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100 thousand lights for Christmas

100 thousand lights and a Carpenter workshop

Massimo the carpenter

…owns a three grotto workshop on the street below our apartment. He is Renata’s nephew. At this time of year the whole family clean out the man-made caverns and decorate them for Christmas. His sons are good looking enough to feature as Christ in the Marino Easter Procession. They also hang lights on one of the overgrown Christmas trees on the opposite corner, but sadly this doesn’t appear to have happened in 2020. However, their PRESEPE (nativity) is a joy. All lit up with twinkle lights so passers-by like us can peer into a small arched window and delight in the miniature scene. Joseph, Mary and the whole bible of characters. Only the baby is missing. You don’t put the baby in the crib before full term.

Every home, Church, restaurant and shop window features a PRESEPE. Crafters in town (mostly male pensionists) make the figurines and sell them to you straight from the workbench in their garage. Shapely bits of bark and moss are added to make mini hillside backdrops, miniature stone houses surround the sacred wooden stable at the center of the scene. Simon and I marvelled at an exquisite “We three Kings of Orient” elephant statuette the other day.

In the Church a huge Presepe sits on a temporary stage. It needs a coin to light it up. The entire village of Bethlehem comes to life with moving arms and nodding heads. Blacksmiths hammer, waterwheels churn, bread makers kneed, donkeys nod… and so forth. One gapes for as long as the money lasts.

Rome Christmas vibe

We walked around the middle of Rome on Saturday, which is a crazy thing to do considering the virus aerosolling around. It was fabulous nevertheless! The Via Condotti down from the Spanish steps is a swish twinkle of lights and music. But the BIG attraction is in Piazza Venezia where the municipality have paid 140 thousand euros for the most splendid world famous SPELACCHIO 2020. A 23 meter high tree, ablaze with one hundred thousand lights…a record number the Mayor says, to cheer us up. And she is so right, you cannot deny the uplifting effect it has. She’s a left winger from the five star party by the way. The tree is undeniably a pinnacle of brightness and a lighthouse of hope in the dark.

We made it to Piazza Navona in time to see a different type of light show there. A blast of blues and golds 4D projected onto the magnificent Bernini fountains makes everyone stand still and be whisked away to wonderland (via their smartphone screen). Buskers billow the streets with classical music, and it seems everyone, including ourselves are recklessly living in this paradoxical moment. Happy.

Spelacchio 2020, the Christmas tree in Rome inaugurated on 8 December
„" Also this year our "Spelacchio" returns, the Christmas tree in Rome now famous all over the world. In this difficult moment for all citizens, we want these lights to keep the hope of a peaceful Christmas lit but above all to give the strength to all of us to resist and overcome together the challenge of the health emergency ", declares the first citizen, Virginia Raggi."

You may be interested in: https://www.romatoday.it/politica/spelacchio-2020-albero-natale-roma.html

Simon and Leanne in front of the Spelacchio Christmas tree in Piazza Venezia, Rome, Italy 2020.
Thanks to Robert Shone for the photo.

To end I should mention we are in quite a strict situation here, no restaurants or bars are open after 6pm and there’s a curfew from 10pm. Over the Christmas holidays we are not allowed to travel at all. There is some discussion about allowing families to move between municipalities. In Italy sixty five thousand people have died from covid-19 this year. Total population is just over 60 million —

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Day 1 – Marino to Formello – via Rome.

Leanne Talbot Nowell - Formello

Rome the Eternal city – “Aaah bella Roma” once you are caught in her seductive “La Dolce Vita” embrace, you will become an overly emotional lover who can never leave. At approximately 2800 years old everything from the damp decay of frescoed tombs to her high-flying arches and golden orbs on moonlit domes, from baroque pink skies to the polished marble of palace floors, Roma is glorious. And a bit shabby.

We have done about 35 kms since Marino this morning, to reach Ponte Milvio bridge. The search is on for lunch. A veranda table at a restaurant VOY is available. Soon we are digging into a tasty bowl of paccheri pasta with a rich melanzane (aubergine) sauce topped with fresh mint and sun-dried tomatoes. The restaurateur runs off to the supermarket to fetch us some fruit juice after we declined his wine. Groggy cycling in Rome could prove fatal.

The hot Lazio sun burns our backs all afternoon as we ride out of Rome on zigzag roads into the northern countryside. It is quite challenging to find a bridge over/under the highway. A truck comes speeding around a sharp corner behind us and screeches to a bumpy halt inches from my rear reflector. I feel the heat of the engine surge over my shoulder in a smelly cloud of burning rubber.

I try to pedal standing up on account of the bum pain.

Via Francigena

A well timed SPRITZ dulls the pain in Formello. Simon has booked us in at a nice B&B.

Nonna Loretta shows us to our room and sells us two “pilgrim passports” for five euro each. They’re called “credenziale”, very much like the one you get for the Camino di Santiago. A folded card for pilgrims on their way from Canterbury to Rome. We are going in the opposite direction but we can still collect stamps from holy places along our inverted route. The passport also allows you special access to sleep in certain Convents and Monasteries. There are discounts on pilgrim meals at restaurants too. Make sure you get that when you do the camino di Francigena.

We eat salad at Osteria degli Angeli, the only guests in the dimly lit piazza in Formello. A drag queen unexpectedly appears from the great door of the municipal palace dressed in black lace and a massive wig. She looks down on us from the top of a flight of stairs and proclaims her existence with a gutsy howl “HAAAEEEOOW!!!” The sound echoes around the stone walls and into the dark streets. Frightening off the ghosts of Veii and us.

Back in our room at Nonna Loretta’s the soft bed absorbs the day’s agony like a sponge. Every part of my body is hurting except my feet.

Day 1. Sixty kilometers.

Click this to see the route we took today