I'd like to think that my wife is luckier than most. I don't go to the local drug store to buy Valentine cards for her. I've been making my own designs for her throughout our life together. (Truth be told however, I know for certain that I'm the lucky one).
I usually make dinner for her at home on Valentine's Day. Not that I'm cheap, mind you. It's just that Lisa thinks I can cook a lot better than most local restaurant chefs.
While modern cards might use cliche phrases or puns or jokes as a message to a loved one, these vintage Italian Valentines will remind us that Italians have always been a passionate bunch...
Just so you know I wasn't exaggerating about the Valentines I make for Lisa, here's a recent one....
Buon San Valentino!
On the streets and back alleys of Italian towns, you might come across a communal dinner like this... a miss-mosh of chairs, tables, sawhorses and plywood hobbled together to create an impossibly long dining table--often blocks long. The celebration might be a birthday, a wedding, a baptism, anniversary or even a more organized event or town festival. But the result is the same... bringing families together in one huge feast, sharing wine, food, laughter and love.
Perhaps a thousand years before Christianity adopted the egg as a part of the Roman Catholic holiday of Easter, the ancient Romans believed that "omne vivum ex ovo" - all life comes from the egg. The egg was a symbol of a rebirth in spring after the lean days of winter were over. Archaeologists believe that ancient Romans decorated eggs with dyes using onion skins, spices, beets and carrots (a tradition that is still done today in many Italian families). They were used as offerings and gifts during pagan spring rituals and festivals.
Today, the Uova di Pasqua carries on that ancient tradition...
A popular tradition is to give chocolate eggs as gifts, which themselves can be elegantly decorated. The simplest tradition involves giving a large chocolate, hollow egg to each family member, which is broken to reveal a present or treat inside.
Real eggs are died red (in the Greek tradition), representing when Mary Magdalen presented an egg to Emperor Tiberius Caesar as it miraculously turned red, symbolizing the blood of Christ. But the also decorate and paint eggs, often in glorious ways. Any artist can understand why--the egg is such a beautiful, blank canvas...
The Christmas season is nearly over with the Epiphany only 3 days away. We will be sad (as usual) to take down the Christmas tree, the decorations and take the lights down from around the outside of our home. This part of Christmas is a bit sad, but then again, we have had wonderful friends visit us, gave each other gifts from the heart, and have had amazing culinary feasts: Lisa's panettone and Christmas cookies, my chocolate pasticiotti, breakfasts of eggs Benedict, panettone French toast, chocolate croissants, and of course, our Baked Ham on Christmas Day and Wild Boar Stew for dinner on New Year Day. We also enjoyed our annual cheese fondue and Greek salad on New Year's Eve with good friends, noisemakers and chilly Prosecco.
I don't know why, but our home felt especially warm this season... if not for the fireplace and mantle that I built last year, certainly for the love we feel for each other in our little Finzi Famiglia.
I just wanted to post some photos of the warmth of our home for you all to share. Please have a safe, healthy and Happy New Year!
Il tuo amico sempre,
The beautiful plate above by King of Mice Studios
Matera, located in Basilicata near the border of Puglia, is one of the most unusual towns in all of Italy in this respect... because of its Sassi (literally, rocks), the cave homes dug into the mountain that the city sits upon. People have been living in caves for 50,000 years here. The Sassi have been restored into posh hotels and B&Bs and apartments with Matera itself declared the Capitol of Europe for 2019.
In winter, the surrounding rocky landscape and the Sassi homes are a wonderland, especially with a dusting of snow...
In December and January, visitors to Matera can walk through the Sassi, along the edge of the gorge and enjoy the Living Presepio displays. Much like small presepio displays, besides the Nativity scene itself (with Joseph, Mary and Jesus), there are costumed Materese portraying shopkeepers, musicians, beggars and gypsies from the time of Jesus.
The presepio, derived from the Latin word presepium, meaning manger, has been the defacto symbol of Christmas for Italian families for dozens of generations, and in the South, perhaps as long as a thousand years. Of course, most Italians also have a modern Christmas tree, but the presepio in its simplest form is a tradition of devotion representing the birth of the baby Jesus. These nativity scenes typically consist of a structure to represent the simple barn where Joseph and Mary were forced to give birth to the Son of God. An ox, donkey, angels and perhaps the three Wise Men are typically represented.
But the presepio is often much, much more, showing village scenes from every day life. Its components are mostly handmade from a variety of materials: wood, ceramic, cartapesta (Papier-mâché), terracotta and fabrics. Some scenes include small waterfalls or fountains, houses, buildings, mountains, trees, grottoes, livestock and vendors of all sorts. The details can be absolutely astounding.
There are some characters and elements that many deem essential to the tradition: