The day after Kate McKenna left for California, I went to see an orthopedic surgeon about my incessant leg pain. He sent me for X-rays (by a nun!) and delivered the rotten news that I have to have hip-replacement surgery—as soon as possible. And Merry Christmas to you! This has obviously put a cramp in my daily business of wandering around Rome, which I was especially looking forward to during the holidays. I don’t speak Italian well enough to have the surgery done in Rome, so I hope to have it done in Renton, Washington, where I can stay with my sister.
I can report a couple of things, however, about Christmas here. Rome DOES decorate for the holidays with lights, greenery, and presepi (nativity scenes), and Santas pose for photographs with young children. Via del Corso is draped in red, white, and green—the colors of Christmas AND the Italian flag—from Piazza dei Popoli to Piazza Venezia. A huge decorated Christmas tree sits on the busy street in front of the Colosseum. A gigantic presepio made of metal decorates Piazza Venezia. The daytime temperatures are in the 50s now, and people are so bundled up that you can barely see their faces. The kids remind me of Ralphie’s younger brother, Randy, in A Christmas Story—he was so bundled up that he couldn’t walk!
Piazza Navona hosts a Christmas market each year. I hobbled up to the market with Kate before she left and went back with Michael on Sunday. The market has everything from candied apples, to arcade games, to presepi and all of their accoutrements, to ornaments, to helium balloons, to kids eating cotton candy, to people shopping for decorations or holidays gifts—just like home! The stalls are nearly identical and sport dark green paint. I wonder where the stalls go when Christmas is over?
The market also has stall after stall selling Befana dolls, which look like witches, in every size, shape, and color. Befana is an old woman who delivers gifts to children on January 5. According to Wiki: “In popular folklore Befana visits the children of Italy on the eve of the Feast of the Epiphany to fill their socks with candy and presents if they are good or a lump of coal or dark candy if they are bad. Many say she will sweep the floor before she leaves. The child’s family typically leaves a small glass of wine and a plate with a few morsels of food, often regional or local, for the Befana. She is usually portrayed as an old lady wearing a black shawl and riding a broomstick. She’s covered in soot because she enters the children’s houses through the chimney.” I thought Kate McKenna might have wiped out the entire stock of Befana dolls when we visited Piazza Navona, but she left a few. Italian children will be relieved.
My favorite stalls are the presepi stalls, with their collections of camels, wise men, cattle, donkeys, geese, wee plates and baskets of all sorts of food, loaves of bread as long as my little fingernail, angels, wishing wells, Mary, Joseph, and the Baby Jesus. The hutches always are PACKED with people, and it’s hard to push to the front to ooh and aah over the tiny treasures. Michael and I bought our own presepio Sunday—the stable from one hutch and the nativity scene from another. It was so hard to decide which one to buy, although I didn’t want any that nodded their heads or moved anything, so that ruled out several. My favorite part of our presepio is the camel!
Stalls also sell sandwiches—porchetta, salami, and other salumi. One stall has a coffee or hot chocolate stand. Vendors sell Nutella-filled crepes from small carts. Many stalls sell my favorite Italian almond cookies, nougats, marzipan in silly (huge mortadellas from which slabs are sliced) and wonderful (panini and fruit) shapes, bark (thicker in Italy than at home), and other tempting delicacies.
I couldn’t allow Michael to leave Piazza Navona without stopping at Bar Tre Scalini for its signature tartufo, which Kate McKenna and I discovered a few weeks ago. This glorious, intensely rich chocolate gelato roll, sometimes with cherries inside, with a crunchy coating is served with whipped cream and a cookie. Mamma mia! I’m a gelato junky, although I’m not too fond of whipped cream, but I can’t eat this tartufo without the whipped cream—way too rich! Michael and I each had a glass of prosecco, shared the tartufo, and watched the world go by—perfetto!
Ciao e Buon Natale!