Sunday, 12 December 2010

Christmas Special

I am walking through the centre of Milan at 6.10pm on a Saturday. It is pitch black. There is an enormous crowd in front of the Duomo. What the hell is going on? Why can't I see anything and why are there so many people here? Then I see a sign advertising a "light show" at 6pm. I decide to hang around. Nothing happens. It really is very dark. We go to the English pub "The Football".

The next day I'm still asking "Where are the Christmas lights"?  What's up with Milan? It's a really poor effort. The street decorations that they do have look like giant chicken nuggets and they don't even light up.  The Christmas market isn't a patch on the one in Trento either. The metro was insanely packed when we went because people from all over the place come to have a look at the "Oh Bei Oh Bei". This is an ancient Christmas tradition here, and is supposed to sell all sorts of exciting christmassy artistic things, but this year they decided to move it away from it's home in the atmospheric Sant Ambrogio and put it in front of the Castle. It was a  bit of an anti-climax, a few white tents selling things that had very little to do with Christmas, (bed side table lamps and buddhas of all things). They did at least have hot chestnuts.

Christmas here is more about the eating and the presents than carols and fairy lights. The shops are heaving and everyone's favourite topic of conversation is the perennial question "Which is better, pandoro (a sweet bread with icing sugar) or panettone (a sweet bread with dried fruit)?" Everyone has long made up their minds about the answer (panettone)  but everybody argues about it every year anyway.

Another thing Italy is really into are nativity scenes. Any self resepecting town has an enormous life size nativity scene with at least 10 characters. Any self respecting family will DIY their own. The shops are even selling mini bags of hay, moss and gravel. My friend M's parents have one that takes up two tables with easily a 100 parts to it.

Oh, and by the way, if an Italian goes to the trouble of writing a Christmas card you should for heavens sake keep it. The first Christmas I came to Italy I caused great offence by throwing the tag on my present in the bin a few days later, where it was discovered by A's distraught father. With hindsight, I now understand the 20 minute negotiations and agonising that A and his sister went through when writing Papa's birthday card. He'll probably keep it for twenty years. 

I know, I know, I'm sorry. I'm such a heathen. What can I do though? I can't help being English! I haven't yet spent Christmas in Italy so I have done a little interview with A to satisfy your curiosity instead...

L. "You eat Christmas dinner on the 24th don't you?"

A. "Yes, you eat your Christmas dinner on the 24th, pasta, fish (fried or in the oven) then you go to mass, then you go to sleep, then you open your presents, (well there are two versions, you might open your presents and and then go to bed) then you go to lunch and have something meat based. You usually eat a lot and end up with panettone."

L."Do you eat in the evening as well?"

A: "Well, I usually go to my rich uncle's and we eat sweets and panettone, but then last year I went to my trendy uncle's and we drank champagne and ate panettone."

I hope that was informative. Buon Natale!

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

The Silly Season

I think the winter's getting to us. The cold weather is bringing out a little crazy in everybody. Take today for example. I went swimming this morning in the snow. I'm not the kind of person that goes exercising let alone walk to the swimming pool in the pouring snow.

Then, as happens post physical activity, my blood pressure and sugar took a sudden nosedive in the afternoon so I dizzily made my way to the nearest bar and had a quick caffe macchiato. I also got a "takeaway" marocchino for my boss in the smallest plastic cup you have ever seen because she too is suffering from silly-seasonitis and claimed it would be "more substantial" than a simple espresso. As I made my way back with my tiny take away, complete with mini tin foil cap and sachet of sugar, a man said "ciao" to me and then quickly "Simone arriva questa sera. Vero?" Who the hell is this is, I thought, he must have mistaken me for someone else. "Non ti conosco" ("I don't know you" - with the familiar you) I said quite abruptly and sailed on my way.

Sh*****t. Simone. That would be my next student. And that would be his father I was just quite rude to. I appologised twice. I might appologise again next time I see him.

A's Mum has caught the bug as well. She, like every member of A's family is super excited about the royal wedding, and she like everybody else seems to think I have must have more up-to-date information than she does because I am English. Her Christmas present request, nay, demand, is...wait for it... a bag of tetly tea and a snow globe with William and Kate.*

I think the silly season prize however is awarded to A's Dad. We all know he's a little right wing, (he votes for Mr B. because he doesn't like communists). Hit lastest outburst on Romanians (a communist people) went, in English, something like this, "Those bl**dy Romanians, coming to our country with all their Christmas trees. Christmas is starting far too early these days!"

I let out a rather unbecoming shriek of laughter and his girlfriend and son did get him to admit that it was a bit unfair but it was very funny. Having been mistaken for a Romanian myself once in a hairdressers (a long story) I've heard quite a few things that Romanians have been blamed for but this was by far the most original.

May the silly season bring you all the best that it has to offer. Pinchpunchfirstofthemonthblackandwhiterabbitsandnoreturns.

*Please, please, if anyone sees one of these I will be very very grateful if you could let me know.