Friday, 28 December 2012


Winter has properly arrived. The blazing heat of August and the weeks of almost oppressively bright blue skies are now just memories. It's seriously cold. Maybe it's the humidity, but, even though it hasn't yet dropped below zero, it feels like the kind of cold that sinks deep into your bones.

And yet, I like the fact that it's hat, coat and scarf weather again. I like the fact that the streets are quieter and shrouded in thick blankets of fog. I like the fact that Piazza San Marco is no longer a no-go area. I like the fact that there is no longer any reason to wear sandals. Most of all, I like the fact that I can almost forget that I own such a thing as a pair of shorts.

In short, winter suits me. I think these past few weeks may have been my happiest since we arrived.

Caroline, of course, thinks this is completely insane, and that the ability to wander lonely streets on a winter's day, wrapped in seasonally appropriate deep and sombre thoughts, is a poor substitute for being able to lie out in the sun.

Christmas in the UK seems to start around October time and three months of "Be of Good Cheer. By Order" is a little wearing. It's been more low key over here. Nothing really starts until December, and lights and decorations only went up a couple of weeks ago. It feels less commercial (although that might be helped by the fact that we don't have a telly) and less hard work.

Still, this is not the season to be grumpy. Here's the window of a nearby cioccolateria.

We were quite taken by the little Christmas trees, but, as they seemed to start at around the 30 euro mark, we decided we could make do with a photograph.

Legendary wine shop, bar and cicchetteria "Al Bottegon" has its usual tree constructed of wine corks. We've been coming here, on and off, since 2005 and have built up a relationship with the staff to the level where we sometimes get a half-smile. We didn't want to jeopardise this by being so uncool as to take a picture inside the shop, so we made do with one from the bridge outside.

Christmas Eve was a mix of trad British radio (9 Lessons and Carols and The Archers. Can you imagine how old I felt just typing that?) and trad Italian cooking. Our fishmonger explained the traditional Venetian Christmas Eve meal to Caroline - risotto of volpina, followed by roast eel. So that's what we had. Volpina, it seems, is one of the many words the Venetians have for grey mullet, and it makes a very nice risotto indeed - slightly plain, perhaps, but if you're following it up with an eel, then that's all to the good. I've never really enjoyed eel all that much before (and the slightly icky method of despatch that Mr Eel undergoes at the hands of the fishmonger doesn't encourage me either), but roasting it in a hot oven for 30 minutes seems to be the way to go - the flesh is meltingly soft, the skin deliciously crispy. 

Christmas dinner is our staple - goose in marmalade by Richard Corrigan, sprouts by Martin Wishart, bread sauce by Simon Hopkinson, red cabbage by Delia Smith, and hours of honest toil and sweat by yours truly. Washed down with a modest bottle of red (a gift from one of my students...yeah, I know, it was just an apple for the teacher in my day), it was worth every minute. And the Doctor Who Christmas Special was the best in years.

So there we have it. Our first Christmas in Venice. Buon Natale everyone.

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