Chocolate. Finishing a meal with a piece of chocolate makes all the difference, don’t you think? And chocolate cures many seeming ailments. Given we are living in and have just lived a year in tumultuous, brutalizing times for several reasons too sad to recount, we take comfort in both simple pleasures and in the power of rituals.
Returning to Rome for our third consecutive December was reassuring and welcoming. What is not to love about the holidays in Roma? The traditions, beauty, decorations, celebrations, food and wine, but did you know the weather is the mildest in Europe in December? Not sure why, but daytime is always in the 50s even 60s Fahrenheit. No gloves necessary. Hats discretionary. The sun shines often, the sky is blue, walking is splendid. And walking the same old ancient streets, visiting the same shops—Rome is a city of small shops and businesses—eating at the same favorite restaurants is reassuring. Stuff happens, Rome persists. It rarely rains. The temperature is enough to coax us from New York and Paris. Edward and I are outdoors for hours, trapsing those uneven and sometimes slippery cobblestone streets with ancient names in rubber-soled footwear. Next year? Who knows.
We revisit Roscioli, the restaurant and salumeria with centuries of history as a grocery store and eatery. A reference for Roman cuisine. We have the same meal at least for the initial lunch there: Roman artichokes, cacio e pepe pasta, a good wine, then split a tiramisu like none other…so light and flavorful. We take a photo of the shared tiramisu like we always do. To create a new memory? Relive a moment in time with all our senses? Looking back at photos, I feel the spoon in my hand…the creamy texture on my tongue. All is well in the world.
Last year we were surprised to see the Pope from our window celebrating the Feast of the Immaculate Conception celebrating Mary, Jesus’s virgin mother when he speaks and gives a blessing at the foot of a bronze statue of Mary on December 8. Last year he preached for an end to the war in the Ukraine. This year he added focus on the end to deaths in Gaza. Thousands of people lined the streets around the Spanish Steps to glimpse him, many more on national television. Many of their viewing attempts were as futile as seemingly some of the Pope’s prayers and wishes, but he remains a comforting symbol and shield in today’s world. Amen. Sometimes you just have to take deep breaths or retreat to the gated-community of your mind.
The role of photographs in our Apple world is a sea change. We take so many photos. We cannot help ourselves. Will our history be the history of those moments…holidays, anniversaries, people celebrating, travel sites and experiences? And the rest of life? A “very” favorite activity of our now 2.5 and 5.5 year-old boy friends is looking at photos on an iPad or iPhone; they sweep photos across the screen with their little index fingers. What are they thinking? They love to see themselves but love to meet and recognize others they have met in life or only on my screen. They know names and some stories and make up others. It seems normal to them. And for us, we have a fond memory of them looking at our photos. I cannot say I am in favor of a lot of screen time for kids (or adults), but it has its pleasurable and educational moments that cannot be denied. But photographs… In every moment all our past moments live, and photographs help to navigate time travel, intentionally or Proustian.
Reliving good moments or repeating annual activities is indeed a respite in troubling times. Why is the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day a century-long national tradition? This year Santa made his 97th appearance in the parade. The Rockettes their 67th. Imagine that. And who doesn’t love a parade and marching bands? Some of the music may change but embracing the new sounds and songs keeps you connected to common and current humanity. More social security in a troubled world. Interesting, isn’t it, that the arrival of a new year is celebrated with firework displays in all the major cities (and cultures) around the world and on television? An hourly shared parade of humanity starting in Auckland, New Zealand year after year.
Speaking of parades (as I was), on January 1 walking back from a grand lunch with friends, the five-year-old boy in hand in the Centro Historico area of Rome…what sound do we hear? A marching band. We had discovered the annual “Rome Parade” involving US marching bands and majorettes joining Italian musical folk groups and street artists.
The three-hour extravaganza began in Piazza del Popolo then progressed on Via del Babuino, Piazza di Spagna, Via Condotti, and Via del Corso back to the Piazza del Popolo. We watched an hour-and-a half of mostly American high-school bands among those from San Angelo, Texas; San Francisco; Charlottesville, Virginia; Sparks, Nevada; Overland Park, Kansas; Chicago; New York State; Dallas; Southern California; Birmingham, Alabama; Palm Beach County; College Park, Georgia…and we remember clearly our initial surprise upon reading Nebraska. What world was this? Who knew? You can’t make this up. (Next day, the historic district was filled with packs of roaming American teenagers.)
Food like photos are memory triggers. Sometimes they are the same.
Smiles and laughter are good, as I have noted often. And gelato is very good and everywhere present in Rome.
How about the Pantheon at Christmas?
Or kids dressing up?
Hanging around with kids is a continuing pleasure, amusement and anti-aging agent.
Nature is also good and anti-aging. Why not a beach or park?
Or a wake-up call garbage strike in Paris?
I have been thinking in paintings for a lifetime and executing for a decade. Progress. Hobbies are also healthy.
Finally, I must say once again Voltaire got it right…his hobby was gardening, a practiced gardener in life and philosophy. He knew that gardens are about dreams and imagination, but to produce aesthetically pleasing and healthy outcomes they require planning and care. Taking care of oneself is a form of gardening, of course. And it increases one’s chances of living a long and healthy life. Remember the final and famous line of Voltaire’s most celebrated work, Candide says, “Il faut cultiver son jardin” (we must cultivate our garden) mostly rejecting Pangloss’ utopian optimism in favor of pragmatism…like weeding one’s garden and rejoicing in its flowers.
As always, we wish you a joyful and healthy new year.