121. Christmas in the pandemia

I always have angels from Naples at the top of the tree

On December 14, 1984, my father, a nearly daily correspondent, tells me that he had spent the morning writing a letter to his nephew Giacomo in Rome. Even though he spent his first nineteen years in Italy, he writes, “It is so hard to write in Italian, especially when you have something to say. The verbs kill me. It has been so long. If only I could spend ten minutes reading an Italian grammar. That is all I need, but I do not have an Italian grammar, and in reality, do not really want to waste ten minutes.”

And now, nearly forty years later, the holiday season epistolatory tradition continues, albeit now, via Facebook. And this year, for the first time, Giacomo, whose English is very good, wrote to me in Italian. Lord knows, I need a lot more than ten minutes with a grammar book and I am flummoxed by more than just the verbs. But I could make out most of it, and learned that while Italy is undergoing a terrible surge of COVID-19, my extended family is well and in accordance with public health restrictions, would all spend Christmas at home. Italy, which was the first outside of Wuhan to be devastated by the coronavirus in the spring and is currently the hardest hit country in the EU, is desperately trying to head off a third surge in January. There is an Italian expression, Natale con i tuoi, which states that you should spend Christmas with the familiar “yours,” meaning extended family. But anyone with a shred of wisdom knows that’s just not possible this year.

Christmas 2019 with my cousins Angela, Giacomo and Annalisa at the rear

We cheated a bit, and drove to Brooklyn to fetch my daughter Maria, all pre-quarantined and tested up, of course. But Lizy stayed in Chicago, and we had to forgo our annual Seven Fishes Christmas Eve feast with dear family friends

We did only three fishes instead of seven, and played Tombola, the traditional, slightly vulgar Neapolitan bingo game, via Zoom.

Maria makes the spaghetti with clams; her dog, Bucatina, is reflected in the oven.
Stuffed squid, spaghetti with clams, and baccala, which is dried salt cod
Tombola is still fun over Zoom.

For Giacomo, i tuoi meant just his wife Simona and his younger son. His sisters Angela and Annalisa were spending Christmas only with their husbands.

My father with Angela and Annalisa on a trip back to Italy, 1950

Thank goodness for Facebook, which we have come to vilify as a spreader of crazy conspiracy theories and fake news, but proves its utility and original purpose in the ease with which we can connect with others. Unlike my father, I don’t think either Giacomo or I would have taken pen to paper to correspond. But not only did we write, but I was able to send him and his sister ancient family photos that I don’t believe they had seen before. I was also able to alert him to this blog, where he learned some details about our shared family history that he had not known.

Giacomo’s father, my Uncle “Pat”
Uncle Pat in his Naval uniform, 1937

So we have all made do, grateful for our many blessings and for the vaccines right around the corner. We will never forget 2020, but 2021 can’t come a moment too soon. And maybe in the short term, I will take advantage of the coming days at home to spend that ten minutes a day on Italian grammar that I so desperately need, so next year, I can write to Giacomo in Italian.

7 thoughts on “121. Christmas in the pandemia

  1. This photo reminded me, Gigi, about how much I miss seeing the creche at the Met. I really enjoyed this piece—all of it, including the old photos. Wonderful! It reminded me of my Christmas last year in Trieste with Paola’s family, which I wrote about on my blog.

    Ciao, Jean



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