It has taken us a week but we have almost regathered ourselves after a period of mourning following the departure of our Christmas Guests (it will take us a lot longer to remove the effects of a week of eating and drinking but we all have our crosses to bear!). Having Mum, my brother J and his wife S here was just brilliant. In addition to Christmas, we celebrated my birthday, New Years and kicked-off the celebrations for a milestone birthday for Mum.
Our Christmas proper started on 23 December, when Jo and I took the boys to Dogliani (5kms away). For the past 35 years from about 8:30pm, come rain or shine, the good burghers of Dogliani have extinguished the lights in the old town and turned it into their version of Bethlehem circa 4BC. The medieval laneways are dimly lit with wooden torches nailed to the walls and fires on each street corner, and are alive with people in period dress conducting the business of the day.
Despite it being minus two degrees outside, there were blacksmiths, fishmongers, bakers, coffin carvers, wine sellers and Roman soldiers working away, apparently oblivious to the imminent arrival of a lady on a donkey. Our favourite was the Census taker who very carefully noted the name and age of a little Australian boy, who when his parents weren’t looking, sauntered up and said “Mi chiamo T ” and “quattro anni” in response to the requisite questions!
Mum, J & S arrived on Christmas Eve, after having met in Milan and travelling down to Monforte together. Relatively speaking, the fact that this was a seamless exercise is an impressive effort given the Masters family’s usual inattention to details!
It was hard to tell who was more excited about the arrival of our visitors – Jo, I or the boys – and I am sure that they were wondering what had hit them. They were peppered by all four of us pretty much without relief for the entire length of their stay.
We had planned a whistlestop tour of the best that the area had to offer which, with the exception of some stunning scenery, was pretty much centred around food and wine.
Our guests arrived with a similar approach, bringing an abundance of (joy of joys!!!) Haigh’s Chocolates, enough Vegemite to get us through the Winter, stacks of US lollies and a box of (possibly the most expensive ever) Sunbeam Sultanas.
A tour of Monforte and an aperitivo in the Piazza preceded a light Christmas Eve dinner in preparation for a week of eating the finest the Langhe has to offer. We did, however, introduce our guests to the joys of Lardo (yes the Italian name is close to our English and it is pure indulgence).
And, to complement the Haigh’s Chocolates and another batch of my Christmas Mince Pies, Master T and I broke up the gingerbread house we had created earlier in the week. It fortified those that were jet-lagged and no-one managed an early night.
Christmas morning dawned bright with blue skies. The weather forecast was adamant that we weren’t going to get a white Christmas but we were still a little bit hopeful. However, if you can’t have a white Christmas then second best must be a perfectly still, crisp and clear day. The weather was so good that we decided to eat lunch outside on the balcony and most of us ended up in our shirtsleeves.
Lunch became dinner and after starting on the antipasti at 12ish, dessert was served at 7pm.
This seems to be the Italian way and, along with the passeggiata between Secondo and Dolce, is a tradition that we are very keen to adopt.
For your interest, our Christmas Menu:
Antipasti: Prosciutto di Parma; Lardo; Local Salame
Primo: Tarjarin with olive oil and butter sauce
Secondo: Stuffed Roast Leg of Pork and roast veggies
Dolce: Chocolate Truffle Cake
All washed down with Moscato d’Asti, Barbera d’Alba and Barolo wines and finished with a local grappa.
On reflection, we hadn’t really noticed or appreciated until now the sheer joy of spending time with people who know you exceedingly well, understand your background, know all the ‘in jokes’ and speak the same language.
Whilst loads of time spent chatting, eating and drinking was superb for the adults, as parents we had the added pleasure of seeing the boys thrive as they spent time with their extended family.
Master T was able to foster his existing relationships with his Nanna, Uncle and Aunt.
That these relationships have been so well maintained via Skype is testament to the enormous effort by these guys, given that none of them have lived in the same city as Master T for more than four years.
And Master S is just starting to develop an understanding of his broader family and recognise them (on Skype and in photos). As a result it was pretty cool to watch him traipse around after his Nanna, Uncle and Aunt and want to be part of what they were doing.
All in all, our Italian Christmas has been marked down as one of the best yet, and will be remembered for many years to come.