Beginnings

The sun has risen on this first day of 2022.  I always love the feeling that a new year brings – a blank slate that we can color however we want.  Whatever bad happened the previous year we can now put behind us in the category of “last year”.  Each January 1st is like a do-over for us humans.  We vow to be healthier, kinder, better.  We look at the next 365 days as an opportunity without judgments or excuses or histories.  This is year I will quit smoking, start exercising, eat healthy, travel more, fear less.  Everything is possible on January 1st.

In Italy, the holidays last until the Epiphany on January 6th.  You know those 12 days of Christmas that were so confusing as a child?  They are from Christmas Day until the Epiphany on January 6th.  When I was a child, my mother used to tell me that if you didn’t have all your Christmas decorations taken down and put away by New Year’s Day it was bad luck.  I always suspected she said that to urge me into letting go of all the shininess and festivity.  Here everything stays bright and festive for almost another week.  Then on the night of the Epiphany, Befana, a good witch, comes to all the children and stuffs their stockings with goodies.  Legend has it that when the three wise men were searching for the Christ child, they stopped at Befana’s house to ask directions.  She was too busy cleaning house to help them.  After they left, she realized her mistake and spends every January 6th riding her broomstick rewarding all the good children.  In our typically efficient and industrious way, we Americans took that and lumped it all in with Santa.  Our friend Rossella feels bad for American children because they don’t get the second round of gifts from Befana.  I assured her that most American children are not deprived in the gift department.  But the deeper meaning of this story to me is that no good comes from being overly committed to housework.

We spent New Year’s Eve with Michelangelo and Rossella.  We went out to dinner at a Chinese restaurant.  I am not kidding.  Asian restaurants are very popular here and I can understand why.  Food is a huge component of Italian life, but all the food is Italian.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but sometimes you just need a break from it.  These restaurants are billed as “Chinese/Japanese” and are a set price for all you can eat.  The only rule is there are no doggie bags.  We’ve been to two others and I must say the food is pretty good.  I’ve also been impressed with how elegant and sparkling they are.  All newly renovated with an eye toward the modern.  Not Italian in any way.  Not sure where this money is coming from, but it is a nice change of pace from the cozy trattorias we frequent.  No fortune cookies, though.

Afterward, we rang in 2022 at their home watching the Italian version of Dick Clark.  We had to get back home shortly after midnight because the UGA game came on at 1:30 our time and one of us couldn’t miss that.  On the way home, we encountered fog so dense we had to pull over.  We could not see the road or anything else.  It was a strange sensation, being surrounded by this white shroud, not knowing which way to go.  I don’t think I’ve ever been in fog so dense while trying to navigate a country road at night.  The entire way home we would go through stretches of clear skies and suddenly the world would go white with no warning.  We were so glad to pull into our driveway and stop rolling through the fog.

This morning dawned with a light mist and more fog.  Fog is very typical here, especially in the winter.  It would take a meteorologist to explain why, but I think the mountains, valleys and the fact that we’re on a peninsula make for some crazy weather patterns.  Whatever the reason, the fog rolls in from the Tiber Valley and surrounds us in our little hilltop village.  Then the sun will come out and burn it off and we can see the world clearly again.  But while we’re shrouded in fog, the world is softer and the edges are blurred.  You can see what you want to see, or see nothing at all.  You can reflect or you can try to imagine what the mountains that you know are out there are like.  Obscuring the world sometimes gives you more focus.  And so we begin 2022.

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