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Tag Archives: santa susanna

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.

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Christmas Report

26 Dec

My intentions regarding this blog are often higher than my ability to meet my own expectations. I envisioned posting my Christmas Eve photos that night, after we arrived home. But it was midnight and I tumbled into bed.

The magnificent Church of Santa Susanna. There has been a place of worship here since 330 A.D.

The magnificent Church of Santa Susanna. There has been a place of worship here since 330 A.D.

We started La Vigilia di Natale as temporary Catholics, attending the lovely Church of Santa Susanna, seat of the American Catholic Church in Rome. We’ve been to a couple of services in churches lately where everything was in Italian (or Swedish if you saw my post about the children’s concert), so it was almost a surprise to walk through the door and hear singing in American-accented English.  Following church, about 20:30, it was already very quiet in the streets. The buses were half-empty and moving fast, the drivers enjoying freedom from the usual overwhelming auto traffic. Another Christmas miracle: a young man (French) gave me his seat on the bus. While it was a sweet gesture, I am a little sensitive to him thinking I am old and needed to sit. I prefer to think he was simply kind. And so we meandered through the streets of Rome by foot and bus, to our favorite trattoria.

We ate at this restaurant last Christmas Eve as well. In fact we have been dining here since our first trip in 2010 and go at least once a month, often more. We are regulars and warmly greeted. The feast on Christmas Eve is always fish and wine was included in the prezzo fisso menu.  Since it was looonnngg holiday meal, we managed to drain our included bottle during the first two courses.  So they opened another for us. An advantage to being regulars: no extra charge.

The antipsato course: smoked salmon, cured anchovies, seafood salad, steamed mussels and more.

The antipasto course: smoked salmon, cured anchovies, seafood salad, steamed mussels and more.

The Primi were a seafood risotto and a lovely mixed seafood pastes.

The primi were a seafood risotto and a lovely mixed seafood pasta.

The secondo was a lovely whole steamed fish, succulent and tender, accompanied by tiny fried whole fish.

The secondo was a lovely whole steamed fish, succulent and tender, accompanied by tiny fried whole fish.

My intention was to do a photo essay of my magnificent Christmas Day feast, but I forgot to take a picture of the golden, juicy turkey before carving, and failed to take a picture of our glorious table.   Our menu included an array of Mediterranean and Italian antipasti, followed by our crazy-expensive Italian turkey, stuffing with sausage & apples & raisins, sweet potato casserole, ratatouille and cranberries. For the first time in about 25 years I had to buy canned cranberries (available at the embassy’s commissary) because fresh berries were >$11.00 for a 10 ounce bag in the Italian market! We topped the meal with a homemade pear crostata. Our guest was a young man from the embassy who was highly entertaining and who has excellent taste in wine. Grazie, Ben!

Today is yet another holiday, Santo Stefano. Today we must get out and exercise. Never left the apartment yesterday except to go to the courtyard with our guest! I am a few miles behind and a few thousand calories ahead of plan.

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