already asleep. Quite pathetic. 

Allora things have changed a bit for us in our new life! We started the evening — really in mid-afternoon — heading to St. Peter’s Basilica for 5:00PM vespers with il Papa. This is a ticketed (free, but still ticketed) event and we were fortunate to receive them courtesy of the Embassy.  Arriving about 3:45PM, we were able to get seats not-too-far-off the main aisle.  A few thousand (seriously a lot of people) were seated inside St. Peter’s and, as you see on TV, giant screens in the square allowed the non-ticketed to watch outdoors, standing.

It was beautiful and very exciting for this Swedish-Lutheran girl from St. Paul Minnesota to attend a service

The magnificent Basilica San Pietro, with a few thousand people.... and us!

The magnificent Basilica San Pietro, with a few thousand people…. and us!

in St. Peter’s, presided over by the Pope himself! Very moving to see the excitement ripple through the crowd, the little nuns standing on chairs to try for a view, the security people unsuccessfully trying to dissuade such indecorous behavior. Here are a few photos I snapped to try to give you a feel for the evening.  I wish you could hear the magnificent male choir in four-part harmony, singing the Latin service. Post vespers (a 90+ minute service), we wandered home through the busy streets and via tram.  But there was more to come this year!

The crowd gathers in St. Peter's Square before New Year's Eve vespers.

The crowd gathers in St. Peter’s Square before New Year’s Eve vespers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In anticipation of seeing il Papa, even the nuns stand on the chairs. The excitement was palpable.

In anticipation of seeing il Papa, even the nuns stand on the chairs. The excitement was palpable.

 

Most of our friends & family know we used to dine quite early in Portland. 7:00PM was getting “late” as a starting time for dinner out. If you have read this blog for a while, you know we have become more Italian in our dining hour: a self-defense move in summer to avoid the heat, and any time as most decent restaurants are only open after 7:30 or 8:00PM.  (Even at home on a week night we don’t eat until at least 8:00PM.) And if you show up at 8:00PM in a restaurant, you may well be dining almost alone with a few other Americans, Brits and Germans.  But I digress….

We had a 10:00PM reservation at a place that is perhaps a 12-15 minute walk from our place. Yes, a 10:00PM start. The location, close to home, is significant because all of the buses in Rome stopped running at 9:00PM on New Year’s Eve. 9:00PM!!  We can only conjecture, but we think the crowds are just too intense in the main piazzas and on the main streets to allow free passage of the buses. And then there are the fireworks….

So we went to a fine little neighborhood place, good fish, nice crowd, everyone quite dressed-up. Suits on the men (somewhat extraordinary in our Roman dining experiences), cocktail attire on some of the women. We were a bit under-dressed as it turns out, although in Portland we would have been over dressed. [Note to self: Next year make Ric wear a suit on NYE, and I’ll wear the sparkly jewelry.] At least I put on make-up for a change.

On our walk to dinner — indeed even before — we heard some fireworks being set off. Big, booming, morter-shell-sounding fireworks. All through dinner smoke drifted up the street in front of the restaurant as the occasional bottle-rocket or whatever was set off. A few minutes before midnight, so as to avoid the party-hats being passed out in the restaurant, we paid the bill and exited to an ever-increasing barrage of fireworks. And when the clock struck 12 , all hell broke loose throughout Rome from what we could see and hear.  From behind us, ahead of us,

Stole this one from the website of one of the newspapers.... This is how our neighborhood looked.

Stole this one from the website of one of the newspapers…. This is how our neighborhood looked.

and all sides, we heard and saw fireworks that absolutely had to be illegal, but were quite thrilling! As we climbed the hill to our apartment, displays appeared from neighborhoods across the Tiber, as well as off balconies and rooftops right on our street. Standing at Piazza della Muse, we can look out over the northern reaches of Rome and we could see fireworks (Ric says) all the way to Viterbo! This celebration made anything we have ever experienced on the 4th-of-July in the U.S. seem miniscule by comparison. The noise from every quarter was enormous! Right across the street, from the penthouse of a 6-story building, a rather professionally-executed display was going on when we arrived home about 12:15 and went on another 15 minutes after we arrived. At the Catholic church across the street, a group of grade-school children were accompanied by a few adults to wave sparklers and set off firecrackers. Although we were a bit concerned when one of the priests tucked a wad of sparklers behind a pipe running up the side of the church and set them off. (Ric hoped it wasn’t a gas pipe.)  But then quiet: By 12:45AM it was over, at least as far as we could hear from inside the apartment. And the cats came out from under the bed.  Buon Anno, tutti!

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