"And you will find this world a place of love
If you just count your blessings from above."
I've been blessed.
Auguri e buon anno nouvo - Blessings and a Happy New Year
31 decembre - San Silvestro
It was only 2000 but there were very few people in the Piazza and most were crowded around the Presepe by a rather phallic looking Christmas tree. Many were, like ourselves, snapping pictures. I wasn't disturbed that the Nativity had been relocated to Nazareth nor the placement of St Joseph at the centre of the scene. But I found that many of the carved figures - some Baroque pieces from the Church of Sant'Andrea delle Valle - are badly placed and the three room structure put a restricting box around the tableaux. Unfortunately the night setting on both our cameras was not working properly so many of the photos didn't turn out.
There's a slightly sinister atmosphere in the Borgo at night - particularly on the pedestrian streets where the cobblestones echo in the chilly air. And the flocks of black-suited and soutaned clergy scurrying through to winings, dinings and lodgings give it an almost conspiratorial atmosphere. Our trattoria was closed so we looked for one with clergy in it - always a good recommendation. The one we choose had a cosy interior, a pleasant waiter and respectable food - we had our carbonara, a few glasses of house white, almond tart and coffee and the world seemed a little warmer if not brighter.
We boarded a number 62 that takes us across the River, through town and almost home. The only other passenger on the idling bus was an elderly lady carting a backpack and two shopping bags. She spotted Laurent and immediately started talking to him. In the five or ten minutes before departure she told him all about her family - her mother was French, they were evacuated from Rome during the war, her sister went to America and after the war when her parents died they didn't have the money for proper headstones. She wasn't rambling she was reminiscing and here was a nice young man who was willing to listen. I've always marvelled at Laurent's ability to talk with strangers - I feel uncomfortable and awkward in those situations, its one of the reasons I hate diplomatic functions. She repeated the story of the headstones but it didn't seem like a plea of poverty, more a repeated regret for something not done right. Then at the first stop she gathered up her bags, waved arrivederci and got off. She seemed too well dressed to be a street person, she spoke Italian beautifully and she did not seem disturbed in any way. Just an old lady on her way home who had found someone to listen to her.
Or at least I hope she was on her way home; it had become colder and damper and so many people are homeless in this city. As we went through Centro I saw several people bundled up in blankets bedded down for the night in doorways. One couple were having a last cigarette, wrapped in their blankets in the doorway of a Ferrari dealership - he leaned down and whispered something to her and she laughed.I don't pray often but Thursday night I mumbled a few words to who ever listens: a few words about Reesie, a few words for that old lady, those people sleeping in the doorways, that laughing couple and a few words of thanks for what I've had and have.
Stanley (the dog): You still feeling down Pat?
Stanley: Come on buck up, I've arranged a little surprise.
Pat: Wow! That's great! How did you do that?
Stanley: Its nothing. Just a little imagination and lots of friendship.
Pat: Its real cool - Friendship.
Tchaikovsky, understandably disappointed in the scenario, proceeded to compose a score that in overtone and erotic suggestion is happily closer to Hoffman than Dumas. His music, bristling with implied action, has a subtext alive with wild child cries and belly noises. It is rare and genuine and does justice to the private world of children. One can, after all, count on the instincts of a genius.
This pudding is based on a recipe favored by King George VI and still used at Windsor Castle today. Just think you are eating the same pudding as the Queen and all the little royals. Boiled Pudding has been enjoyed in England since the early 16th century but only became the traditional end to Christmas dinner in the late 18th century.
There are several traditions concerning the making of a Christmas Pudding. It is always prepared on "Stir Up" Sunday. That is the Sunday when the English Book of Common Prayer "stirs up" the people to renew their zealous faith in God. It is also the Sunday when the pudding is "stirred up"; always I might add stirring clockwise for good luck. Also it was the custom for each family member to have a stir so the luck would be evenly distributed to one and all. Because I was alone when I "stirred up" this pudding, I thought of each of you with a stir.
The pudding must then be steamed over boiling water for nine hours. This was one tradition that I upheld for many years, much to the delight of our local Hydro company. This year I have followed a microwave method suggested by Madame Benoit.* I did not use a Panasonic or Frigo-seal but I did use PAM. So I hope that Jehan, as she prepares her tortière for the angels, is smiling on me; and me, I'm laughing at the Hydro company.
Another tradition, a legacy of Queen Victoria, was the placing of a bean or trinket in the pudding. The person finding the treasure was said to have good luck in the coming new year. My own experience with this tradition has been that a guest either swallows the bean or thinks it got there by mistake and quietly hides it on their saucer. An incident involving the bean and a choking aunt convinced me that this tradition could go by the wayside.
One tradition that should always be followed is the flaming of the pudding as it is brought to the table. Though this too has led to several incendiary events in my own kitchen I am sure that you will find that this is one tradition that is worth the odd singed eyebrow. The final tradition is to serve the pudding with hard sauce or custard sauce. I've always been partial to the former myself but along with the pudding I've included recipes for both, courtesy of Martha Stewart.
When speaking with Laurent in Cairo at 4 o'clock this morning I was reminded of one other tradition which was instituted in our household in Mexico several years ago: the eating of cold pudding for breakfast on Boxing Day. I find this a rather revolting tradition but Laurent assures me he enjoys it immensely.
Finally we hope that each one of you has a wonderful Christmas and that you think of us and ours. In Cairo we'll lift a glass to you and yours. And for us that is what Christmas is all about: traditions and remembrance.
Thank you all for sharing.20 decembre - San Macario
A powerful performance is at the center of the 1951 British adaptation of Dickens' A Christmas Carol: Alastair Sim's Ebenezer Scrooge. Write Noel Langley has let Dickens' story speak for itself, and the crisp black and white cinematography of C. M. Pennington-Richards captures Dickensian England perfectly. Director Brian Desmond Hurst avoids excess sentimentality and surrounds his lead performer with the cream of British cinemas' supporting players - Ernst Thesinger, Miles Malleson, Hermione Baddeley, Michael Hordern, Mervyn Jones - who bring the familiar characters to lifeAs a sidebar: In 1968 I saw Sim on stage at the Chichester Festival in The Magistrate with a very young Patricia Routledge (sadly only known as Hyacinth Bucket to most of the world.) There was a wonderful scene where after being lead astray on a wild night on the town Mr Poskett (Sim) attempted to clean himself up for court. It was a comic tour-de-force as we watched this already beaten man further defeated by a washbasin, a small towel and a bar of soap in his attempts to regain respectbility . Without a word spoken Sim had us holding our sides with laughter for a good two minutes. In 2002 my dinner table companions on the Trans Canada train travelling from Winnipeg to Vancouver were a charming British couple. During our conversation somehow Chichester and Sim's performance came up. It turned out the lady had been assistant-stage manager for that production 34 years before - it was her first job in the theatre. I recounted my memory of the washing scene and she let me in on a little secret, Pinero's stage directions simply read: Poskett washes his face. The entire scene had been Sim's invention. She said she would time the scene each night and no two performances were ever the same length. He always knew exactly when to cut it off. And apparently Routledge said that she learned how to play comedy watching Sim that summer. Well he had started life as a teacher.
But the true wonder is Sim: he is Scrooge. Listen to the way he delivers the infamous question about workhouses on Christmas Eve - it gives full meaning to the word heartless. And that long craggy face reveals a man whose heart died long ago. Then watch that same face as he questions the small boy about the goose on Christmas morning - it gives new meaning to the word joy. Sim creates a complex character and gives us a compelling view as to how this once loving man had become a bitter curmudgeon. It is this complexity that allows us to accept Scrooge's overnight conversion. This is film acting at its best
His skin condition has returned with a vengeance so for the past few days we've been walking over to the Vets - well I've been walking, he's been carried. Tuesday I met a charming older couple who were in with their dog. The lady - faded blonde but with a elegance that was unforced and a wonderful smile when she talked about her dog - had found her wandering on the street two years ago. The dog was going to be operated on that afternoon for a tumor that they hoped was benign. We talked about our pets and them being what she called "a loving responsibility," which I thought was a great phrase. I checked with Dr. Benvenuti yesterday and it was benign - I would have loved to see the smile on her face when he told her that.
13 decembre - Santa Lucia
A familiar figure reminds us that a Christmas Fair is after all a commercial event.
The Fountain of the Four Rivers is undergoing a much needed cleaning and restoration.
Not sure if its just me, but as colourful as this carousel may be, it needs children to give it life.
And of course, being Rome, there has to be candy and sweet stalls.