“Spelacchio”: A Christmas Story


Once upon a time a beauty contest was held among the snowy valleys of Trentino Alto
Adige in order to spot the most, luxurious, beautiful fir worthy to represent the
Christmas spirit in the capital: Rome. The prize was very high: the fir would have
been placed in the middle of Piazza Venezia and would have been adorned with
hundreds of fabulous silver balls and kilometers of lights bulbs. For almost a month
it would have reigned over that ancient city, close to the Coliseum and the majestic
Roman Forum . It would have been admired by millions of people, thus
becoming a celeb. The administrators of the city had in mind to create something
memorable that year, hoping people would forget the shabby organization of the previous Christmas setup. They were so confident that they didn’t even look for a sponsor
to share the expense, as it should have been crystal clear that the merits were to be all
their own .

The winner was a tall, elegant, rich sort of fir and as it had always been very admired and envied in the entire valley, nobody objected that choice. A party to celebrate the victory was given, then, band and scepter in hand, the Fir was accurately prepared and delicately placed on a lorry on a bed of cushions and tied, so that the 700 and more kilometers to the capital might be not too tiring. It should have been at its best once in the capital. However, when the snowy cliffs of Trentino Alto Adige were no longer in sight, a sort of melancholy took possession of its heart. The air was no longer clear and sparkling, but humid and polluted. It seemed as if it could not breathe.
Furthermore, it had started to notice in horror that some pine needles were falling
off prematurely. Surely, it was the stress of the long journey, but fortunately they were very close to the final destination. Nobody would have noticed few pine needles missing, the Fir was sure.

Only when it was eventually crucified in the middle of Piazza Venezia, the most deserving of all firs understood the tragedy that was about to overwthelm it. It was not only for the few
needles that had fallen off, but it had lost almost a half of his green coat. It
stood there, defenceless, tired, mortified at its own ugly nakedness. Was really this tall
and huge scarecrow the “elegant”, “sober” tree promised by the administrators? When the children gathered around the tree they were, of course, disappointed and soon named it sneeringly: “Spelacchio“( the closest word in English I might think about  is “mangy”) The tons of lights that weighted on its humbled spirit and the hundreds of silver
balls that wounded its bare branches were not enough to hide the shabbiness of the
entire effect. Giving a look around from where it had been placed,  however, the Fir felt just a little relieved: that capital was not exactly what it had imagined. Dirt and garbage could be seen almost everywhere, the city seemed chaotic and noisy. Somehow, its presence perfectly fitted that place, it thought bitterly.

Sunset was the happiest moment of the day. The lights were turned on, so the Fir felt safely hidden behind the magic wonder that covered it all and imagined to be admired as it used to be, but the mornings were hideous and the Fir couldn’t bear to read in the disappointed eyes of passers-by its own failure any longer. So there it stands now, barer and barer day after day, waiting for Christmas to come, hoping  to be set free as soon as possible from its misery and humiliation . Much better to end up as a log in some warm fireplace that exposed in that cold square.

The moral of the story? Well, if your city administrators cannot even make a decent Christmas tree, it is very unlikely they will be able to bring the place you live to the standards it deserves. Think twice before giving your vote next time.

In the meanwhile, Merry Christmas everyone!

 

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Christmas Devils

 

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It’s almost Christmas time, but if you are looking forward to enjoying that magical atmosphere and you don’t feel like waiting a couple of weeks more, well, there is a place in Italy which has already put on the festive attire of the most enchanting celebration of the year: Trentino Alto Adige. My last experience in Trentino Alto Adige last summer had not actually been the most enjoyable one, I know, but I think anybody must be given a second chance, therefore my husband and I took advantage of a four-day holiday to visit the famous Christmas markets in Bressanone, Bolzano and Merano.

imageChristmas markets are very renowned here and are a major touristic attraction. We arrived in Bressanone at sunset and the town was all a glow of lights, Christmas trees and ornaments. Once arrived at the cathedral square, I could see the classical stands which displayed the typical products of the land, hand-made decorations, cribs, carved wooden figures, candles etc. I was looking for one stand in particular, the “strauben”stand. Strauben is a typical sweet fritter, coiled and twisted, flavored with grappa, served with ice sugar on top, plus cranberry sauce or chocolate.

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I devoured it in few secs without even blotting my winter coat. My white winter coat. By the way, I noticed that the lady who had served me the strauben was looking at me with a certain concern. She informed me, in fact, that in short, hundreds of young boys would have reached the square, dressed up as devils with the intent of frightening with their whips, rusty chains and bells the people they would meet and smear them with black grease. Whaaaat??? I had the unfittest outfit on, for sure. In few minutes the fairy place turned out into one of Dante’s circles of hell. When I saw “Caron dimonio ” and his fellow devils rush into the square, I immediately ran away to seek shelter in one of the shops around, while I sent my husband to take some pictures for the sake of the post. But what was all that mess about?

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imageThose beast-like creatures are called Krampus and belong to the folklore of Alpine countries. It was thought that they appeared during Christmas season to punish those naughty children who misbehaved to carry them away to their lairs. Traditionally men dress up as Krampus during the first week of December, particularly on the evening of the fifth of December, the eve of Saint Nicholas day. This tradition is, in fact, linked to the figure of Saint Nicholas. It seems that long, long time ago, in times of famine, the young men little mountain villages used to wear furs made up with feathers, animal skins and horns. In this way nobody could recognize them and they were free to terrify, rob and sack the inhabitants of nearby villages. After a while the young men realized that there was an impostor among them as his feet seemed to be goat hooves: he was the devil himself.

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The bishop Nicholas was called to exorcise that disturbing presence and once the devil was beaten, from then on, young men from those valleys parade along the streets of the villages dressed up like devils, following the image of the bishop who had succeded in defeating evil. They no longer frighten the villagers, but bring gifts (they usually throw nuts or sweets) or hit naughty boys. But as soon as the sun sets, Saint Nicholas disappears from the scene, so without the control of the Saint, the Krampus are once again free to spread terror hitting whoever crosses their way.
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And in case you met one of them, this is what might happen to you .image
My hero !!!! 😀

Stranger at home

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Selva Di Val Gardena

I can still remember my first day in London. I was at Piccadilly Circus with a map in my hands trying to figure out where to go. A passer-by offered to help me. He was very gentle and wanted to know where I was from.When I said I was from Rome, he seemed surprised, as he asserted I didn’t look actually Italian( What do Italians look like? Short?Dark?With moustache?). Then he started the following charade: ” Oh, yes, I know Italy well: pasta, pizza, mamma mia, papa, pappa, mandolino, mafia ” he mentioned also some famous Italian football players of the time and started to sing me this song :” Solo un cornetto give it to me, delicious ice-cream of Italy“, it was a tune of a commercial, I guess. I was actually amused by the situation, however, it was only the first day in a foreign country and somebody had already placed in front of me the mirror of what I was supposed to be,only, I didn’t recognize myself in that mirror. Well, at a closer inspection, maybe a little.

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Typical Italians?

The question is, that some of those common places that make the Italian stereotype abroad could be true, maybe, for just a few of us, but where is prototype that you seem to see so clearly from? Where can he be found? You have to know, in fact, that we are very different from one another: 20 regions with at least 20 dialects, which seem more languages as they have produced wonderful literature. Different habits and food from North to South as gift of the long dominations of the past from all over Europe.So, for example , if I go only 200 km far from where I live, I may soon realize that even the codes of behaviour are different, as if I were in another country. Maybe we are a little unreliable, individualist, intolerant to rules, shrewd, I admit, but this common trait is also heritage of those invasions: the dominated never co-operate with their dominator.

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Selva Di Val Gardena

20140811_154808The place I’ve just been on holiday is an extreme example of what I’ve just said. Trentino-South Tyrol (Italy) is a magnificent place with green valleys, the enchanting Dolomites, rich forests, streams that become waterfalls, golden lakes, super tidy and organized villages, houses of marzipan with balconies covered with red, pink,white geraniums and that sweet, intoxicating smell of apfel strudel (apple pie) that surrounds everything. A paradise. The languages spoken are three, German, Ladin and Italian in order of importance. Trentino-South Tyrol,in fact, had been part of the Austrian Empire since 1814 and was annexed to Italy at the end of the first world war and you’ve got to believe me if I tell you that after one hundred years they cannot swallow the tremendous reality that they are Italian. If you placed that mirror if front their faces they would be disgusted and humiliated.

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Brixen

Therefore, it may happen that some of them still feel the need of stressing their not being Italian, particularly in the presence of the Italians, not all of them of course, but still many. For example, they could pretend not to understand a single word of what you say and speak German only, or make you wait a lot at a restaurant, while you see all the non Italians who have come right after you served. You know, the usual warm, welcoming Italians. That’s why we always try to behave well, in order not to be too soon spotted . I also speak a little German and after all I don’t look that Italian as somebody said. But you know, there is always a moment of looseness, as when I gently called my husband , with my slight Roman accent “Amò vieqquà “(” Would you come here, love?”, well, not exactly so gentle .) ) and we soon realized we would have paid the consequences of that weakness.

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Brixen

After having struggled to get a seat at a restaurant in Brixen for more than one hour, a waiter eventually came, handed the menu, looked at us sneering and pronounced the following words in an uncertain Italian:
I warn you, you’ll have to wait long” ( it was 2:00 p.m)
Ok, but, how long? An hour?“, we asked, after all there were not so many people then.
Long“. And he turned his back .
We understood we’d better go away, if we wanted some food and decided to go back to Selva di Val Gardena, where we lodged and get some rolls. We went to a bakery and the young lady, who had to serve us, very likely the sister of that waiter in Brixen for what concerns politeness, barked ..oops I mean, answered, in this way to our request of rolls:
But , you haven’t chosen the bread!!!”
No, we haven’t, in fact. What kind of bread do you have?” We asked.
” Look!” She pointed at the bread .
We looked at the bread, but we couldn’t recognize anything familiar, therefore, we gently asked her to explain what was in front of us. She was clearly annoyed and started to make a very quick list of the types of bread, while I tried to match words to images. We eventually agreed to buy a couple of “coppiette“. I’ll spare you the tiring conversation we had to decide what to fill the rolls with.
We sat on a bench outside the bakery and when we started to bite our rolls, it was about 3:30 . Fresh, crunchy bread, tasty speck and mortadella,uhmmmm, delicious, when , in horror, I realized that we were dropping some crumbs. I was just thinking to pick them up nonchalantly, when a sparrow came in our help, enjoying every single crumb, till the pavement was clean and polished again 🙂

passerotto