Beginning to look

Yes, I skipped yesterday. Happily, the Holidailies requirements stipulate 20 updates during December, so there's a bit of leeway, but if it's any consolation I do feel guilty about having missed a day so early in the month.

Thing is, we got back from Rimini and slumped directly into a food coma for the rest of the day. We ate our weight in seafood, and I don't even think I'm exaggerating by much. This is one of those restaurants that doesn't have (or at least doesn't use) a menu, they just keep bringing you dish after dish (after dish after dish), and every time you say you can't possibly eat another bite, they bring something else that looks and smells so fabulous you simply can't resist.

I skipped a few things, partly to save my rapidly shrinking available stomach real estate for the must-have dishes, and partly because I can't quite bring myself to eat certain crustaceans that are a bit too insect-like in appearance. But there was so very much to choose from, it made no difference.

Highlights were the tiny fresh clams in their shells, the octopus rings, the stuffed seafood pasta in creamy salmon sauce, the lightly breaded grilled sole and spicy shrimp kebabs. The house wine, a sangiovese made by the restaurant owners themselves, was nothing to write home about but more than adequate. The vodka-lemon sorbet was the perfect end to the meal, especially with a chaser of Limoncello to aid digestion. I'm pretty sure there was a dessert tray, too, but I had zoned out completely by then and was already fantasizing about a nap.

The restaurant serves in two shifts for the midday meal on weekend: 11:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. We had booked the first shift, and to leave we had to elbow our way through the crowd of people waiting to be seated for the second. You spend the entire shift eating, too. It's like an Italian wedding banquet, except with better food and without the occasional shouted toast of viva gli sposi!.

It was cold and very windy, so we didn't feel like walking around and exploring the beautiful Borgo San Giuliano area of old Rimini where the restaurant is located, near the Tiberius Bridge on the bank opposite the main city.

So we came home, collapsed into bed and slept for three hours. Eating is hard work, yo! We needed to rest up. Upon awakening, we made a solemn vow never, ever to eat again. Ever. Until the next day, at least, anyway.

Thus it was that we ended up altering our usual tree trimming experience, skipping the cookies or muffins or bars or cake that I usually make, and forgoing elaborate concoctions of chocolate and whipped cream and exotic liqueurs in favor of coffee spiked with the dregs of our last bottle of Bailey's. It was all we could handle, really.

Over at the forum there's been some recent discussion of what people like in their Christmas trees, and so it has come to my attention that most people would find our annual effort exceedingly tacky. We use garland, and blinking colored lights, and follow no discernible color scheme. Our ornaments are a hodgepodge of styles, shapes, colors, and materials acquired over the years.
It works for us.

One year when I was small my mother did a theme tree, with only blue lights and ornaments only of silver or crystal. It was very pretty. She never did it again. To me, overly coordinated Christmas trees look like the sort of thing you would find in a department store or office building, a work of art that you can admire for the time it takes you to cross the lobby and wait for an elevator, or walk from Housewares to Men's Accessories. Then you promptly forget about it, and there's certainly nothing to tempt you to linger admiringly.

A Christmas tree, to me, is about discovery. There should be surprises lurking everywhere amid the branches, from the cute little mouse in reflective snow goggles to the beautiful crystal snowflake, from the "Our First Christmas: 1988" ornament that we received as an unseasonal (but much appreciated) wedding gift, to the ugly snowman-thing that reminds Dario of his childhood, and is thus eligible for a prominent place on the tree. It all fits together in a sort of celebration of family. Like family, it's not always aesthetically pleasing, the uglier bits get shoved to the back whenever possible in the hope that casual observers won't notice, but it has a comfortable sort of appeal all its own that grows the more you get to know it.

Dario's family often went without a tree, and indeed without any particular celebration of Christmas, a fact that horrified me when I first learned of it. When I came along, I put an end to that nonsense immediately. Now, Dario even knows the words to the most common Christmas carols. You've come a long way, baby!

The only real change we've made from how we used to decorate when I was growing up has to do with the garland. I was brought up by a woman with Very Strong Opinions about tree decorating (and Christmas traditions in general), so it's hard for me to shake the conviction that the way we did things was the One True Way and all other opinions are misguided. My mother taught me that tinsel is tacky, gold garland is gaudy, and thus both are unacceptable. Only silver garland, carefully draped, was ever to be used. When I would go over to my friends' houses and see their trees dripping tinsel from the branches or laced with gold, I would always make politely appreciative noises but secretly feel sorry for them. Their parents clearly had not been taught the proper way to decorate a tree.

Dario, it turned out, was flexible on this issue only to a certain point. He insisted from the start that alternating gold and silver garland would make the tree more festive. I tried to subtly influence his preferences toward more acceptable choices, but when it came to the gold garland he was unbending. I gave in eventually, since it only seemed fair that he contribute to the traditions of our new family. At first I shuddered in distaste and felt a pang of disappointment that our tree would never realize its full potential, held back by this tacky accessorizing. But you know, it's grown on me over the years, and now I confess I actually like it. Even my own mother, when she was here a few years ago for Christmas, admitted it was not bad (of course, she was probably just making polite noises the way I used to, but I appreciated her efforts at diplomacy). Nowadays our tree pretty much reflects who we are: a jumble of styles, kind of tacky and decidedly lowbrow, but full of genuine affection.

That's how I like my Christmas tree.