Tis the season to count your blessings and reflect on what is lovely in life.
And so: an update framed as a list tied with a bow of some of our favourite (Roman) things.
1. Christmas Markets. Who doesn’t love a good holiday craft market? Every year a sizeable selection of my kid’s Chanukah gifts are purchased at local markets. Handmade soaps, bright felted thingamabobs, maybe a bangled hair clip or two – I can never resist local, homemade, upcycled, craftsyness. I fear, however, that after experiencing the bounty of Italian Christmas markets, my favourite Victoria shows will always pale in comparison.
Here’s the thing.
C)They’re all over the place.
(Actually that comment takes us north to Bologna and Ferrara, where we spent last weekend surrounded by unexpected Christmas market bounty. But in Rome we’ve stumbled on some lovely markets as well.)
D)They have such an incredibly diverse selection of stalls.
Back home there’s the usual (and don’t get me wrong, always appealing) selection of bath salts and scarves, chocolates and cards. But here, alongside the handmade leather belts? A stall of Sardinian delicacies. And next door to the batik t-shirts? Actual antiques, a delightful collection of who-knows-what-from-god-knows-when, tossed together in delicious disorder. And then there’s the creches – tables of hand-crafted nativity scenes and Christmas villages, each more detailed than the last. And who can overlook the Pugliese tent, because I suppose if the Sardinians are there then the Pugliese should be too, and between the Sardinians and the Pugliese and another booth from the Le Marche district we’ve got a cornucopia of chocolate spreads and honeys and homemade pastas and thick loaves of sausage and did I already mention they’re outdoors, and free, and you just stumbled upon it, and yes, actually you would like a ride on a merry-go-round (a real merry-go-round!) and a nutella & banana crepe?
2. Winter gelato flavours.
Yes, that’s a thing.
Probably right there that’s enough said, but I can’t help but add: rum chestnut at Gelateria Gracchi.
My sister, brother-in-law, awesome niece Sophia, and my mom came for a Thanksgiving visit. My sister & I share a penchant for travel planning (must be a gene encoded somewhere on our DNA), and I happily tagged along on several of their well-organized tours.
One highlight: a Walks of Italy tour of The Borghese Gallery, which houses the collection of Cardinal Scipione Borghese, the nephew of early 17th century Pope Paul V, in what was his gorgeous gilded palazzo, Villa Borghese.
A tidbit our guide taught us: because the Popes had no children (at least in theory), they would funnel wealth to a favoured nephew. The word for nephew in Italian? Nipoti – as in “nepotism.” With the current state of US politics being what it is, nepotism has been back in the news. If only it still looked as good as it does in the Borghese Gallery, which is brimming with statues by Bernini, a few choice Raphaels and Titians, and a bumper crop (because there just aren’t that many of them out there) of Caravaggios.
Here’s one of the highlights of a collection that is practically all highlights: Bernini’s “Rape of Prosperina,” which depicts the moment that Hades seizes Persephone and drags her down to the underworld:
Our guide spent 20 minutes on this statue, and by the end I was pretty much open-mouthed in wonder at its beauty and power. I’ll never remember all he explained, but take a moment to look at the way Hades’ fingers seem to sink into Demeter’s thigh.
Can’t you almost feel the bruising?
And it’s made of marble.
For an entirely different tour experience, we all joined in on a Jewish Roma walking tour of the Jewish ghetto and the Jewish catacombs. But I’ll save those for a future post. That is, I keep begging Tillie to write up her experience of the catacombs.
(Spoiler alert- my very cautious 9-year-old is NOT a fan of flashlight-lit walks through ancient burial chambers. Fancy that.)
Other highlights of the week included Eva’s first shopping-spree, sponsored by my mom in honour of Eva’s 12th birthday & Hanukah. We’ve been blessed with loads of hand-me-downs over the years, the bulk of them from Sophia, actually, and so we almost never need to buy clothing for our kids. Like, really never. But since arriving in Rome, Eva has taken to window shopping, and when my mom offered to buy her a few new things, she went wild. As in, she used the phrase “shopping-spree” about a dozen times, and came home with a huge grin on her face- and some pretty cute clothes.
Museums, ghettos, shopping sprees…what am I forgetting? Ah yes, the vigil against racism/xenophobia/misogyny (aka Donald Trump), which I helped a bit to organize with Democrats Abroad Italy (Jordan and I got the permit!).
As the old saying goes, the family that protests together, stays together.
4. Watching “Once Upon a Time.”
I realize I’m being awfully wordy here, so this one will be short & sweet. The girls have gotten Jordan & I addicted to an absolutely cheesy TV show called “Once Upon A Time,” about fairytale characters living in present-day Maine. Only present-day Maine is clearly actually present-day Steveston, BC, a seaport town just outside Vancouver.
What does “Once” have to do with Rome? Absolutely nothing. It’s just – we have more time here. Time for some intelligent and culture-punch-packed pursuits (I’m reading the girls The Odyssey, for one, and while I can’t claim they love it, they definitely like it well enough – it’s like the spinach of books right now), but also time for some low-key hanging around. On nights we all look forward to, we wait until Avi has fallen asleep to make popcorn and snuggle into our bed to watch modern-day fairytale characters overact their way through the rainforests of coastal British Columbia.
And it’s just marvellous.
5. Our home here feeling ever more like home + digging the small carbon footprint.
Two thoughts here.
First, a few weeks ago we went with my mother (after my sister & co returned home) to Bologna for the weekend.
Bologna is an amazing city. For one thing, it has the world’s oldest university (founded in 1088!), which happens to be where my father attended medical school. For another, it’s renowned for its food (this in a country renowned for its food) and particularly for a few Bolognese specialties including tagliatelle ragu (aka Spaghetti Bolognese in North America), tortellini in brodo (delectable tortellini in simple but perfect broth), and lasagne.
Eva is basically like Garfield the cat when it comes to lasagne. And in Bologna, we happily ate our way through several of them.
Bologna also has a gorgeous medieval core, miles and miles of porticoed walkways, and the most scenic food district I’ve ever wandered through.
Here are some pictures stolen from the web, because, as you’ll see in the one photo clearly taken by us, we’re having some technical difficulties camera-wise.
Oh, yeah, and an obstetrics museum, to which I just had to pay a pilgrimage:
We had a wonderful weekend in Bologna with my mother. So wonderful, that when Jordan was asked to give a talk at the university a few weeks later, we all returned.
And while that trip had its highlights – we took day trips to Ferrara and Parma, two beautiful towns, and were served lasagne in the home of an actual Bolognese (Jordan’s academic host), we were also a bit cold, and a bit tired, and a bit ready to go home.
And returning to Rome- still sunny, and several degrees warmer than Bologna- did indeed feel like a return to, well, our home-away-from-home.
Which brings me to sub-clause 2.
(Just kidding about the sub-clause. Though I do realize that by dividing point 5 into two thoughts I’m guilty of some kind of blogging sin.)
In Victoria, we live in a pretty good-sized home: three bedrooms, finished basement, etc., and we drive two cars. It’s true that one is a Prius, but the other is a minivan- and I know that cars can’t really cancel each other out. Adding a car is adding a car.
Here in Rome, we live in an apartment that advertises as a three-bedroom but would be more accurately be described as a one-bedroom. Avi’s room is also our entranceway, the illusion of private space created by one of those accordion dividers. In turn, a wall-to-wall bookshelf separates his room from the girls’ room; in the wide-open center, where presumably a large 1970s television once sat, we’ve hung up a sheet so that the light from one room doesn’t totally intrude on the other.
There’s also a washing machine in the kitchen, no dishwasher or dryer to be found anywhere, and we don’t own a single car, let alone two.
We walk loads and take the bus and the subway often and while the apartment is often a total mess, it’s small enough that it also takes no time to clean.
And Jordan and I have discovered that we love living this way.
Not only do we have enough space for what we need, we get to feel totally righteous about how environmentally-friendly our lives are here.
Will this translate to home?
My job is, sadly, car-dependent – I’m on-call and out & about the city too much to count entirely on public transit. And we can’t just cut loose from our large, although beloved, home – given the cost of condos in our city, we’d end up losing money.
But we’re hoping to preserve some of this, to the extent we can. Jordan and I have an ongoing debate about whether to keep just the Prius or just the minivan once Avi is out of his car seat and into a booster seat – remember to ask me about it in a year, so that I’ll be held to it.
6. Geography & temporality
We come from Victoria and so are called “Victorians,” which is a bit funny since that term is generally associated with an age rather than a place.
We now live in Rome and so refer to locals as Romans, which immediately creates a similar confusion.
Isn’t that neat?
That’s all I have to say about that.
7. Giving back
For the last few weeks, I have been volunteering as an English literacy teacher at a refugee centre. I won’t say too much about that now- I’ll wait for another time. But it feels good to know that, in however small a way, I am giving back to this country that has taken us in.
And on that note: Happy holidays from Roma. Or as they say in Italy, Buone feste!