xmas hols and new year's

Mountain high Xmas tree

Picture a hot summer afternoon, a dry lazy wind blowing, the sun shining down on you, with no shade or shelter to be found anywhere. The incessant heat and torcing sun are conspiring together to work up the mightiest thirst you'll ever experience, driving your craving for a drop of water through the roof. Now imagine the "Aaah" sound of satisfaction that would come out of your mouth after drinking not a drip, but a whole pitcher of water. Can you hear that sound?

Now forget everything except for that "Aaah" sound. After all, this is the cold season. It is winter, Christmas and New Years have just gone past, ad the weather out there is cold and wet, at least in this hemisphere.

Despite the inclement weather, that "Aaah" sound still escapes me when I think about the past two weeks, caused by a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. I went home to Italy for the holidays, and I had a great time!

It was a jam-packed, reinvigorating, entertaining, and relaxing two weeks, spent with family, friends, and loved ones. Time flew by, they were good times indeed.

So, here's the concentrated whirlwind summary of what we got up to.

While my holiday officially started on 20, Saturday, the partying began the previous day, 19, Friday, when I went out with the team for a work lunch. We got a table at a fancy Chinese restaurant. We all set around the same table, which had a massive cooking surface on it. Our personal cook prepared and cooked all our food right in front of us and to our liking. Scrumptious! The midday meal turned into an afternoon drink when we took it to the pub across the street. We then ended up in a couple of other pubs, before getting a cab home.

On the Saturday, I was faced with the insormontable task of packing and catching my flight. All was well, and I happily hugged mum and dad, who came to collect me at the airport. I spent the evening bringing them up to date with the recent events. The highlight obviously was that I asked Wala to marry me, and that she answered Yes.

21, Sunday began with some much needed working out. I went running around the usual loop, straddling the border between Turate and Cislago villages. I used my Garmin GPS receiver to track the distance, and it reported an exact 6.52km measurement. This ended the endless speculation as to how many kilometers the loop is. That night I met up with Carlo, Fabio, Gio, and friends for a delicious pizza at the Porky's in Rovello. I was delighted to find Gio, who's nine months pregnat, in excellent health. I also bumped into Marta, whom I hadn't seen in years and I used to have a crush on in primary school. She recently got married and was celebrating with a bunch of her friends.

On 22, Monday I commenced the epic quest for obtaining Christmas gift for mum, dad, and sister. It is a tale of valour and courage, of fending through crowds and waiting in endless lines, which is to great to recount. I'll skip over it.

On 23, Tuesday I went for another run along the usual loop. The GPS tracker said 6.54 km. I must have taken some wider turns. In the evening, I went to the usual Christmas get-together at Giulia's. Every year, a bunch of us meet there to uncork a few bottles of spumante and exchange Christmas wishes and small gifts. This year I took some good bottles and even baked a lovely cake, a crostata, made following mum's recipe to the letter. This year's novelty was to have a tombola (something like a bingo). I hardly had any of the numbers called out.

Christmas eve is family time. I helped out (very little) in the food preparation for Christmas day. Before heading to midnight mass at Santa Maria, we opened our gifts found under the tree. Mum and dad were very surprised (not sure whether pleasantly or not) by their brand new robotic cleaner, a Roomba. Wala and I also bought them a new TV to replace the antiquated one in the kitchen. It hardly worked anymore: black images would send it in some kind of seizure state, where the screen would pulsate and a crackling noise would come out of it, until a colourful image reappered. Weird.
Mass went by fairly fine. I killed some time reading my book in curch before mass started. I disliked the sermon, as usual. The mulled wine server just outside the church was pleasant. I resolved to not go to Misinto's bonfire, to avoid the freezing cold and bustling crowds.

Christmas day was nice, relaxing, and entertaining. We spent it with uncle Gianpasquale, aunt Ermanna, cousin Gigi and Sara. We had about twenty different starters, one tastier than the other. Then a lovely first course, crespelle and a fantastic orange duck, which dad and I mercilessly slaughtered a couple of days ealier. Se la vie. We finished off with a range of fruit, desserts, spumanti, and coffee to end it all.

That evening, I went to Fabio and Gio's place for a couple of drinks. I had to make an obligatory stop to pick up Carlo from his place, since his car had broken down due to massive engine failure. I was glad to meet Fulvio and Weina there. We caught up on things and had a nice evening. Carlo even attempted to make negroni. Even though he had some trouble opening the shaker (read: he got drenched and even stained the wall), the negroni came out tasty enough. Good times.

On 26, Thursday we feasted on the leftovers from Christmas day. According to tradition, granny came for the day. It was nice to see her. Mao likes to sleep on her lap very much. Shortly after lunch, I received a call from John warning me about a high priority issue that had to be worked on. I spent the afternoon and evening getting up to speed with the problem and had a response to the query my the same evening. Later, I went to Luca's new apartment. Bought recently, the apartment is very cosy and located in the centre of Saronno. Very nice pad. Nicely furnished. We watched a movie there, had some panettone and spumante, then headed home.

On 27, Friday I elected to have a quiet night in to rest up for the following day, my first snowboarding day of this winter season. I worked on the high priority issue. I sat on the new, extra wide couch with mum, dad, and Marta while we watched tv and took turns cuddling Mao, our noseless persian cat.

Bobo and friends

On 28, Saturday we headed for the slope in Pila. The morning began with an unexpected text message from Bobo saying that Fabio would be able to make. It turns out that Gio's baby had decided to turn itself head down in her belly in preparation for the upcoming delivery, so Fabio had to be by Gio's side at the hospital while the appropriate check-ups were made. Surprisingly, Gio's decided to send Fabio off to ski, perhaps because she didn't want Fabio give up his last skiing trip before becoming a father.

So, after getting up well before 7a.m. and wating for nearly a couple of hours, we got on the road to Aosta. The skiing party was composed of 7 people, including Fabio's dad, Bobo, Gio's brother among others, with only one black sheep snowboarder (me). The day went well, the snow was great, the lifts weren't too crowded. The only nag was the very cold temperatures in the morning, which forced us to retreat to a chalet for some much needed warming up. I erred on the cautious side for the first few descents, aiming to get confortable with my new board. It had a distinctively different behaviour from my previous, old gear. But in a good way! I could actually rely on the side blades to carve into the snow (as opposed to my old board, which had very little blades left) and I didn't wonder whether the bindings would break, leaving me with no connection to the board itself, flinging me down the mountain like a rock.

Brilliant day, I returned home safe, sound, and satisfied.

The 29, Sunday was a day dedicated to rest, food, and not much else. True holiday.

Bobo and I

30, Tuesday was a fully packed day. I started off bright and early and drove all the way to the Aprica ski resort in Valtellina. It was a lonesome drive, with only intermittent music from the car radio keeping me company. The road to Aprica snakes through many tunnels, hence the flaky radio reception. Once I got to Aprica, I had to navigate my way around the intricate town streets, until I found the lifts and a parking space. I then called Bobo, who had rented an apartment there and was spending a few days there to ski and celebrate New Year's eve, to arrange to meet somewhere on the slopes. Luckily, we met up and had another great snowboarding/skiing day.

Mid-air snowboarding jump

I quit snowboarding and headed back early in order to make it back home in time to pick up Wala from the airport in Malpensa. Her flight arrived with a slight delay, which worked out well for me since the new parking layout had thrown me off and caused me to circle the airport a couple of times by car before finding my way to the car park.

Needless to say, I was very excited to be able to see Wala and hugged her non-stop.

Fabio and Andrea

New Year's Eve was everything I did not expect it to be. I was hoping for an amicable party at a friend's house, featuring a fire crackling in the fireplace, cozy couches to sit on, tasty food to munch on, and ice cold drinks to sip on (or gulp down, depending on the inclination). Well, the party turned out very much different.

For starters, Wala and I were recruted to provision food and drinks. We went food shopping with Anto, Joe's girlfriend, in the very busy Esselunga in Saronno. Which leads me to the second unexpected point... the venue for the party was not someone's house, but the offices where Joe's architecture business is located. Finally, given that food preparation customarily involves some form of cooking, and that these offices were not equipped with a kitchen, the third unexpected point was that we had to make do with a microwave.

Gio and Carlo

It worked out pretty well anyway. We bought some microwavable (microwave-able ?) ravioli and resorted to cooking the traditional zampone and lenticchie at home, and then heat it up later in the microwave. Yes, we used the microwave a lot, including doubling it up as a countdown device, when the midnight approached.

I was delighted to be assigned the task of slicing salame. I took the job very seriously, and strictly enforced the rule that for every two slices, I would eat one to ensure that the product was good. Awesome-o! Awesomo 2009! We also had some nice aperitivi, which I mixed, negroni in particular. Later that night we all played a variant of Pictionary. Wala got a lot of answers right. A got a couple, earning the chance to display my poor drawing abilities.

Wala and I

We ended up returning home well after 4a.m. As soon as we walked in the door, we were hit by the sound front of a choir of loud voices singing karaoke. Marta and her friends were still celebrating New Year's Eve at our place. They continued to sing for some time after we said goodnight to them, then left and allowed some silence to settle on the rest of the cold night.

The indiscriminate eating of salame and other cold cuts continued well into first day of the year, when Fabio invited us to dinner to help finish off the leftovers. Carlo, Wala and I duly answered the call and had a very nice evening there. I felt we stayed a bit longer I would have liked... I wanted to get an early night in preparation to the following day's skiing trip to Aprica with Wala and Marta, but Gio needed some help with her CV, so we didn't leave until that was sorted.

Thick fog and freezing cold accompanied the first half of our journey to Aprica on the 2, Friday. Our good old reliable Volvo was packed with my new snowboard, Marta's skis, and Wala's desire to hit the slopes again. We arrived at the Aprica pass around 10a.m. Marta accompanied Wala to the ski rental shop, while I found a place to park. We got our ski-passes and reached the slope where Wala was to have her skiing lesson just 10 minutes before it was due to start.

Wala with ski instructor

Wala's worries about hurling herself down the side of a mountain vanished once she met and spoke to the instructor, who reportedly was a 'cool dude'. I stayed around for Wala's first descent, which Wala tackled like a true professional. I approached her to get her first impressions, and was then told to go snowboard wherever I wanted.

I was so glad and excited that Wala was happy to ski on her own with the instructor and that I could go snowboard on my own for a while that I started running towards the closest lift to the top of the mountain. In my over excitement, I attempted to board one oncoming lift with a bit too much impetus. I fell, or more accurately, I was knocked down by the lift, which then had to be stopped to allow me to move away and properly board the next coming seat.

I tried again to ring Bobo to find out when he was, but couldn't get through to him, so I sent a txt instead. Just when I thought that we would catch each other, I saw him and shouted Hallo. We did one slope together with some of his friends, but then had to part ways. While returning towards the slope where Wala was, I called Marta to find out whether she had found his instructor for her lesson. She told me that she had got lost and didn't know where she was for a while, but that his instructor was on his way to find her.

Wala skiing in complete control

As I approached the bottom slope, I saw Wala skiing downhill in complete control. We chatted for a little while about the lesson she just had and how useful it had been, then took it to the slopes once again. We did a few descents together, until we both felt our a grumbling void that needing filling in our bellies.

It turned out that Bobo and friends had gone for lunch in a bar right next to our slope, so we joined them for a panino. The place was very crowded, but the cold cuts stuffed panini were worth it. Marta did not make it there on time, being busy with her lesson and then making her way back to where we were.

After lunch, Wala and I decided to take it up a notch and go all the way up to higher slopes in order to take in the better views and try out a new slope. Wala was brave and confident enough to accept. We had some trouble with the points left on Wala's skipass, but that was easily sorted by purchasing a single ride ticket. We got to the top and met Marta there. I then suggested that Marta and Wala could ski on the easy slope for a while while I did one long snowboard from the very top to the very bottom of the piste. They agreed, so I left on my snowboarding stint.

Wala and I after a good skiing day

When I returned, Wala and Marta were chatting away amiably, whilst sipping warm mulled wine. I interrupted the pair to point out that the lifts would soon be closing for the day and that Wala had to catch the last ride down, unless she wanted to ski it. We snapped the last few pics and then made our way down. Marta tackled the steepest runs with measured confidence.

By the time we returned the hired equipment and made our way back to the car, it was getting dark. Contrary to the many many other cars along the street leading up to where we parked, our cark didn't have a fine stuck under its wiper. Moreover, the fact that I had forget the position lights on for the entire day didn't have any consequences on its ability to start, which was good.

The long drive back was made even longer due to the anticipation of the succulent pizzas we ordered from the local Turate pizza take-away, which nicely concluded a full and rewarding day.

Not much happened during the day of the 3rd, given that we spent all morning sleeping in, recovering all the energies spent on the slopes. The main event of the day was the dinner invitation to Fabio's and Nicoletta's. At the door, we were greeted by an inquisitive and smiley face. Iacopo, Fabio's and Nicoletta's son, was very happy to make our acquaintance, just as much as we were to see all of them again.

The theme for the evening was mexican food. Home made nachos followed by chicken, spices, vegetables, and wraps. Conversation eventually led to our announcement that we would get married before the year's end, which caused much rejoicing and wedding talk.

It was a very enjoyable and entertaining night.

All holidays must come to an end, and 4, Sunday was just that. We hung around the house, tasted the last few home-made (actually, mum-made) biscuits, nibbled on some locally sourced salame, devoured lots of steamed veggies, and relaxed on couch with the family, until it was time to make our way to Malpensa airport to catch our flight back.