Post #19: Happy Holidays from Italy

I feel it in my fingers, I feel it in my toes…

Ok, so I’m a little late with my Christmas post. Perhaps I have been delayed because I’ve been in a food-coma following two dinners we shared with families I tutor for, a third with the Valpellice team and management, and two more plus a brunch with Kevin all in the span of a week. Or maybe I’ve finally and officially adopted the fashionably late domani-domani mentality of the Italians. Or, more likely, I just haven’t wanted the Christmas season to end. (Which would explain why I’ve just finished watching Love Actually for the fifth time this month, and second since the passage of my yearly Christmas deadline. And would also explain why I’m still wearing my new Christmas pajama set that I received from my parents as part of an annual family tradition.)

If there is one thing I’ve learned in two Holiday seasons abroad, it’s that the magic of Christmas season follows you wherever you are. The scenery may change, but cookies smell the same whether they are baking in your childhood home or a small apartment building in a country far away and Christmas classics sound just as joyful whether playing over the radio or being streamed through a computer. And Love Actually, like Christmas Vacation, White Christmas, Elf, Home Alone, and It’s a Wonderful Life, are just as likely to spread Christmas cheer whether viewed from a home theater system or played through a computer that is wired to an 15-inch television. Although nothing can replace a Christmas spent in the company of my friends and family and back home, I have to admit that the holidays in Italy have their own special charm. And I’d be hard-pressed to find a place that does Christmas quite like Italy does Christmas.

From a shopping perspective, the crowds of last minute shoppers in Italy resemble those in any mall in America come late December. So it’s not there that you’ll find any obvious discrepancy between Christmas and Natale. The real difference is outdoors… At the Christmas markets where hand-crafted seasonal goods are sold from little wooden sheds with candy-cane striped roofs and shoppers sip vin brulee, a delicious cinnamony hot wine. In Rome, where the Pope makes his annual blessing from Piazza Spagna to recognize the Immaculate Conception and thousands of people gather to share in the celebration. And upon nearly every walking street in any Italian town where unique arrangements of Christmas lights illuminate the cobblestone streets below and displays of Panettone wrapped in festive boxes adorn bakery windows.

Put simply, Italy is beautiful in December.  Even the unseasonable warmth that’s been enjoyed this winter didn’t translate into an unseasonable Christmas, despite the shortage of snow. On the contrary, it was quite pleasant to exit midnight mass to a cloudless and starry sky and to bask in the sunshine on Christmas Day during our walk around town.

Thinking back to our weekend, I can’t help but wonder where we will be spending the next Holiday season. All I know is that I will cherish the memories we’ve shared in learning the holiday customs and traditions of this beautiful Christmas country. And I will embrace the fact that, no matter where we end up, we can bring our own Christmas traditions with us like we have these past two years. That means there will be plenty of cookies in the oven, lots of snuggling up for Christmas movie viewing, a delicious brunch of cinnamon buns and Egg Strata, and several feasts in the company of friends. Oh, and, a new pair of ridiculous but comfortable PJs for me and Kev… only next year, we will be needing a pair for Baby R too.  

A stand for vin brulee and hot apple cider at the christmas market in Bolzano

A Florence shopping street

A Christmas market in Florence

The manger outside of the Duomo in Florence

A street in Florence

The beginning of a Christmas carnival in rome

Crowds gathering on the Spanish Steps to see the pope

Looking down on the Christmas tree in St. Peter's square in Rome


Post #18: Hello in There

Looking back on my childhood, I clearly remember bath time. The tub functioned as an aquatic playground for my sisters and I and we had a basketful of toys especially reserved for the occasion.  Plastic ships, rubber ducks, Barbies retired from dry-land-play, and a mermaid whose hair turned color once she was immersed in water. But I also remember an assortment of plastic Tupperware cups that had made their way into the collection, most likely for the practical purpose of rinsing out our freshly shampooed hair. Like a child opting for the cardboard box over the object inside, I found these cups just as fascinating as the traditional bath toys. I would hold the cup face down above water before carefully lowering it to rest on the bottom of the tub. Once securely in place, I would tilt the cup so that the air trapped inside escaped in the form of bubbles rushing to the surface. More air meant more bubbles, and the bubbles were endlessly amusing.

I remembered these details of yesteryear bath times last week when I was trying to articulate what I was feeling in my belly. It occurred to me that I was feeling the very bubbles that I used to see emerging from under the little blue cup. Gentle, yet urgent flutters rushing to the top. I didn’t think much of these sporadic flickers until I felt them being accompanied by tiny thumps. They were almost like muscle twitches, but they were generating from the inside out. It took me a second to realize that, though it was my body feeling the thump, it wasn’t my body doing the thumping. That left only one possibility… it was little Baby R.

Once I realized that the tiny being responsible for my expanding midsection was also responsible for the drumming I felt inside, I became even more aware of every punch and kick. It seemed like a miracle that such a fragile thing was strong enough to make movements that I could feel. I was determined for Kevin to share in the experience. But the baby’s movements were random and unpredictable and it was difficult to feel them from the surface of my stomach. Then one night I ate a burger. And on the car-ride home, it was like Baby R’s personal symphony. (This clearly excited response to red meat only contributes to my family’s suspicion that the little one is boy.) And, finally, Kevin felt one of the kicks that I’d been cherishing for days. From that point on, they started increasing in frequency. And now, at night when we first lay down, we usually get a few goodnight thumps from our baby before we go to sleep.

I always worried that being pregnant would scare me… that having another living thing take up residence inside me would be too strange and alien-like to appreciate. But, as it turns out, it’s simply fascinating. And I find myself putting my hand on my belly with a more elevated level of the wonder that I’d experienced as a little girl playing with a Tupperware cup in the tub.  


Post #17: Four Generations in Italy by Sally Kassman

This week, I asked my grandmother, the bisnonna-to-be, to share our experience from Italy. I couldn’t think of a better person to craft a description of this once-in-a-lifetime adventure than the very woman who creates such expressions as “crapanoonie!” and who innovatively turns salutations into verbs with such phrases as “they arrevederci-ed us!” And so I leave you with the words of my known and loved Grandmomsa… Enjoy!

Here we are, four generations together in Italy. We make up 156.4 years of age combined including Baby R’s time in utero. Bisnonna (aka Sally) is my Italian name to baby-to-be R. I am at the top of the maternal side of my coming great-grandbaby. We four toured Bolzano, Torre Pellice, Pinerolo, Florence, and Rome, the last two by Trenitalia’s high speed rail which travels at 280-300 km per hour. The countryside here is very pastoral and the cities are very urban. The antiquities and museums are unbelievable in understanding what the Roman people did and built ages ago.

In Florence, we walked 463 steps up to the top of the magnificent Duomo, strolled about the Piazza of Michelangelo and even had a Chianti burger and wine at an Austrian-inspired Christmas market. The Galleria degli Uffizi was full of all the paintings and sculptures of Italian master artists.

From Rome, I am especially proud of my picture with two Roman centurians outside the Pantheon. A once-in-a-lifetime highlight was seeing the Pope in his Pope-mobile blessing the crowd.  We had a good picture-taking position on the Spanish steps amongst a crowd which Ginnie believes to be significantly more than the crowd at Patriot’s Stadium. We spent a day at Vatican City touring the Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel. Ginnie and Sarah walked up the 554 steps to the top of St. Peters Church, but I opted out after climbing the Duomo on my three-quarters of a century legs!

Every day and everything in Italy was a fabulous treat and I am so grateful that Ginnie and I had the opportunity to come!