Friday, December 24, 2010

Wrapping things up for Xmas

It seems appropriate that the next post after my homely homily of Thanksgiving should be one dedicated to the next big holiday.  It makes sense, given my academic calendar...  Things got really busy after I came back from the States following Thanksgiving break. Really really busy.
I am writing this entry on Christmas Eve, just after the annual holiday gathering with Jackie's family, aunts and uncles, brothers, sisters, parents and grandmother.  Nick and I were late, as expected.  This time we didn't abort the mission though, so we showed up two hours after the planned time, more or less nonchalantly.  And it was no big deal.  Nervous as I was, it was great to see all of these familiar faces of people who love us.  It made Christmas better this year.  Certainly better than the ghosts of Christmas pasts.  Today's Xmas party wrapped up a couple of years of awkwardness in my relations with Nick's grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins.  I feel relieved about it.

Yet I can't help but also feel that this is a rather subdued Christmas season overall.  Families and friends still wrapped up presents for each other, yet it seems that the frenzy of holiday shopping simply wasn't there this holiday season.  Not in Italy for sure, and apparently not in the US either.  It must be the "economic crisis"...  Everyone's feeling the pinch.  And perhaps these tempi di vacche magre are making us more keenly aware of the extraordinary support network that our families really are.  It is probable that at least one out of 10 of us (or even 1 of 5) is currently benefiting from some form of economic support from our nonni, parents, siblings or relatives.  It's the ultimate "safety net" keeping our economy afloat...  Let us rejoice in our families and friends!  Let us be grateful when we can give support and when we can receive it.
This is the true spirit of Christmas, I think.

I flew back from Venice on Tuesday, the winter solstice, December 21st: the shortest day of the year.  Nick picked me up and drove me straight from Logan airport to a Planning Board meeting at Spencer town hall.  Being the chair of the board, I make special efforts to be there when meetings are planned, despite my hectic schedule.  It was about 9:30pm (3:30am according to my jetlagged body) when I finally got home. And the house was freezing cold.
The heat had failed.  

Nick thought it was due to running out of oil, so he called the emergency fuel service while I was at my meeting.  The van was making its delivery when I got home.  It soon transpired that indeed we didn't need any fuel at all, since we had enough already.  It was the boiler that had malfunctioned.  After trying unsuccessfully to repair it, the fuel company guy left and I called my boiler maintenance 24-hour service who attempted to repair the boiler as well.  By the time he left at midnight (6am in Italy) I had fallen asleep in my 43 degree bedroom.  When the boiler guy startled me out of my slumber, I came downstairs and engaged in a rather lengthy conversation with him speaking purely in Italian.  I even complimented him for how good his English was!  Only when he plainly said: "I don't speak Italian" did I finally snap back to the fact that I was actually in the US, in my freezing home in Spencer, and not still in Venice.  Very funny in retrospect.  Quite puzzling to the guy, I am sure.
There was nothing he could do to fix the boiler tonight.  They will be back first thing in the morning.  So I ended up sleeping in my electric blanket wearing the same clothes I had flown back in (plus a hat)...  The shortest day of the year was followed by the longest night, inevitably.  It felt like the coldest night too.  And, to top it all, we even had a lunar eclipse -- a rare cosmic event on the solstice, I am told.

All of these factors, combined with the heat failure, would seem to represent some sort of an omen.  There is a message here somewhere.  Something about taking things for granted.  Like heat in the house.  Or a moon in the sky.  Or even a family waiting for you at Christmas...  Perhaps the message is that earthly concerns are dwarfed by cosmic events (and vice versa).  And that neither of them is necessarily a big deal -- although they can be -- depending on how you look at what is.  Hmmm...

The next day, after showering at my neighbor's house, I still managed to have conference calls about the DEW and Bump projects and get my house inspected (now I can finally put walls back up in the kitchen!), while the technicians finally fixed the boiler and restored heat to the house, which, as I soon discovered, had been covered by a very fine, almost imperceptible, layer of soot that had somehow filtered upward from the basement into all of the kitchen and bath area, and beyond.  It would make the aethalometers we used in Venice go berserk!  Can't be too good for our respiratory tracts...

These unexpected emergencies were a lot more than I planned to deal with upon return, as I was also trying to wrap up the Venice projects that were completed just last Friday, which feels like it was a month ago.  Even though I slept with one on, it is amazing how quickly I changed hats this time... I will be wrapping up the Venice projects from Santa Fe, where Nick and I will be next Wednesday, December 29 until January 15.  I will cover this year's Venice projects in upcoming posts, once all of the results are in, as I transition to the upcoming Santa Fe Project Center season in 2011.

Meanwhile, now that the presents have been accepted and unwrapped, it's time to unwind a bit and enjoy this wonderful time of the year.  It is sufficiently snowy to qualify as a "white Christmas" (albeit barely) here in the hills of Spencer.  It was also white in Venice right before I left, just like when Nick was "born there", nearly 20 years ago.

This is indeed the most wonderful time of the year.  Enjoy it!

Buon Natale a tutti e a tutti una buona notte!
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