Happy New Year to All. My first holiday season in Italy has been a busy one. There were a lot of new people for me to meet, but, unfortunately for me, no dogs - well, almost none- and there were lots of new experiences.
Santa Paws must have thought I was good this year. I guess he overlooked all of the things I chewed up as a puppy - thank goodness. When I woke up on Christmas, there were presents all wrapped up in pretty paper. Trying to unwrap them was like a big puzzle. I started out slow and meticulous because I didn't want to destroy what was inside. I know, this is not very like me. I usually just rip things up at a fast and furious pace. All I can say is maybe I am growing up and learning patience. Or maybe not, because I managed to destroy one of my toys that day but I am still working on totally destroying the other two.
The good news is that Jim and Maree miraculously recovered from their illnesses on Christmas Eve, and we were able to go to our friend's (Giuseppe and Graziella) for a Christmas luncheon. We were among 12 guests who sat at a long table in Graziella's kitchen. The table was very festive set in reds and whites with red champagne flutes and wine glasses. I thought it was quite pretty. I do think red is my favorite color. It is the color of meat after all. The guests included family and a few friends - like us. Our friends Frans and Ingrid, originally from Netherlands, were there, and so was a British couple, Will and Nasim.
As lunch was ending, Will and Nasim invited us to have drinks with them on Thursday evening in their home in Mergo. This was my first trip to Mergo which is about 10 minutes from Poggio San Marcello. Maree was very interested in following up with Will on a conversation that had started on Christmas. It seems that his parents were the stars of the movie Born Free. They were a married couple who were approached to make the movie because the director wanted a couple familiar with each other who did not need to build a rapport with each other in addition to the animals. So the entire family, Mom, Dad, and three children under 6 years of age, moved to Africa for a year to make the movie. At first, there were two lions from a zoo who were to be used as Elsa. But it turns out they were rather aggressive and one attacked Will's dad. Then they searched for other lions. There were twenty different lions in all used in the movie, and some of these were provided by Haile Selassie. Eventually, Elsa was played by four different lions because each lion liked to do something different. One liked to ride on the roof of the car, another liked to swim, another liked the hunt. At one point in the movie when they were teaching Elsa to hunt so she could be reintegrated into the wild, Will's mom was attacked and suffered a broken leg.
The entire experience was a life changing event for the family. Will's dad started producing wild life films and they started the Born Free Foundation. (Here is a link in case you are interested in more information https://www.bornfreeusa.org/ ) The story of the making of Born Free was quite a story. I noticed that Will and Nasim, true animal people, also liked dogs. Nasim played with me a lot when she came to my house on Friday. That is when we learned that the Born Free Foundation has a monkey preserve in Texas and an elephant preserve in San Andreas, California. Will said that maybe one day we can go and visit the elephants, but it is not open to the general public. I am not sure about visiting elephants myself. They are bigger than the biggest dog I have ever seen, and I am not sure they are so friendly. Honestly, I hope dogs are not allowed.
We were finally able to get together with our friends, Cristina and Massimiliano, on Sunday night. I met them at Thanksgiving. We planned to met them in our little town to see the live Nativity scene. Who knew that this event would be so popular? Well, the line was like Disneyland, but it was not moving at all. While the people waited discussing what to do, I had a chance to play with two little dogs. I didn't want to leave. This was the most fun I had in weeks. But no one counted my vote when they were making the decision about whether to go stand in the line or do something else. So, we came back to my house, for some prosecco. I had some play time with Cristina's brother and his wife. They were fun too, but it is just not the same as playing with a puppy. They were very impressed with my ability to jump high, so I kept jumping up and down and up and down to amuse them. I find that people are easily amused by my antics. Oh, well, entertaining them was better than boredom. And it was some much needed exercise.
An hour later we were back in the car driving off into the darkness to find a restaurant. I always shake in the car at night. I just don't like riding in the dark when I have no idea where I am going. On this occasion, it seems, I was not the only one who didn't know where they were going. Cristina had made reservations at a restaurant that no one in our group had ever been to. It is well hidden. In the past Jim had tried to find it and was never successful. So, in the dark of night it took several 6 point turns on a narrow and winding road before we found it, but we did find it. The setting and the restaurant itself were really pretty. The room was painted red and had a nice fire burning. But, our table of six, which included Cristina's brother and sister in law, was the only occupied table in the restaurant. From Maree's perspective, she understood why no one else was there. First, there is really no signage and it is difficult to find, but secondly, the food was not up to the usual local fare. Of course, I didn't get to taste it. So, personally, I cannot voice an opinion. Jim's answer to the issue is that maybe it is a front for some illicit activity. I think he said this tongue in cheek, or I hope so.
Last night was New Years Eve here. I guess it was New Year's Eve in California too, but we got to celebrate 9 hours earlier. Maree and Jim had been invited to join 12 Dutch people at a tiny restaurant in Rosora. It was another restaurant we had never been to before, and Maree was hoping it would be better than the last one. When we arrived, it was so crowded that I was a little nervous. The spot where I chose to lay down was right in the way of the people serving food. So, I kept being pulled under the table. Do you know what is under a table?. Lots of legs and feet. Nothing very interesting to see or do unless you like chewing socks and shoes, which I like but I knew it would not be proper on this occasion. Sometimes I might find some discarded food under a table, but not on this night. The floor was wiped clean. I wanted a spot where I could see what was going on and that had a clear shot to the door in case of emergency, So, for the first hour it was a battle of wills - me laying down in the way of the servers and Jim and Maree trying to pull me back. Unfortunately, I lost this battle and finally laid down next to Jim in an out of the way spot after I was lured by lots of treats.
I was to learn that New Year's Eve in Italy is all about food and wine. The dinner goes on for hours. The food started to arrive at 8:30 pm and it continued until after 1:00 am. How can people eat this much, I wondered? And how can they sit at a table for so long? I was getting tired hanging out in my cramped place next to Jim, but no one let me go to stretch my legs. About the food, for starters there was a bruschetta and a cabbage and vegetable dish. This was followed by two pastas. Since the two pastas they were serving had tomatoes, they made Maree something different. She had pappardelle al cinghiale followed by ravioli in a squash and prosciutto sauce. Then there was salmon in an orange sauce and next quail in a truffle sauce. During the hiatus between the meat courses, three of the Dutch couples, who were staying in Frans and Ingrid's bed and breakfast, got up from the table and sang a song of thanks to Frans and Ingrid who will be moving to France in January. When the singing started, I thought about joining in, and I did get out two very weak notes, but then I stopped. What language was this song in? I realized I did not understand a word - it was not English and it was not Italian. I do know a few Italian words now and at least it does not scare me when people speak it. But this language was scary. The song did go on and on and on, and my ears were hurting. I was quite relieved when the singing stopped.
While the song had come to an end, dinner had not. After the pasta and meat courses, of course, there was dessert - a coffee mouse served with a chocolate spoon. At this point in time it was time to celebrate the New Year with champagne, sparklers, and music. There was a lot of hugging and kissing and clinking of glasses going on, but no one except Maree and Jim gave me a hug. I was feeling a little left out at this point in time. As everyone lit up their sparklers, music and dancing started up in a tent outside of the restaurant. It was very cold out there, but I don't think any of the people were feeling it after the bottles of wine and champagne consumed. While all of the people were saying, "Buon Anno Nuovo", that means happy new year in Italian I learned, more dessert appeared. There were cakes and candies and tangerines. But I was to learn that this was not the end of the meal. There was still more was to come. The final course on New Year's Eve here is always lentils with sausage. They are thought to bring luck in the New Year. Unfortunately, we left before the lentils because it was way past my bed time, and I was getting a little anxious with all of the noise of the music. I think I am not too big on loud New Year's Eve celebrations. Next year, I hope we stay home and watch a movie like Beverly Hills Chihuahuas.
Oh, I almost forgot. On New Year's Eve, in the afternoon, while Maree was in the shower to get ready to go out, we ran out of gas. She was not amused. Our house here is heated by propane, and there was no more. Jim called and left messages saying we needed gas, but so far no one has come. Fortunately, we have a backup heating system with a fireplace that heats the radiators, so we do have some heat in the house. But it requires Jim to do a lot of wood chopping. There is no hot water though, and any cooking will have to be done in the oven or microwave. I guess we can survive another day without gas. Nothing like roughing it on New Year's day. The worst part is the smell. There is an odor additive that appears when the gas is running out. The whole house smells of it. So Maree has the windows and doors open trying to get rid of the smell, but it keeps coming back. Lucky for me, I have a nice warm coat because the house is getting cold even with the fire in the fireplace. I hope this is not an omen of things to come in the new year.
Wishing all of my friends a warm and safe 2019. I hope to see you soon..
Ciao from your Italian friend,
I am Maree, the voice of Dino - or at least I am the one who does the typing. For more information about me and my life in Italy, you can follow me at theproseccoproject.com.