Food  |  Life

Sugar and light

Posted on December 12, 2014

A few weeks ago the Christmas lights went up around the neighbourhood. This was a complicated, dangerous-looking process that involved workmen in fluorescent coveralls zig-zagging across the streets, strings of lights draped over their shoulders and trailing along behind them and ladders haphazardly propped up against buildings. One guy, cigarette clamped firmly between his teeth while teetering precariously at the top of a ladder, attempted to hook the lights onto various protrusions (lamp post; a wooden shutter; someone’s washing line) while another guy halfheartedly steadied the ladder from below, periodically taking his hands off of it to yell directions while gesturing wildly, which caused the ladder to shudder violently. One of the other workmen, his own ladder balanced across one shoulder, turned to yell something at someone, somewhere down the street. The ends of the ladder carved a wide, slow circle through the air as he turned, narrowly missing the heads of several nearby pedestrians and a strip of parked motorini.

And then the lights were up, twinkling, and the Christmas season had begun.

The Christmas lights are just one of the things I love about the holidays in Rome. One of the other things is panettone, the sweet, cake-like loaf made with near-deadly amounts of butter, eggs, and booze-soaked raisins that has its origins in Milan but has certainly been fully embraced here. My appreciation for panettone borders on extreme obsession – late November has me watching, hawk-eyed, for the loaf’s first appearance in grocery stores and on bakery shelves.

One of the local supermarkets has temporarily removed the entire fresh produce department and replaced it with a top-heavy mountain of boxed panettone and pandoro – broccoli apparently holds little appeal over sugary carbohydrates – and the shelves of my favourite bakeries are crammed with the loaves; kilogram after kilogram of artisanal dough wrapped in shiny decorative plastic and releasing its buttery aroma in heavy, knee-weakeningly potent clouds.

Between my boyfriend and I, at least one panettone per week is being demolished – large slices served alongside a cappuccino to start off the day, a slice after dinner as dessert, and then of course the small pinches and narrow, almost translucently thin slices (so thin they don’t really count) shaved off and nibbled throughout the day. I’ll admit that this is, perhaps, excessive. The guys at the bakery have certainly started raising their eyebrows every time I request another loaf; one of them asked me exactly how many people I’ve been feeding lately (I told him that I had guests, since it made me look like less of a glutton).

But there is a sense of urgency: The season is objectively short, and once the new year rolls around, the bakery will stop producing panettone, the remaining loaves will be discounted and immediately snapped up by shrewd nonni with a sweet tooth and cupboard space to spare, and then it will be unavailable; discontinued until the calendar reaches November again. And so the seasonal delicacies must be thoroughly enjoyed while they are around – enjoyed to the point of stomachache and sugar crash, maybe, and then their end-of-season disappearance won’t seem so tragic.

Now we just have to find a suitably-sized, not-entirely-ugly Christmas tree (a harder task here than one would imagine, where most of the artificial trees for sale that I’ve spotted seem to involve fake snow and glitter), tuck it into a corner of the living room, and wrap it in its own string of Christmas lights. Between the tree and the panettone, our Christmas preparations should be complete.

Share this post: Pinterest Facebook Twitter

Leave a comment

Recently Written


New year, new goals

I’ve never really liked New Year’s Eve. It’s too glitzy, too close on the heels of Christmas to have any real anticipation built up around it, and too full of pressure to round up friends, make plans and stay out late. Do you know what I always really want to be doing on New Years Eve at midnight? I want to be at home, in my pajamas, holding a mug of tea as I lean out the window to watch a few distant fireworks (if I lean far enough out the window, almost to the point where toppling down onto the...


Miniature dramas and things to be repaired: A snippet of everyday life

Rome has been truly luminous these days, full of the kind of vibrant colours and particularly soft light that seem to have been designed specifically to distract from the fact that winter is lurking just around the corner. The trees here cling onto their leaves long after the Christmas decorations have gone up around the city, and the result is both seasonally confusing and, at the same time, oddly comforting. And right now, I’ll take comforting. November has been somewhat strange, with a whirlwind work trip to the United States (involving six flights and two layovers exceeding five hours each) at...


Oh, Rome

Last week I picked up my renewed permesso di soggiorno, the little rectangle of plastic that is quite possibly one of the most valuable things in my possession given that it allows me to legally stay in Italy. I sat in a sparse, dingy police station waiting room where announcements from 1998 were thumbtacked to peeling blue walls and a crooked, gilded crucifix hung above the door, and then I sat in front of an unsmiling officer in a cramped office while she dug my new permesso out of a shoebox full of envelopes, sliced my old one into a...

Food  |  Travel

Ovindoli: The great outdoors (and cool temperatures) at Rome’s doorstep

We had come to Ovindoli to escape. It was the beginning of August, and as is tradition, Rome was beginning to empty itself steadily, disgorging its residents in the annual exodus towards other, more appealing holiday destinations while sweaty tourists flowed in to take their place. A heatwave named Lucifer (Italians like to name their heatwaves) was also set to descend on the country, pushing temperatures up beyond the 40ºC mark and well beyond the possibility of tolerance. We headed for the mountains – not the taller, more famous peaks up North with the spectacular skiing in the winter and lush green...

Food  |  Travel

Sun, sea, and extremely spicy sausage: Venturing into Calabria

I had never heard of San Nicola Arcella when I agreed to spend nine days there. Neither, apparently, had anyone else. In the weeks leading up to the trip, I saw a lot of blank faces whenever I mentioned where I would be travelling. Friends, the barista preparing my morning cappuccino, even a guy who grew up in the same region – nobody seemed to know about this place. I quickly came to the conclusion that it would turn out to be either one of Italy’s best-kept secrets… or one of its secret shames. San Nicola Arcella is in Calabria, which at...


Rome’s coast: Beach, or outdoor living room?

This is what you probably don’t associate with a relaxing day at the beach: Forty-five minutes in the car, windows down, hot air streaming in. Traffic; a long, slow snarl that snakes towards the coast, tangling up hopelessly at every on-ramp and poorly-placed stoplight. And a painful hunt for an acceptable parking space; a space where you might have a chance of actually extracting the car at the end of the day. It feels like a mass-exodus from Rome, and in a way, it is. It’s the weekend; the city is relocating to the sea. The Roman coastline, or the litorale romano as...

View more posts
Show me posts about...