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.