Music Pick of the month: Anything by Lou Rawls.

Every 28th of December Ugo organizes a tribute to cinema by showing a silent film, accompanied by a musician – sometimes a pianist, sometimes a guitarist but usually by an accordion player.
Tonight’s film is Broken Blossoms, subtitled The Yellow Man and the Girl. The star: Lillian Gish. It is show in a deconsecrated church.

Following the film, cake and wine is served. After a few minutes of obligatory chat I sit down to finish a Sudoku. (Michael says that at times I am antisocial. I reply that this is not true – I simply prefer doing puzzles to engaging in small talk – whoops – perhaps he is on to something.)

Three men come in have a look at the frescos. One of the men comes up to me and says: “Are you Patricia Guy? I’ve read almost all your books.”

He is an Italian who has lived in the UK for 16 years and imports wine.

I have to say that this encounter with a fan perks me up, particularly as it occurred in the unlikely venue of a deconsecrated church at midnight.

December 26 Tea with the ladies and the tea master
Every year we go to Ugo and Steffie’s for Tea. Michael is the Tea Master as he is the only English person among us. He takes his duties very seriously. Susanna (a passionate anglophile), Steffie and Eleonella make cucumber sandwiches and cakes. Tea begins at around 5 and merges into dinner.

With dinner we drink:
2006 Milleunanotte, a Nero d’Avola from the Sicilian producer Donnafugata. The wine is dark, near opaque. On the nose is a wild blueberry/blackberry infusion. It is a warm, velvety mouthful of sprightly fruit. A medium-long flavorful finish.

Table talk:
Francesco, one of Ugo’s 14 year old twins, says he has to read The Secret Garden in English for school. This leads to a discussion of P.L. Travers (author of Mary Poppins). Ms. Travers interest in the work of G.I. Gurdjieff leads the conversation to the Golden Door and mythology. This leads to Hitler, which in turn leads to Mussolini!

At the end of the meal we drink Donnafugata’s Ben Rye 2006, a Passito di Pantelleria mde from Zibbibo (a type of Moscato) grapes. It is a rich tawny with orange highlights. A creamy mouthful of juicy raisiny fruit. An idea of fresh caramel. Sprightly, uplifting acidity. It is like a bolt of heavy silk unfolding on the palate. A fine balance between richness and acidity. An undertow of mandarin orange with fresh candied organce peel. (For notes on older vintages of Ben Rye go to the April 2010 diary entry.)

“You have to try this wine with ginger cookies,” says Ugo.

We go to Geppy and Germana’s apartment for a Neapolitan Christmas Eve dinner. This means that all the dishes are based on fish. Cooking duties are shared between Germana and Geppy’s tiny (she is as tall standing up as I am sitting down) 90 year old mom.

We drink Lighea 2009 produced by Donnafugata. The wine, a dry Moscato, is vibrantly fragrant, filled with lively ripe fruit notes: hints of apricot dance around pure moscato grapiness. An attractive salinity emerges on the palate and carries on through the longish finish. Very satisfying wine. It is an excellent match for the spaghetti in seafood sauce.

Table Talk:
“Where’s nonna?”
“She’s in the kitchen frying. There is oil all over the place. She’s a machine di guerra (a powerhouse) in the kitchen,” says Germana of her mother-in-law.

At the end of the meal Geppy brings out a bottle of “Special Schotchland Very Old liquor”. On the label there is a drawing of a man in a kilt doing a jig.

“We bought that in 1949,” says Ornelia, Germana’s mother and a psychic (she visited the White House during the Reagan years. For more about her see the previous December diaries).

“Should we open it,” asks Geppy.

“It’ll be poison,” says Nonna.

“Sure, open it,” says Ornelia, the psychic, “I’ll have a glass, spirits don’t bother me.”

It has a pleasant, creamy fragrance and a wallop of alcohol.

After dinner we head to Ugo’s for his annual After-Mass Christmas get-together.
(for a full account of this even look in any of the previous December diaries.)

Three years ago the Region of Alto Adige made a deal with the city of Verona to set up kiosks in Piazza dei Signori. The sound system played Bing Crosby singing White Christmas and Gene Autry (remember him?) singing Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Because the Alto Adige has a very strong German heritage, the square was duly filled with vendors selling wurstel, kraut, waffles and beer. None of these are common Veronese fare. Veronese protested the showcasing of “foreign” products.

Well, my friends, this year the event has been enlarged to include two adjoining piazzas, one of which has a “Santa’s House” where children can get their picture taken on Santa’s knee.

Why is this fact worthy of note? Because locally it is Santa Lucia who is responsible for bringing presents to children (around the 13th of December). Santa Claus is a fairly recent addition to the holiday mix. Now lucky little Veronese children make out like bandits – getting prezzies from both these magical spreaders of joy and toys.
Meanwhile in Piazza Bra, the Santa Lucia stands soldier on. It is only a matter of time before this good witch fades away.

December 10 DANCING DOGS AT 1 A.M.
Michael nudges me. “Put on your glasses. You’ve got to see this.”
I groggily find my specs. The television is tuned to one of our new sports channels. Michael has found the Dog Olympics. I did not know they existed. The event that he woke me to watch is: Dog Dancing. I watch a Belgian woman and her small excitable pooch do a snappy routine to a Michael Jackson medley. I watch an Italian woman and her large St. Bernard-ish dog swirl around to the theme song from Aladdin. Oh, the wonders of digital TV.

It is midnight and Ugo, Fraccaroli, Michael and I are walking down via Mazzini. There is not another soul on this short but very chic pedestrian-only shopping street. The store windows are decked out in festive style, with holiday greetings plastered in every window. I counted 2 “Natale”, 17 “Christmas (or Xmas) and 1 “Noel”.

We are returning home after Ugo’s showing of the Seven Samurai – the three hour version. “The shorter cut is just a war picture,” says Ugo. “It leaves out all the great human interest stuff.”

It is part of Ugo’s Kurosawa series. Last week was Rashomon. There are images that are so beautiful (and seductive) in Kurosawa films that I want to live for a moment within their reality.

Today television broadcasting in our part of Italy went digital. From 7 channels and 3 local stations, we are suddenly able to get 40 channels – most of them showing reruns of Law and Order. There are also 4 sports channels but I don’t count those as I will never watch them. When Michael turns on sports programs I am asleep within 40 seconds. It is astonishing.