Neron's Window

Neron's Window

Friday, June 17, 2011

Neroni and Saint Joseph's Day

The Italian Version of Father’s Day or St. Joseph’s Day

At the beginning of March, Neroni noticed Nonni as she stood at the large linen press, and as she was taking out certain items, such as lovely lace tablecloths and Saint Joseph’s statue, Neroni knew that the wonderful day of the tavole di San Giuseppe was drawing near. His family’s St. Joseph’s Table was always the best of the neighborhood.
Father Anthony had explained the history of the holiday during a recent workshop on the Saints. Everyone knew that St. Joseph had married Mary, the Mother of Jesus. Scripture told that Saint Joseph , a descendant of David, earned his bread as a carpenter and was with Mary when they “misplaced” Jesus at the age of 12 in the temple. Legends present a nice story of Mary’s having chosen Joseph because his staff, among those of many suitors for her hand, had a growth of white lilies and produced a white dove which really impressed her. Father Anthony pointed to a statue and said, “That is why statues of the blessed Saint show him holding the Christ Child and a stem of lilies.”
The parishioners, including the Ricci family, happily heard how this feast day had become the official Father’s Day in Italy. And, as Saint Joseph is often considered the patron saint of the unemployed, everyone discussed how much his patronage was needed this year when several local families were suffering under the cloud of an unemployed dad. At the end of the workshop, Father Anthony voiced a challenge, “Host the best Saint Joseph’s tables to raise money for those in our little hill town who need some assistance. I will visit each of your homes to taste the wonderful dishes and to urge others to put Euros in the donation baskets. The table raising the most money and judged the best by me will be featured in the church newsletter, also. A little competition always brings out the best.”
On a back pew, Neroni had slept on and off during the workshop. He eyed the statue of Saint Joseph standing up near the altar and thought of what he and Mr. Gatto might do to show respect not only to the saint, but also to Papa on this special day, March 19. His dreams as he snoozed included bits of the famous menu for San Guiseppe’s Table, or all the sweets and non-meat dishes, since the holiday always occurred during Lent, the season of fasting and fewer meals with meats. He ran out the door to consult with Mr. Gatto about what tidbits they might get.
Neroni meowed, “Just think of the fried shrimp, the octopus in red sauce, and the vegetables smothered in cheeses. Oh, the eggs, made into omelets with CREAM…and the other dishes that humans like filled with vegetables, but especially any that contain CREAM.” Both cats lay down on the narrow cobblestone street in front of their favorite restaurant in hopes of getting a small bowl of some cream that day.
After the Ricci family returned home, they began their plans for the most delicious, maggiore, or biggest, St. Joseph’s table. Nonni, Mama, Simone, and Ceceila began to work on the menu for the event. Pietra agreed to make flyers on his computer about their menu and to take them to school and around the neighborhood. Papa called the priest to ask if he knew exactly how many papas were out of work and how much money a particularly stressed family might need to keep their home or apartment, to buy groceries and medicine, and to keep the auto going so that the job search in the valley might continue in order to set a goal for their St. Joseph’s table. So, each family member took responsibility for a designated area of preparation for the meal. Papa and Pietra, because their jobs seemed slight in contrast to the preparation of the meal, agreed to do the shopping and to help with getting everything ready.
Neroni, although appearing to sleep on his favorite chair in the sun, had heard the plans and made some of his own. He and Mr. Gatto could round up all the neighborhood cats and dogs and on St. Joseph’s Day could meow and bark at their owners to go to the Ricci family’s event, and to add to this, they could form a parade down the cobblestone street to lead all those who saw this unusual procession to the best St. Joseph’s table in the town. And Neroni and Mr. Gatto were quite familiar with the tables as they usually wandered in and out of doorways meowing for cream, cheese and fish on this day and always kept a checklist of which home had the creamiest cream, the most flavorful cheese, and the most mouth-watering fish. They agreed that getting the Ricci family’s table the most donations for the designation of the best food would be the way to honor Papa on his coming Father’s Day.
A day before the big day, Pietra and Papa made a visit to the little hill town’s famous bakery, La Crustini, for all the delicious breads which Mama and Nonni did not have time to make because of the preparation for all the other dishes. They also purchased fish, shrimp, and octopus from the Manni’s Fish Market that morning, as well as buying cream, butter, cheeses, flour, sugar and vegetables from Bucharelli’s Negozio di Alimentari, or grocery store, because they had the freshest items in town with deliveries daily from the farmers and seafood emporiums down in the valley. Once they returned home with the ingredients for the next day, they found Mama and Nonni busy making the St. Joseph’s Day candies that they would proudly present along with the other sweet rolls, cookies, cakes, and puddings allowed during this Season for this day.
After working for over two weeks, the big day finally arrived. The table presented a lovely scene of lace cloth, statue of St. Joseph holding the infant Jesus, and three (for the Holy Trinity) levels of elevated plates of the choicest menu items to honor the Saint. Also, other symbols used for decoration on the table included some carpentry tools from Papa’s workbench, since Joseph was a carpenter; lilies; wine, of course, for the Cana wedding; for luck, some lemons; candles, always candles; and breads in different shapes such as baskets, fish, or chalices. What a beautiful sight for the family and their expected guests.
Neroni and Mr. Gatto trotted down the street gathering their animal friends for the procession, and rightly enough, families, dressed in red for the holiday, followed them to the Ricci’s door. Papa proudly opened it and all who entered told Papa and Mama immediately how lovely the table appeared. After a short wait, while Neroni and Mr. Gatto meowed their welcome to the guests, along with a quick rub against all the legs in hopes of some cream or tidbits, Father Anthony arrived, out of breath, as he had already been to two other St. Joseph Day tables. He greeted everyone, then raised his hands in blessing, as the crowd hushed, and asked The Lord to bless the Ricci family, all those gathered there, and the table of rich blessings so that they all might serve their neighbors in need. After the “amen,” he gently pointed to the donation basket and asked everyone to be generous in response to such a bountiful table. He also took notes so that he could judge the best table which would be announced in the church’s Sunday bulletin. And off he went after sampling most all the dishes.
That evening, after the cleanup from the two hours of drop-in visitors, tasters and supporters, the family finally sat down to relax. The discussion ranged from how much food they had eaten to how much money they had made for the support of the family they had selected to help. As Papa sat in his favorite large chair and sipped a cup of espresso, Neroni jumped up behind him and gently crawled down his shoulder and into his lap. Not wanting to make Papa spill his coffee, he put his head on his paws, yawned, and looked up into Papa’s eyes in a loving way just before he drifted off into a pleasant cat nap.
Papa thought about how Neroni usually wanted to nap by himself of the blanket on his favorite chair, but on this Father’s Day, Neroni had chosen his lap as his sleeping place. Papa was honored that Neroni had chosen him for such, and with his kind, loving, and generous family around him, Papa silently thanked God for the example of St. Joseph in sheltering and caring for his precious family. Neroni dreamed of more special occasions when he could lick up the treats of cream, and fish, and cheese. Happy St. Joseph’s Day.
And guess whose table won the contest. Registered & Protected

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Winter Days in Ordinary Time

A Winter Day in Ordinary Time

No big holidays appear on the Italian calendars in the little hill town for mid-January until Lent. That means that the days take on a sameness, but sitting brightly in the middle of ordinary time, are special days, such as name days and very special saint days for those who watch the calendars marked with these dates. In the little hill town, the calendar from San Nicola Chiesa hangs on the kitchen wall over the desk where Mama writes in her journal and keeps the account for her catering business. The end of January brings a very special day for the children of the town…St. John Bosco’s day, the patron saint of children and magicians.
About a week before the special day, January 31, a flyer appeared on the church door telling all readers that a special celebration for St. John Bosco would occur. Pietra and his friend Giovanni picked up the flyer on the way home from school one afternoon after they had completed their duties of helping Father Luis with cleaning the sacristy and the candleholders for mass. As the boys read aloud what the event was to include, behind them came Neroni and Mr. Gray Gatto, both lovers of churches and all kinds of magical events, such as the warmth of the church on certain days and the appearance of warm cream outside the grocer’s door on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Both Neroni and Mr. Gray thought maybe humans had something to do with this magic, but a cat could never be sure about such gifts of warmth.
The boys, on the other hand, read the handout with a little misbelief and lots of interest.

San Nicola Parents Group
Gladly Invites all Youth to Witness
Salesian Father Joseph Anthony
Tuscany’s Great Magician
Monday, 31 January, 2007
Following the 6:00 Mass at
7:30pm at the Parish Hall
Refreshments Provided
Books, Magic Kits, and DVD’s for Sale
Following the Magic Show
Proceeds to Salesian Boys’ Home in
Turin, Italy

As the boys turned to each other and excitedly said, “Do you want to go? Let’s go ask first your mama and papa and then mine to see if we can go,” Neroni and Mr. Gray looked on and meowed that they, too, would want to see this grand amusement and wondered what could happen in such a show. Both cats scampered to the fish market to beg for a scrap or two of their favorite catch from the sea, octopus. Now this was some magic, octopus or other sea creature in a bowl, all cut up and ready for gulping down. Then, as it was by now 4:00 pm, the two cats meowed their goodbyes and began the run home to a soft chair and blanket in front of the window for that lovely late afternoon nap.
Neroni awoke at 6:00 to the happy conversation around the Ricci dinner table. Nonni had worked some slight-of-hand magic herself that day by turning the little lentil peas and tiny pasta, along with tomato sauce, carrots, and onions, into that soul-filling meal, lentil zupa, or lentils and pasta soup. Also, the crustini and olive spread made the taste and smell of dinner even more special. The talk around the table moved from person to person as Pietra, Simone, Cecelia, and Giovanni, who had been asked to stay and have dinner with the Ricci family, discussed the upcoming magical event.

For Giovanni, the event would be the highlight of his day as January 31 was his onomastico or name day, as he was named for Saint John Bosco or Saint Giovanni Bosco. Now with the magician’s show, he was sure to have a wonderful onomastico. In fact, his parents were instrumental in getting this particular priest/magician to come to San Nicola, as Giovanni’s papa had been an orphan and street youth whom the Salesians folded into their school and brotherhood of love. Giovanni’s dad had learned his trade of leather making as well as getting his formal education from these loving and kind teachers. Eager to give back to these servants of children, Aberto and Abriana Turrini always managed to provide a generous donation to the Salesians and were tickled to learn of the touring priest/magician. Not everyone was aware that St. John Bosco is the patron saint of magicians, too.
Both Mama and Papa Ricci and Mama and Papa Turrini knew that the children would be excited about this event, but they also wanted the children to earn the admission money, or as much as they could. That evening, around the table, the children picked tasks to earn some extra money to have the Euros to enter the show. Pietra agreed to help Papa organize some papers in his office and to enter the information into the computer data base for him, while Simone thought she would enjoy delivering the special cookies that Mama and Nonni made for the Resturants Familia and Carne further up the hill. Little Cecelia knew that cleaning their huge front door and steps took time away from Mama and Nonni’s baking, so she volunteered to clean that area for the next week, although she would have to use the stool to reach the second level of squares above the huge door knocker. Giovanni called his parents and told his dad that he would sweep the leather shop for the next week, thus earning his admission.

All this time Neroni listened and wondered what he and Mr. Gray could do to help get ready for this event. After consulting the other gatti of the town the next day, they decided that the mouse population was growing too large at the garden of the nuns’ convent up near the top of the hill and they sprinted up the cobblestone walk to the door of the garden nun, where, out of breath they meowed for her to come to the door. She knew they would help her out if she gave them cream, so, of course, five large bowls were set outside the door for them. After a lovely mid-morning sunning in the garden area, they spied the mice gathering the seeds and nuts that had fallen around and into the garden. Quickly they jumped into action and began the fun game of cat-and-mouse to earn their admittance to the magical event, as they were sure that Sister Concetta had discussed their entry to this event with Father Luis and the parents groups, as they were always arranging interesting events in the little town. And she, being a cat-lover, always wanted the gatti to have fun and food. Spinning around the hard, cold ground chasing and nipping at the mice, the gatti mostly wanted to scare away the little brown creatures, and they succeeded. “Thank you, darling gatti,” Sister Concetta said. “I will see you on January 31 at the celebration for San Giovanni Bosco. Be at San Nicola Chiesa at 6:00 for the evening mass.” She rubbed and petted each cat as if each one were her own.

The days passed, the children earned money to go to the show, and the cats just dreamed of more cream, octopus, or mice.
Finally the special day arrived, and at 6:00, the church of Saint Nicolas filled with parents, children, and cats. The cats had agreed to enter quietly and to find places on the side of the old organ and to sit still and dream as they often did during the mass. The parents and children also sat as still and quietly as children can when they know an exciting event is only minutes away, but they listened carefully when Father Luis explained about the life of Saint John (Giovanni) Bosco, of how his dad had died when the saint was young, of how he had to work in the pastures as a shepherd to help his mother and sisters, of how he yearned to be in school learning, and how his parish priest helped him learn to read and grow until finally he entered a seminary and became a priest. He looked with love and respect on the local orphans and untrained children, and with the help of others, developed the Salesians who now care for and teach children all over the world. The parents and children knew that their donations from the offertory and later the proceeds from the magic show would be put to good use.

With the singing of the closing hymn, the cats and people filed into the parish hall, paid their admission, and ate a delicious dinner of panini and soup, followed by hot chocolate and fig-filled cookies. Yum, the cats were given any left-over cream from the hot chocolate.
Finally, after cleaning up, at 7:20, the audience turned their chairs around to face the little stage where the curtains opened and Father Joseph Anthony began his magic show. The whole show demonstrated God’s love for all. The disappearance of coins showed God’s forgiveness of sins. The cups and balls, where the balls turned into a little chick, showed how lives can be transformed by following Jesus. The three separate scarves that waved wildly in the air and then magically were tied to together taught the children that the Trinity is the three persons of God united into one. The rabbit that was pulled from the hat demonstrated that God blesses common every day people to become special and capable of giving joy to others. The show ended with a slide show of the children at the Salesian home in Turin and of the Church of Mary Help of Christians where Saint John Bosco’s remains lie. The whole audience clapped and felt happy that they had enjoyed this special magical act and helped other young people in need.

To add to the evening, the local cats participated by bringing the chick back to Father Anthony, rolling the balls and cups around on the floor, and running and jumping into the pile of scarves that sat at the edge of the stage. Neroni, interested in the big black hat, managed to get it on his head and neck, and ran around meowing loudly as the audience laughed so hard that they were nearly rolling on the floor. Finally, Pietra came to Neroni’s rescue and removed with a flourish the large hat and POUF, Neroni disappeared, only to reappear by a table holding a large name day cake in the back of the hall. Next to the table stood Mama and Papa Turrini, and they welcomed Giovanni, Father Anthony, Father Luis, and Sister Concetta and the other patrons to come and share a slice of young Giovanni’s cake. They also had for him one of the DVD’s showing how to perform the easier magic tricks and a kit with some equipment. Father Luis announced that between the offering at mass and the admission to the show, San Nicola that night had gathered a donation of over EUR 1,000 for the boys and girls in Turin.

A loud “Hoorah!” went up and the families, and cats, began to file out into the late January cold, to walk on the cobblestones to their homes in the little hill town south of the home of Saint John Bosco, apostle of the young.
Neroni smiled as he followed his dear family home to their warm apartment behind the big wooden door with the lion-faced knocker, which little Cecelia had cleaned for a week. As the family enjoyed their evening espresso, he turned around three times on his blanket on the chair, snuggled his nose under his paw, and began to dream of that special moment when he was transported from the stage and being tangled in the hat to freedom beside the table holding the cake. How did that happen? Why, magic, of course. Registered & Protected

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Epiphany in the Little Hill Town or "l'Epifania tutte le feste porta via" or

Epiphany takes away all the holidays. Ah, Neroni felt a little sad as 5 January came around, for on the morrow, all the celebrating, all the festivities for the Natale season would end. Even in the cat world, one must get on with real life, the survival of one through the remainder of winter. But, to make the heart happy, La Befana comes along with festivals for those three men riding on camels at the end of the season.
The Ricci family had returned home from New Year’s in Rome with the cousins and resumed the semi-holiday feel on Monday and Tuesday with half-days at work and school, then finally the eve of the Epiphany, or the revealing to the world of the Christ Child, rolled around on Wednesday. It order to be ready, Cecelia and Simone helped Nonni clean house, and then pulled out their long, multi-colored stockings that she had knitted for them. They also dug out one for Pietra who was at the church getting ready for the mass early tomorrow. Mama rushed around the kitchen making those candies for the candy vendor at the town festival, those candy rocks of coal, little candy oranges and broom sticks, as well as star and camel shaped cookies for tomorrow’s holiday treat after dinner.
The girls moved quickly, for they knew there were a few more things that would have to do before the festivities began in the evening. Their duty to have ready an evening meal made them ask to run to the butcher with the boar’s head over the door. “Of course,” said Nonni as she put 10 Euros in their hands for some prosciutto, and added, “We also need some bread from the baker as your mother and I did not make bread today, a holiday for us, and we also need some peppers and onions from the vegetable stand to fry to go along with the sandwiches. Buy a treat for your mom and dad’s stocking while you are out, too.” She kissed and hugged them as if they were going to Rome instead of just down the lane and then to the right. Out the door they flew, as if on their own broomsticks, and Neroni scooted out with them, as he was always ready to see that door crack and to make a quick exit.

Actually, as he made his way down the street, the life-size dolls of La Befana hanging from neighbors’ windows and dressed in patchy skirts, old worn-down shoes, pointed hats, and black shawls while carrying broomsticks, frightened the black cat. He found her eyes to be always following him, and although he knew he had been good throughout the year and the Natale season, she spooked him and he fluffed out his tail as he ran under 20 of her to get to Mr. Gray Gatto’s house. He wanted none of her until tomorrow evening. Neroni and Mr. Gray headed to the main piazza to watch the workmen putting up the tents and stalls for the evening market and festival. Miss Ginny at Gionni’s Pasticceria poured some cream into a bowl for the two to share after their constant meow’s brought her to the door to see what was happening. She, too, stood and watched the workers getting ready for the march of the wise men into the piazza to deliver their gifts to the Bambino Jesus at the live presepe.

A couple of streets behind the piazza, on the edge of the hill, three men of the town, all with beards, were looking at the old costumes, all robes and cord belts and head gear made of taffeta and silk, golds, greens, purples, and reds, and pointy shoes in cracked brown leather. Neroni and Mr. Gatto wandered into the house after hearing their laughter and excitement at dressing as the three wise men, although these signori were wondering how wise they had been to accept this job for tonight’s celebration. The cats watched and meowed as the men began to dress, with a little sip of a sweet vino and a bite of biscotti to help give them the courage to pretend to be these long-ago characters from this beloved story from San Matthew. But between the request of their wives, children, and Father Antonio, these three gentlemen could not say, “No, I cannot do this.” Rather, Neroni’s owner, Aldo responded, “I will be honored to carry on the tradition of the wise men carrying the gifts to our Lord Jesus. Be sure to ask Basilio and Arturo, my good amici, to do this with me.”
After licking up drops of the vino and crumbs of the biscotti, Neroni and Mr. Gatto ran out the door as Papa shook out the gold robe he was to wear. They hurried home for a quick nap before the evening’s celebrations began…
After a quick slurp of the cream that Mama and Nonni had poured into his bowl as they had their early evening espresso, Neroni watched as the family, minus Papa, bundled up against the cold again, and hurried out the door, with him at their heels. They all sang their epiphany songs, songs of Befana and wise men, as they headed toward the market and the presepe, to await the entrance of the papas, uh, wise men into the piazza. A tiny mist of of light snow made the twinkling lights hung over the market tents and the manger stall seem to glow brighter. Again, Neroni hurried past the hanging Befanas only to see a REAL Befana, all cackling in her ragged clothes and handing out candy to the children of the town. He scurried to the side with his tail big again. Music floated from the little village quartet under one of the tents, and everyone greeted their friends and neighbors with hugs, the double-cheek kiss, and lots of “Buona sera,” floated on the evening snow, too.
Finally the special bagpiper, from the hills farther to the north, began the special eastern sounding melody and as one the crowd turned to the lane just above the piazza. They came, that very special trio, the three papas, the wise men of the story and of the small town, each followed by their rides, three beautiful horses…no camels here. Each man carried the appropriate gift, a cask of gold, a jar for aromatic frankincense, and the bottle holding the oil of myrrh. San Nicola Chiesa and Father Antonio graciously lent these holders from their storeroom for religious processions. Walking slowly, they approached the presepe and kneeled in front of Bambino Jesus and Maria and offered their precious gifts. Turning to the applause of the crowd, they took their places in the scene so that the town newspaper and everyone could snap a picture.
Suddenly the local firemen put the ladder on their one truck up to the top of the movie house and there, on the roof, stood La Befana, yelling that she needed help. Two firemen ran up the ladder, ropes in hand, ready to rescue her. Before they could grab her, she grabbed a zip line and swept across the piazza, landed in front of the market tents, and began to draw handfuls of candy from her deep pockets and to throw them out to the children. The Ricci family loved the delicious chocolates that La Befana gave to them, rich, dark and full of hazelnuts. Neroni and Mr. Gatto chased happily after the toy mice that Pietra purchased from the tent with all the tricks and masks and other novelties. The gatti played and ran as the children laughed and giggled.
After more singing, a bit of shopping, and cups of hot chocolate from one of the tents, the family turned to go back up the hill to home. Neroni had carried his new toy to Pietra and dropped it at his feet, and Pietra put the mouse in his pocket and picked up his favorite buddy, Neroni, while Simone picked up Mr. Gatto. Off to home they slowly walked, snow falling all around. Mr. Gatto jumped out of Simone’s arms at his door, and Simone knocked on the door. Old Mrs. Magori opened it and the cat ran in, Simone gave her a handful of candy from the festival, and told her, “Bouna Notte, e epifania felice,” as the old lady smiled and returned a, “Grazie,” with a lovely smile. Neroni meowed his own, “Bouna notte,” to his old cat friend, and the family returned to their home.
Getting into their pajamas, they took their multi-colored stockings to the chairs around the dining table and placed them for La Befana to place any gifts she might need to deliver during the night. Shortly the door opened and their own Papa, their favorite wise man, entered to hugs, kisses, and a mug of hot chocolate and some of the candy from the market. Neroni was proud, too, of his owner, and rubbed against the lovely fabric of the gold robe and meowed his cat greeting and cheers for a job well done,
“Meow, meow, meow, so glad you are home. Now I can go to my bed, make my three turns on the old blanket, and bend my knees, curl up, and go to sweet sleep.” And off he went to dream of his new toy, the mouse, and of the next evening when the town would gather again to throw all those old witches, La Befani, into the big bon fire in the piazza, where the sparks would fly into the sky and watchers would make predictions as to what the new year would bring. Neroni smiled as the witches burned in his dream and the sparks looked like dozens of mice, fat and yummy. Registered & Protected

Sunday, January 2, 2011

New Year’s in Italy or La Festa di San Silvestro (Feast Day of Saint Silvester)

Christmas Day settled down on the hill town, with more of the spirit-filled movement from home to church, back to home with delicious food, family, and fun and ending in quiet reflection of a year shared with friends and neighbors, soft songs of love for the Christ Child, and finally the goodnights of happiness and love. Neroni crawled into his special bed of the blanket covered chair, turned around three times, and fell into his curled up sleeping position. Good night, world, Buon Natale.

The following week brought the slow cleaning up from the Christmas holiday, eating left-overs, and tackling some work and school chores. Mama and Papa spent time talking to Cousins Angelina and Louie in Rome as the plan for this year included a trip to this lovely city for the La Festa di San Silvestro. As Neroni overheard the conversation, he squealed with delight because Mama reminded Angelina, “Neroni must come with us to visit with Gino, his cat cousin, especially since Nonni is coming with us. Anyway, he loves the ride in the car.”

At mid-morning on December 31, the family pushed into the little car for the 2 hour ride to Rome, with Neroni sitting on Pietra’s lap so Neroni could look out the window as the car traveled down the A1 superstrada. The brown hills and green cedars whizzed by with quick glimpses of sheep and tiled roofed homes. Everyone, even Neroni, got excited as Rome grew closer. The car raced past the airport, and then they were in this bustling city, so different from the quiet little hill town.

Cousins Angelina and Louie, with their children Francesca and Galileo, stood waiting at the entrance to their building on Via Giustiniani, in front of the large wooden doors with the lovely old lion door knockers, which Neroni adored and admired. After parking the little car, the Ricci family jumped out with their bags and cat in tow and hurried to hug and kiss their dear cousins, or cugini, and then quickly walked up the stairs to the cousins’ spacious apartment. The apartment, blessed with large French doors opening on a narrow terrace that fronted onto Via Giustiniani, wrapped its warmth around the two families as they entered laughing and chattering. Neroni jumped from Simone’s arms and bounded into the home since large streets and big trucks frightened him, especially in Rome where everything seemed larger than in the little hill town. A surprising ,”Meow, meow, meow,” cried from his mouth as he rubbed against the cousins to be sure they heard his, “Felice Anno Nuovo,” or Happy New Year!

After a delicious meal of lentils, for wealth, and Italian sausages spiced with salt, pepper, fennel seeds, garlic, paprika, and sugar, to represent richness in the New Year, as well as salada, the two families cleaned the table and dishes with speed, went to their bedrooms to change, and all met in the foyer to do a final check of appearances in the very tall mirror that has hung there for over 100 years. Neroni was finishing his tidbits of sausage, but managed to run into the foyer before the door shut him in.

The two families bounced back down the steps, out into the street to join the holiday revelers headed toward Piazza Navona, although most of the city celebrated New Year’s Eve in Piazza del Popolo, including the Italian president and other notables. But the Ricci and Conti families have always attended the celebrations in Piazza Navona because it is close to the apartment and more family-oriented. A band played both traditional and rock songs, while everyone danced and talked, ate toasted chestnuts and pizza, drank wine, and saluted the year quickly flying away. Finally at 11:59, the music stopped, and the count-down voices shouted the time, and then BOOM, BOOM, BOOM, the fireworks display burst out and lasted for nearly 20 minutes.

Neroni had done his usual scooting out the door with the family, and met his cat cousin Gino who gave him courage to be out near the Roman street. They followed the families to the piazza and danced and meowed their holiday greetings to other cats, but when the fireworks began to pop, off they ran, as fireworks might be cat-eaters, so staying to see what happened next was not an option. They ran until they saw the fish vendor’s stand and clawed around until they found some bits of shrimp and octopus…a nice New Year’s Eve treat. Neroni told his cousin Gino, “See you next time we're here. My family won’t be in until around 2:00 am and they will be up late in the morning. I plan to sleep in with them, then we go back home after breakfast. Buon Anno.” Gino shot off to get into his home before he got locked out, because he, too, was tired and ready for some curled-up sleep.

On New Year’s Day, after some hot espresso, brioche, and jam, the families hugged, kissed, and waved goodbye to each other, as the Ricci family had to return to the hill town to get ready for Sunday’s activities, church, lunch, naps, and then preparation for the coming week, Papa back to work, Pietra, Cecelia, and Simone back to school, Mama and Nonni back to their small catering business, and everyone pitching in with cooking and cleaning and thinking of the next holiday, Epiphany or Three Kings! Neroni oversaw all this activity, then ran out to the cobblestone streets to check on the local gatti to see how their New Year’s Eve went. Home again! Rome was exciting, but nothing beats the little hill town. Registered & Protected

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve rushed down on the little hill town and Neroni found himself eating tidbits from the early evening meal before midnight mass began. It had been snowing here, as it had all over Europe, and all the family cheerily agreed that going down the big hill to the town below earlier in the week for needed items and gifts was good because now the road was a ribbon of snow and ice, too treacherous for the little car to travel. Everyone pulled out the heaviest coats, scarves, gloves, and boots for the march to San Nicolo Chiesa for the beloved service. Papa wanted Nonni to remain at home, but she scolded him, “Aldo, I have nevered missed this service, and I do not intend to miss it now. Just hold on to me, and the angels will protect us as we walk to the church.” She took his arm, and following Mama, Pietra, Simone, and Cecelia, Nonni and Papa began their walk to church. Neroni scooted out the door as it was opened for the family's slippery troop up the hill, with all hoping they could safely enter the church doors with no falls.

Mama called after him, "Neroni, get back in this house. That snow will sting your paws!" But Neroni just turned around and looked at her with a sly little grin and scampered off. He knew another way to the church, where he was headed after he called for Mr. Gray Gatto to join him. These two cats loved the midnight mass. They usually sneaked in around the entering worshipers as they pulled the heavy doors open to the candlelit church. The two cats peered into the dim light to check to be sure that Mary, Joseph, shepherds, sheep, and other participants had not moved from their places, and suddenly they noticed that Bambino Gesu seemed missing.

Neroni then remembered and reminded Mr. Gray, "Always He is brought in by some of the bambini picoli. Just hold your breath so that they do not drop him." The two cats sat on the side close to the old organ as it began to sing out the old, old carols that began the service, and they hummed along in their cat voices, not too loudly for fear of being run out. How they loved the songs.

Finally the priest, along with altar boys dressed in white albs and red cassocks carrying the cross, the choir holding their candles and song sheets, and the children with Baby Jesus processed in to the notes of "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" and all took their places. Watching, listening, and sniffing, the cats grew sleepy after the incense spread up and down through the stone building,as the human voices prayed,the"Holy, holy, holy" rang out, the kneelers creaked as the Christmas people whispered their prayers after the special food they always ate, that Bread and Wine, and finally the lighting of each individual candle as "Silent Night" floated up to the angels hovering over the whole scene, which only Neroni and Mr. Gatto could see as they flutterd their wings. Then, the resounding "Joy to the World," ended this heavenly, once-a-year celebration that had taken place in the hill town for more than 1000 years. Neroni and Mr. Gatto made sure to rub their whiskers and face sides against the manger as the Christmas believers and church comers turned in their coats to face the cold and snow outside. Bambino Gesu always smiled at them as they left their gift of love on his bed. Quickly, before they could be seen, they ran out the big, wooden door as the priest closed it shut. The sounds of, “Buon Natale” that the humans shared made the cats smile and turn down the lane. Home was waiting. Registered & Protected

Monday, December 20, 2010

Getting ready

The days of Advent continue to proceed as the beginning winter winds begin their march into the hillside town, and Neroni chooses to sit, more and more, inside, in his window with his pink nose pressed against the chilled glass. These days of quietness have taken on a little more bustle as Christmas draws near, and Neroni takes his place in the little car; even though most cats hate cars, Neroni never misses an opportunity for a ride. Mama, Papa, Pietra, Simone, and Cecelia cram into the small auto, and Neroni patiently sits on Pietra's lap. It is time for a ride down the big hill, swaying side to side on the curving road, to the larger cita, or city, that sits at the bottom. Each member of the family has an errand to take care of, including Neroni.

Papa has to go see the lawyer, Signore Caspari, to double check any end-of-year forms and applications that are required for him to keep his small business open. And there are many,many forms in the country of Italy. So Mama drives, and Papa gets out with his beautiful leather bag full of papers on Via Roma where Signore Caspari's office sits, a grand old building which provides a home to Tomas and Pepe, law office cats. They get generous helpings of chicken, cream, and other treats from Lawyer Caspari and his family, as they live above the office and know that the cats keep the area free of the squeaky mice. Papa checks his nicest watch and tells them, "Come back in two hours for me. I should be finished with all these forms by then." He waves as Mama puts the little car into first gear and zips back into the center of town.

Turning left onto Via Tutti, Mama drops off Pietra and Simone at Vanelli's bakery with instructions to pick out the best baked goods from the bakery, to talk to Giacamo about his recent trip to London, and to do a little shopping for Christmas gifts, as everyone in the family loves the Lindt chocolates that grace the side display case. Since they, too, are chocolate lovers, Mama gives them a little money to get a hot chocolate while they wait for her to return. With them out of the car, Neroni gets a little more space to relax before Mama gets to his stop.

Neroni jumps out at Christ the King Church at the Piazza Cristo Re and trots next door to visit with the French ex-pat gatto named Jean. These two gatti have been buddies for many years, ever since Jean's owner, Therese moved into the little town in the late 1990's. Therese had moved here to get away from the noise of Paris and to help with her husband's family business.

The two gatto meow and screech a greeting in CAT, since Jean does not speak Italian very well and Neroni knows only a few words in French. CAT is so much more comfortable, any way. They whip around the building into the little garden that lies on the ground between Therese's house and the church. After some play chasing the little birds in the garden, the two gatto tip-toe quietly into the church to check out the creche or prespe and to be sure that Mary and Joseph haven't moved and that the shepherds and sheep are behaving. A cat can never be sure about these human-like figures that just seem to stand all day and all night. Also, those pesky mice can run in and make a snack of the wheat straw that lies in the manger, and Neroni always enjoys helping Jean control these brown, round, squiggly-tailed teethy animals.

Now Mama and Cecelia drive to the COOP to do the necessary shopping for all the ingredients and supplies needed for the Christmas Eve pre- and post- midnight Mass repasts. For the delight of the coming Christmas evening and especially for this time alone with Mama, Cecelia giggles and squeals. Nonni would have come with them, but she was a little achy today with the cold weather and thought she would remain at home and begin some of the last minute cleaning for this big night. So she helped to make out the list of needed items last night before saying her prayers and getting into her bed.

The COOP sits on the edge of town, at the bottom on a little hill next to the road that runs throught the olive, grape, and sunflower fields out in the country. The COOP sells all sorts of fresh fish, seafood, meats, and fresh vegetables and fruit, as well as all other baking and cooking ingredients. Aisles of other goods, such as sweat pants and shirts, cooking utensils such as espresso coffee pots, and toiletries and paper goods such as cards and wrapping paper wait for customers with needs beyond food items and who do not want to trade in the smaller, more expensive shops closer in town. In other words, the COOP is the Italian version of the supermarket.

Mama and Cecelia take out the beautifully written list and find these items listed: little octopus (as no meat will be eaten on Christmas Eve), chicken to make chicken broth for the soup, flour and eggs for the pasta capelletti (little hats)to be served in the soup,and for the lasagne for Christmas Day, cream for the cream tart, eggplant, finocchio, nuts, fruit, and brandy. As they drive their cart from aisle to aisle and pick out the best for their table, Mama and Cecelia share their little jokes about what fun Papa, Nonni, and Pietra and Simone are missing, but especially how Neroni would love to ride in the buggy. Mama chuckles, "Can't you see him jumping out on the fish table and telling the clerk to add some eels to the order, as well as some prawns?" Cecelia adds, "And how about his saying, 'Two extra containers of cream, please.'" for his expensive habit.
For helping her, Mama selects a box of special cookies to share with her brother and sister, just one or two at a time, to satisfy the longing for the delicious traditional treats which will occupy the big side board on Christmas Eve and Day. They complete their shopping, drop a few coins in the beggar's can, and rush to the car as a huge hand of wind pushes into the little valley where the COOP stands.

Into the little car they jump, and up the hill into town they drive, picking up Neroni, who is ready for a nap after scampering around with Jean, Pietra and Simone with bags from Vanelli's, and then Papa, his bag bulging with more forms to fill out at home--home on the narrow, cobblestone street in the town on the hill, just down the street from St. Nicolo's church, home with Nonni who has made delicious, hot vegetable zuppa and warm garlic bread for lunch, home with the window for Neroni to look out and then a much needed nap on the special blanket with dreams of the coming holiday. Registered & Protected