The period of the Creches


The month of December is an extremely important season in all Italian regions, from North to South. Lights, decorations, Christmas trees are all over the place. Added to the fragrance of roast chestnuts (that are still roasted and sold on improvised stalls that seem to spring up along the roads of town centres as a kind of spell), shops made up like ladies ready to celebrate New Year’s Eve. No other time of the year releases a more exiting atmosphere than this one. Small local or organised markets, displaying a wide range of typical products, seem to multiply at all latitudes.

CULTURE AND EVENTS
ROME: If you happen to be in Rome, for instance, you can visit the Fair of Rome, open until December 12th, an homage to Christmas paid by the city. This year, the fair has dedicated a whole pavilion to Christmas specialities that is typical Christmas and New Year’s Eve national and international products (the fair is open from 3 to 10 p.m. on weekdays and from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Saturdays and holidays; entrance ticket L. 8,000).

And talking about sweets and sweetness, Italy is a real gold mine. Almost every place in Italy prepares what can be considered a small homage to traditions that is preserved and passed on from one generation to another. These include almond nougats (torroncini) of all kinds, Neapolitan sweets (the susamielli, sweets with sesame and honey in the shape of an S, quite a sight to see!), nut brittle (walnuts and nuts baked in honey stuffed inside two wafers), the extra rich Sicilian cakes like the cassata and candied fruit that is also the base ingredient of the Christmas symbol par excellence, the panettone, a sweet of unknown origin produced in a wide range of regional variants.

For more information and to become more familiar with the Italian Christmas cuisine, visit the site http://www.italmensa.net/italmensa/mese.htm that contains recipes and suggestions to create a full course menu.

FLORENCE: If you happen to be in Florence don’t miss the Christmas Crafts Trade Fair (open every day from 10.30 a.m. to 10.30 p.m., entrance ticket L. 15,000) on stage from December 3rd to December 8th at Fortezza da Basso, the historical seat of the most important trade fairs held in the Tuscan capital. This is also the location of the second edition of the International Biennial Exhibition on Contemporary Art, on stage from December 3rd to 12th (open from 10.30 a.m. to 10.30 p.m., entrance ticket L. 12,000), that displays 1500 works (paintings, sculptures and drawings) by 520 artists from all over the world.

The tradition of creches is celebrated with the exhibition held in the crypt of the church of Santa Croce from December 12th to January 30th. The exhibition will display over hundred creches from all over the world, produced with different materials and in varying sizes, from the German crystal creches down to the ebony ones from Senegal. A miss-at-your-peril event!

Creches are a typically Italian tradition, which explains why most of the sites dedicated to them are in Italian. One of the most complete sites is http://www.presepi.it. It illustrates the history of creches and gives a schedule of the most important exhibitions on display in Italy.

During all the Christmas holidays it will be possible to experience the thrill of ice-skating on the ice-skating rink set up in Piazza Santa Croce in Florence. You’ll be able to pivot around on rented skates and pretend you are in a mountain village. The only difference is that skaters will be surrounded by the incredible splendour of this square that is one of the most beautiful ones in Italy. Visit it now at http://www.mega.it/eng/egui/monu/xpiazza.htm.

VENICE: Venice offers an “unusual” view of itself with a musical event. The Venice Gospel Ensamble will give a concert on December 12th at the Palafenice. An excellent opportunity of widening the Christmas musical panorama with a very pleasant musical genre that is far from being Italian.

EVENTS THAT SHOULD NOT BE MISSED
If you weary of tasting gastronomic specialities and of the typical atmosphere of Christmas carols, you shouldn’t miss the exhibition dedicated to the Hundred Masterpieces of the Hermitage. Impressionists and Avant-garde painters are on display at the Scuderie Papali in the Quirinale (from December 18th to June 11th 2000, opened from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day; and from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays; entrance ticket L. 15.000). This is a unique opportunity to view works that are usually on display in the Museum of St. Petersburg. A selection of the best examples ranging from the late 19th century French painting down to those of the First World War. A unique collection in which each work is characterised by a high level of artistic quality. “La Danse” by Henri Matisse of 1909 and “The drinker of absinth” by Picasso of 1911 are worth alone the price of the ticket.

To “prepare” for the exhibition and attain more detailed information, you can visit the site of the Hermitage museum, that has been recently renewed, at www.hermitage.ru, where you can find images and descriptions of the works exhibited.

I’m not going to mention any of the end of the year-millennium celebrations to sustaining the “media bombarding” to which we are constantly subjected.

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, Happy December 13th or best wishes for any other day you consider important. We’ll be in touch next month.

Francesca Del Re

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