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.