Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Cabbages and Kings

The time has come, the Walrus said, to talk of many things...

We passed a nice couple of days with Mum and Dad back in the UK, but spent most of the Christmas period in Venice. Indeed, we're still not quite back at work yet as Epiphany, the 6th January, is a bigger deal in Italy than it is in the UK. Indeed, some of my kids from Eastern Europe tell me that it's more important in the Orthodox calendar than Christmas.
   The importance derives from the three kings (and yes, it's more accurate to refer to them as "the wise men" or "the magi", but if I do that the title of this posting won't make any sense) recognising the infant Christ as the manifestation of God as man. Weighty stuff, to be sure. But if you're an Italian kid, there's also the not inconsiderable matter of La Befana to consider. La Befana has, I suppose, the trappings of a witch in that she arrives at your house on a broomstick, but she also seems to be a rather more benign figure...one tradition has it that she gave directions to the three kings (yes yes, the magi) on their journey. In any case, she arrives with presents for good children or a piece of coal or a stick for the bad ones. So Italian kids get a sort of secondary Christmas day in order to brace them for the return to school.

   On the subject of presents, our students looked after us well again this year. I got a bottle and a magnum of prosecco, and a splendid meal out. Caroline got a box of chocolates, a bottle of grappa (huzzah!), some flowers and a block of foie gras (for which we will assuredly go to hell). And I have to mention our neighbours at this point. We have nice people in our block. We may not be asking each other round to dinner every weekend but people look after each other here. And everyone tries to make a big thing about Christmas. We felt we were letting the side down a bit, as the only visible sign of the season that we displayed at first was a poster for a concert I was in, taped to the door. But when we saw the efforts that everyone else was going to, we realised we had to step it up a bit.

   We received this little biscuit for the festival of San Martino back in November :-

   Then some biscuits and a little calendar attached to a tree for Christmas :-

   And these, from La Befana herself, for Epiphany :-

Everyone in the block made a bit of an effort, without exception We just stuck a wreath over the door (and that's something I've never done before) but others pushed the boat out a bit more :-

It didn't stop there. The entire stairwell and entrance hall was decorated.

We didn't have any lights on our balcony either, which many people did. Maybe next year...

    So we're back to work tomorrow, after a long break. It will, I suppose, be nice to get back to slightly more normal eating : we bought a goose as a post-Christmas / pre-New Year treat. We got two roast dinners, a pasta bake, soup, lots of stock and a tub of goose fat off it. Now, nothing goes quite as well with a roast goose as some braised red cabbage. Only this year I got the measurements slightly off. I thought I'd made enough for the two roast dinners, but it turned out there was enough as a side dish for the following couple of nights. And way, way beyond. By the end of the week we were eating it with baked sea bream, not an obvious combination, just to get rid of it. And if we hadn't done that, it would probably have found its way into a sandwich. Oddly enough, it seemed to get better every night. Possibly because I kept feeding it with red wine. There's still half a head of cabbage left...I foresee a lot of borscht in our future.

   It seems like an intimidatingly long time until the next proper holiday. The Easter holidays are no more than a couple of days here, so it's pretty much straight through now until the end of June. Still, it's been a good break. The next thing, I suppose, will be decorating the front door for Carnevale...


  1. I'll pass on the red cabbage sandwich thanks. The rest sounds great. Have a wonderful 2015 and if you see two Tudor cats at the Carnevale come and say miaow. Andrew H.

    1. HI Andrew - do let us know when you're in town...work is a bit mad at the moment, but I hope we can at least meet up for a spritz!

  2. I have been reading your blog for a few months, and have just finished the Venice Project book. My husband and I dream of living in Venice, but know it will never happen. We have experience of stepping off the career ladder as we gave up long term civil service jobs to open a second-hand book shop in a listed medieval building in Gloucestershire. We live above the shop and have had the same difficulties fitting a kitchen! We do not get to Venice as much as we would like ( getting away is one of the draw backs of running your own business, plus we have school age children) but the two of us are coming over for a couple of days after Carnival, as I am particularly keen to see the Casati exhibition at the Fortuny Museum. I see they have the wonderful Augustus John portrait which is not normally on view in Wales. Thank you for sharing your experiences of Venice with us. Caroline Cornell, Cornell Books, Tewkesbury.

    1. Caroline, thank you so much for the kind words and a most interesting post. In the past, I, too, dreamed of opening a second-hand bookshop (I think ideally it would have been a record shop, but I would have happily settled for a bookshop!). Enjoy your next visit, and please do get in touch if you'd like to meet for a coffee, or something stronger.

    2. Phil, thank you for your reply. We would love to meet for a drink. We arrive very late on Wednesday 18th February and leave at lunchtime on Saturday 21st. We are staying at the San Cassiano hotel in Santa Croce, so we are your side of the city. How do these dates fit in with your commitments? Caroline


Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.