Friday, December 24, 2010

Memories of an Italian Christmas

In the winter of 1989-1990, my family and I lived in Rome. It was an unstable and nomadic time. My sister and I - then aged 5 and 10 - were home schooled and spent most of our free time in the nearby park. We picked up a bit of Italian from the local children and were able to play with them. But mostly we observed. 

It's funny the things we notice as children. I remember being stunned by the presence of snow and palm trees in the same landscape. I remember being upset about how ugly the road around the Coliseum was. I remember a man pushing a fruit cart outside our window every morning, singing "Arance! Mandarance!" And I remember the sight of several glamorously dressed women sitting on a park bench with their infants, breastfeeding while smoking cigarettes with a synchronised rhythmic energy. I have since been to Italy a number of times as an adult, but these childhood impressions of Rome remain prominent.

And then, of course, there was Christmas - Natale! The lavish holiday decorations, the lights, the musicians on the streets and the general festive atmosphere, served as an antidote to the stress of being in a foreign country. We were living in a small apartment, in a building full of other apartments - and between mid-December and the first week of January, there was a constant stream of gifts (mostly cakes, fruit baskets, and beautifully packaged bottles of alcohol) left outside of our door by our neighbours. These were accompanied by "Buon Natale!" notes, but no names or apartment numbers. We did not know whom to thank, or for whom to leave return gifts. When my parents asked our landlord about it, she assured them that this was normal: "They know that you are foreign and don't want you to be lonely." We were impressed and cheered by this thoughtful gesture that seemed to be such a matter of course for our neighbours. Most importantly, we felt wanted in the country, despite being strangers to it.

And I think ever since that childhood Christmas in Rome, that has been my association with Italy: feeling welcome and comfortable, despite not really belonging there. (Kind of like I feel on my Italian racing bikes, come to think of it.)  I always remember Italy around Christmastime, and this year even more so - as I ride my sleek Italian beauties through the wintry landscape.

I have noticed that I tend to be most interested in bicycles whose country of origin holds significance for me. Their history is more relevant that way; they evoke warm memories. Happy holidays to everyone and happy winter cycling.

23 comments:

  1. "They know that you are foreign and they don't want you to be lonely."

    That is just lovely. Maybe I am not fully awake yet, or feeling overly emotional today, but that brought a little tear to my eye.

    Thanks for all of the great articles and photos this year! Merry Christmas to you!

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  2. "And I think ever since that childhood Christmas in Rome, that has been my association with Italy: feeling welcome and comfortable, despite not really belonging there. (Kind of like I feel on my Italian racing bikes, come to think of it.)"

    What wonderful writing! And what a great Christmas Eve post. Merry Christmas to all, and an extra Merry Christmas to Velouria for creating this singular blog.

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  3. Thank you and a happy holiday wish to you and the cohabitat.

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  4. I pray and hope that you and the cohabitant will have a glorious Christmas and, if it's cold outside, remember that we're past the solstice now and on the path back to spring!

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  5. I feel the same way, being attracted to bicycle whose country of origin has some importance in my life. So for me it's English and German, since I have one side of my family that is all English and one that is all German.

    Happy holidays to you and yours!

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  6. Beautiful post.
    Merry Christmas to You and Your Family!!

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  7. What???
    No twine on the Bianchi's handlebars?
    I hope Santa doesn't leave a lump of carbon fiber in your stocking.
    All joking aside, another excellent post from an interesting childhood.
    Must have been like stepping onto the set of "The Bicycle Thief."

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  8. "I have noticed that I tend to be most interested in bicycles whose country of origin holds significance for me."

    So so true. That is how I feel about my Pashley. England has a very special place in my heart and as a result, I find myself incredibly devoted to my English Princess.

    Your comments about Italy and your memories were just lovely. Nice to see you can carry them around on such wonderful Italian bicycles.

    Have a wonderful holiday, Velouria!

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  9. Words fail me at the enjoyment of the time I spend on your blog.

    Much happiness to you and yours (even your bicycles) for this holiday season and the coming year............

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  10. See? You can ride a diamond frame in a skirt!

    I hope you and your dear ones have a Merry Christmas and a New Year of health and love.

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  11. What a lovely and joyful post this! Memories of past kindness from strangers, beautiful bike(s) and stunning red coat - and snow! Everything I'd put on my own wishlist! Do have a very Buon Natale and a happy new year!

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  12. Thanks everybody for the good wishes!

    Anne - I can technically do it, but it's inconvenient and I don't really feel safe. The skirt/ long coat tends to catch on the saddle when I bring my leg over and I get tangled in the bike!

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  13. Merry Christmas! Yours was the last blog I read this evening and what a lovely story. Now I can close my eyes and go to sleep.

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  14. The imagery of the
    "Madonne di Il Fumaiolo" made me giggle.

    Merry Christmas and a Happy, Healthy New Year to you and yours, and to the rest of your readers, Velouria.

    That red coat goes superbly with Patricia's green plumage.

    Corey K

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  15. I am so impressed with your blog! I make sure I put aside time everyday to check it out. I have the same affinity for bikes and ride to work almost everyday all year round. I have learnt a lot from reading your blog.

    I especially liked this article and my heart jumped when I read the part about your neighbors and their generosity.

    Keep up the good work and my you and your co-habitant have a very merry Christmas and a happy new year!

    Peace
    Garret

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  16. Merry Christmas Velouria, and thank you for all your hard work with the blog and the welcoming symposium it has created.

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  17. I have a bike made in Spain and another made in my home state (even the steel was smelted here). I also have one made within biking distance of where I arrived in Amsterdam Holland that I acquired within biking distance of Amsterdam in the New Netherlands. I have a mandolin made in New Hampshire and a fiddle made in Mittenwald (and I'm keeping my eye out for one made in Prague).

    All of these are kept, at least in part, because they help tie me to special places and events in my life.

    Happy Solstice to all, whatever it means to you, but I just want to know why, if the days are getting longer again, why it's still dark out at 17:00?

    I hate when that happens.

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  18. Madonne di Il Fumaiolo : ))

    kfg - What is the bike made in Spain, and by whom? Of the countries that are actually known for making good bikes, my biggest attachment by far is to England. I was very sad that the Pashley did not work out. But perhaps a Mercian some day. Now that Rivendell has betrayed me by not releasing the Simpleone in sizes smaller than 56cm, the potential acquisition of a Mercian is becoming more likely.

    It is dark here at 4:30 pm and I find that this limits my roadcycling time at least as much as the cold does.

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  19. It's a '69 Zeus Pro I bought new (although the tubing is actually French). It's not a runner anymore as it had a bit of social intercourse with a Taurus full of nurses (I got great first aid) and the down tube is wrinkled (didn't have quite enough time-space to pull off the forced right to avoid the left cross). It isn't really worth the money to repair, but I can't bring myself to get rid of it. I'm keeping my eye out for a host frame for the bits.

    "my biggest attachment by far is to England."

    Although I'm a Bay Company-Anglo sort by paternal descent, I did my Euro study time in Andalusia. Someday I'd like to go back and spend some real just hangin' out time in Sevilla and Huelva; maybe on my way to Prague while spending some time in Vienna along the way. We all have our pathetic little dreams to help us get by.

    "perhaps a Mercian some day."

    Oh, hey, I've just been hangin' out at their website, thinkin' that if I ever actually get my 50's style TT bike built up on the IRO the next logical step would be to swap out the frame for the real deal; although I admit I'm not always logical.

    "It is dark here at 4:30"

    I'm actually north of you, so it's dark here then too, but I'm not happy until I can see the sun at 6 or so. The solstice doesn't mean much to me, I'm far more into May Day.

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  20. Merry Christmas from Italy
    ...reading you from Brescia

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  21. Happy Boxing Day! Can't wait to find out what you got for Christmas this year!

    Cheers, Lee

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  22. Thanks for dropping by all the way from Italy : )

    Lee - This season's gift giving has not been bike-themed, with the exception of Bicycle Quarterly and lobster gloves. But that is just fine with me, as I got something I've really, really been wanting!

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  23. All this writing about bicycles and Italians inspired me to watch 'Breaking Away' last night. I found it just as charming as the first time I watched it 30 years ago.

    Thanks Velouria.
    Merry Christmas.

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