Now, I know when Manuel told me they EAT at Christmas, I laughed it off, and knew it would be like the holidays I was used to.
Having said that, it's like going from running a mile every day to running the New York City marathon. I haven't left the table in 3 days.
After Christmas Eve, there is Christmas lunch, which consisted of salted anchovies, lemon anchovies, smoked salmon, russian salad (assorted vegetables in a mayo-like sauce with beets and pomegranate seeds), stuffed eggs (like deviled eggs, but filled with chopped giardniera, mayo, capers, and so forth), fresh oysters, raw scampi, shrimp salad, cappon magro leftovers, crostini, crackers with a salty cheese spread, goats cheese with herbs, a special Christmas cocktail Manuel and I invented (lychee, mandarin orange, vodka and prosecco)...and then we ate our fist course. That was just the appetizer. Ravioli with ragu followed, then steamed monkfish with oil and salt over greens, then dessert - tiramisu. Then figs, dates, torrone, cookies, panettone, pan dolce, pan forte, chocolates. Then we had dinner.
I wish I was kidding.
We sat BACK down at the table for tortellini in brodo, cima, roasted potatoes and fruit. We started at about 1, and finished at a little after 2 in the morning.
Today, the 26th, happens to be the birthday of Manuel's uncle, as well as Santo Stefano Day, the name day of his cousin, Stefania, and his grandmother, Stefanina. So today consisted of the same again, just with different dishes. Risotto with scampi, fried lamb, and flaky, fresh soglia over sauteed Tropea onions and pomegranate seeds. These people do not kid around.
For dessert, I fashioned a birthday cake in Italian-American style - chocolate chip white cake with a Nutella buttercream frosting, shaved chocolate and whipped cream. Definitely delicious, but now I'm entering a food coma that I have never before experienced.
The mood here for Christmas is truly incredible. For a community that has been through so much, everyone is in remarkable spirits - it truly reflects the feeling of how lucky we are to have something still after so much loss and such a few hard months.
It's never far from your mind, though, as every turn through town brings another image of the flood - but this time, instead of sighs, it's accompanied with a surprised face of progress. Even on a drive a few days ago to La Spezia to finish our Christmas shopping, we drove over the destroyed highway, through buried tunnels and the land on either side, in Brungato and other towns, where it looked like a bomb went off. Trees swept into piles on either side of a mild-looking river, the only sign of its hidden danger and strength seen in the debris swept forcefully down in the current of October 25th. But though we were driving, I let out a light whistle of astonishment at the damage this whole region sustained, then a few seconds later quickly realized the road we were driving on was perfectly fine, trucks slowing traffic and closing a lane as they painted the new asphalt on the road.
It's one thing to see the incredible damage, and be blown away by it, it's another to realize just how far we have come in rebuilding Monterosso as well as the region, though I know there is still so much to do.
The next few months after Christmas will be hard, but it's comforting to see this area during a season full of people realizing their blessings, and how incredibly fortunate we are to still have a community, a family, a life - and something we can rebuild, and one so worthy of the effort.