Actually, upon further scrutiny, it turns out that the real-life Good King Wenceslas was only a duke (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Good_King_Wenceslas) of Bohemia but this demotion in rank does not disenchant me one whit from a favorite carol that I always associate with Boxing Day. And that’s because in Italy, Boxing Day is the feast day of St Stephen – Santo Stefano, one of the very first Christian martyrs. An adage that is rarely heard of these days but one with which I grew up on a regular basis goes something like this: “It will only last from Christmas to St Stephen’s day” (“dura da Natale a Santo Stefano) — meaning, “it will be short lived” or “it won’t last long”, with just a wee hint of a cynic’s appraisal of a situation.
I don’t know about you but, although a great lover of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, I find that Boxing Day-Santo Stefano also has pride of place because the word “relaxation” starts to make an entrance again, without in any way stooping to party pooping. There are plenty of leftovers, friends and family can pop round, or vice versa, and there is much rejoicing in the exchange of tales and experiences relived.
I am someone who does like to rejoice, and fully so!, but the last six weeks saw me troubled by a health issue that was not at all life threatening (thank goodness) but that did require two operations within the space of two weeks, not to mention having to keep still for a while (a “while” that seemed interminable to someone with ants in their pants like me). And my son likewise required an operation only last week (again, non life threatening, and all is well, phew, although it wasn’t exactly painless afterwards for him). And the result was that I just ‘froze’ in terms of the blog. I found to my consternation that I was unable to write one, solitary, miserly post … and all because … well… because I think these blog posts are all about … you know, The Bearable Lightness of Being (pace Milan Kundera!) and not whinging on in self commiseration. I was reminded of the poet Ella Wheeler Wilcox’s lines from “Solitude” :
Laugh and the world laughs with you,
Weep, and you weep alone;
The good old earth must borrow its mirth,
But has trouble enough of its own.
I came to the hide-bound conclusion that I wasn’t a stoic and found proof positive in another of her verses, this time drawn from “The Man Worth While”. It opens thus:
It is easy enough to be pleasant,
When life flows by like a song,
But the man worth while is one who will smile,
When everything goes dead wrong.
All this was a terrible blow to my sense of self, as you can imagine. Not only was I NOT smiling, I was groaning and moaning, grumbling and whining, and not minding who was within hearing distance of my lamentation, as I took to ruing and bewailing as if there were no tomorrow. The adjective “long suffering” must be designated to my darling husband who put up with all of this, and worse!, to the point of one day raising his eyes heavenwards and muttering (aha! but I overheard him!) “If only this had happened to me instead” … sigh. I found out, if ever there was any doubt, that I am really not good at being “patient” which is what convalescing is all about. Some people are docile when they are not well, they do as they are told, with minimum fuss. I tend to want to know WHY I need to do what I am supposed to do … and then, only then, can I comply and act in an adult-like fashion (please don’t get me started on how standard medicine tends to ignore the “person” while bending over backwards to cure the disease).
Just hours after the first operation, which was early in November, and the weather still benignly warm, I suggested we go for a porchetta sandwich overlooking Lake Albano. I always try and get better as soon as possible, and as best I can, with a good dose of joking and banter. Here are my son, my mother and I after chomping the last bite of our sandwich:
Friends arrived the following day from Canada and did much to divert my convalescence and I even blogged about a party (see last post) that everyone put together.
The second time around was altogether different. I couldn’t even stir the spoon in my espresso cup and burst into tears. The day before the operation, I had wisely prepared some chicken soup, Chinese style (you do realise that chicken soup is the most popular medicine world-wide, after prayer! Seriously, this comes from data provided by the Museum of Ethno-Medicine in Genoa: http://www.etnomedicina.unige.it/page.php?lang=1&titolo=Museo%20di%20Etnomedicna). Darling daughter put it all together and spoiled me rotten.
But friends and neighbours were wonderful and brought food and soothing words and smiles and a gaze in their eyes that spoke of compassion for the suffering of a fellow human being. I felt so grateful, even as I felt miserable. Reciprocity is a wonderful thing, and understanding — really understanding — that we are all so dependent upon each other (in a healthy way!) in this life can make a lot of sense when respect and tenderness are called into play.
This is a blog about food … and preparing food is an act of love, in sickness as in health. Like most people, I prefer “health” and now that I am so much better, so much more “me”, warts and all, I can look forward to writing more up-beat posts.
Here is raising a glass to everyone’s health! Cin-cin! Prosit! Cheers! Salud! A la santé! Salute!
“The Winds of Fate” (again by Ella Wheeler Wilcox)
One ship drives east and another drives west
With the selfsame winds that blow.
‘Tis the set of the sails,
And Not the gales,
That tell us the way to go.
Like the winds of the sea are the ways of fate;
As we voyage along through life,
‘Tis the set of a soul
That decides its goal,
And not the calm or the strife.