28 December 2008

Dreaming of an orange Christmas

My Venetian holiday weekend comes to an end: here’s the report.

Have I ever mentioned that my apartment is all decorated in orange? Yup, orange. Peachy-orange tiles in the bathroom, orange-ish woodwork throughout, a big, bright orange-striped sofabed with its own neon-orange blanket… Orange.

I like orange well enough. I think it’s an interesting, powerful color. But not one I ever imagined I could live with 24/7/365.

Last year as yuletide drew near, I worried that I would have a hideous clash between my Hallowe’en-like home décor and my Christmas tree. Where, I wondered, would I ever find any orange ornaments?! Early in November I began making apricot-colored crepe paper roses, gilded walnuts, and paperdoll angels to fill in for the traditional red and green gewgaws. Still, I fretted...

Silly me! It turns out that orange is actually the preferred hue for Christmas in Italy, I guess because of all the beautiful citrus fruits that show up around this time. The shops were full of orange goodies for the tree. In this past year I have gathered up many pretty things in every shade from pale peach to gleaming copper to deepest russet, not to mention the coordinated wrapping papers and gift ribbons to match. And this year – I swear it’s true – I believe this is the most beautiful Christmas tree I have ever put together. Like a vivid sunset in the desert, it’s a true reminder of the real meaning of the season.

That season got well underway with Christmas cocktails at Jeremy’s Book Club last Sunday night. I brought Spanish almonds for the host’s holiday sherry break and “snausages” for the spoiled spaniel’s, but I was told the latter is no longer permitted to drink. So difficult to shop for some...

But I really got into the spirit Tuesday night after a holiday concert at La Chiesa della Pietà – the “Vivaldi church,” so called because its fine acoustics are the result of design recommendations made by that composer. Vivaldi once operated a small music conservatory for indigent girls there. And, appropriately enough, this concert featured the musical talents of children from four nearby schools. Two friends and I were particularly interested because the announcement poster named the works the children would perform – one of them being a number by Metallica (?!). Me, I had never heard of heavy metal and Hark! The Herald Angels Sing on the same bill, so I was greatly curious. But alas, we were disappointed in the end. A last minute change of program substituted Jingle Bells for that edgier stuff. Pity! The kids seemed to enjoy it, though.

Christmas Eve day was a busy, wonderful flurry of snick-snack shopping and drop-in visits to greet friends around town. It was very satisfying to note how many more people I know since last year. The best moment came mid-afternoon at Bancogiro. I stopped in to warm up with a little schiopettino (please try this charming, inexpensive red wine). But a little crowd of merrymakers began forming and things grew quite jolly, and then Matteo broke out the antipasti and the franciacorta (try this delightful, slightly more costly bubbly, too). A spontaneous little party, another bright Venetian memory for me.

My holiday’s orange theme continued that night when I visited St. George’s Anglican Church and received my first “Christingle.” I had been there Saturday evening for carol service (and some fabulous little homemade mincemeat pies!), and the vicar had taught me about this symbolic tradition of binding an orange with red ribbon and studding it with nuts, dried fruits, and candies. The final touch – a little red candle.

I was lucky enough to bump into my lovely new friend “V” when I arrived – that got me a near-front row seat. When the Christingles had all been distributed to people – mostly to children – throughout the church, the vicar lit the candles of those in the first row and they in turn lit those behind them and so on. Soon the room was awash in shimmering candlelight. And then we raised our voices in joyful caroling. (I confess I had to fake some of it: those Brits sometimes change the words or the tunes of my best-loved holiday songs!)

Later that evening I was treated to a splendid, super-rich supper of foie gras and far too many lamb chops at Enoteca San Marco. As usual, I got the full principessa treatment. These guys are always so good to me. It wasn’t easy to drag myself away and get to the Basilica in time for midnight services. And once there, I had to be, let’s say, less than a lady to get a seat.

Christmas Day I visited the home of friends “L&H” for another festive dinner – this time silky smoked salmon, quail eggs, and the most delicious beets, followed by roasted potatoes, red cabbage, and rosy duck breast (no, not “a l’orange,” but with big black cherries!). Dessert? My favorite! Tender candied orange wedges wearing glossy chocolate jackets. Add to that three fine wines. Perfetto!

Call the next day what you will – Boxing Day, Santo Stefano, whatever. For me, it was The Day to Recover: I had a brutal food hangover. Usually I like to hit the post-Christmas sales, but instead I holed up in my cozy bed with some cioccolata calda scented with (what else?) orange! I nibbled at my Christingle and finished reading Secret Ingredients – the New Yorker Book of Food and Drink. What luxury!

Later I ventured out in the wicked cold to finally meet a gentleman named “G” who had been reading my blog and introduced himself via email a few months back. A charming fellow he is, too! We shared a little prosecco, a fine pizza, and a good long chat. Luckily, his English is better than my Italian, and his patience with my Italian seems long. I hope he visits Venice again soon.

Now Saturday and Sunday have somehow gotten away from me while I’ve been working in my studio, picking at the panettone (Italian Christmas fruit bread), and talking with friends and family, in between a few passeggiate in the nippy winter air to express my gratitude. I tied a black bow on my orange Christmas tonight with an ombra of nero d’avola (a deep, dark wine) at a favorite giro spot, Bar al Campanile. It’s always a little gift to pop in and see Ali and Diego there. But the holiday’s not over yet. I still have a visit from my dear friend “L” to look forward to. She promises she’ll get here soon.

So I guess I must have been a very good girl this year. And you…

May your days be merry and bright, and may all your Christmases be... whatever color makes you smile! Buon Natale!