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Buon Natale – French Style
lmagine my surprise walking back from a singularly unsuccessful viewing of an exorbitantly priced but shabby apartment in a very posh street (Via Farini) when we walked into a charming open-air Christmas market that was not Bolognese, Emilia Romagnan, or even remotely Italian but rather completely French. You enter into the small Piazza Minghetti where there suddenly appears a group of outdoor stands. You wander between the artfully staged displays so that you can purchase goods and foods all uniquely French and, even better, get some delicious thing to eat and drink. The Villaggio Di Natale Francese is only one of several enchanting open-air Christmas markets that are open only for this holiday season in Bologna. While it is all about buying decorations, food, and drink as well as gifts, there is something really magical in the air that erases all but the most minor whiff of marketing.
But now, a lesson in how Italians do the winter outdoor thing: First of all, Italians, like the French, never got the memo about smoking, despite being much more advanced in ecological thinking than we are in the US. So, since smoking is forbidden in restaurant and store interiors, you will see them flocking to sit outside where they can smoke and dine or have a drink. Secondly, Italians are firmly rooted in the belief of the Colpo D’Aria, in which a blast of cold air may imperil your health any time you set foot outside.
This particular blast is considered the root cause of most, if not all, winter ailments. What may seem to be a stomach ache or flu, really began as a colpo d’aria. A scarf must be worn (and I must say the variety and beauty of Italian scarves are astounding) and a hat to cover your ears and forehead is de rigueur – earmuffs will not do the job. Necks and foreheads are believed to be especially vulnerable to the lurking CDA. I am almost up to the task with my winter hat from Malaguti and scarves (almost enough to give Italian women some competition) I got from Donna Lewis in Alexandria, plus a newly Italian-son-in-law-approved down, three-quarter length parka with required hood. I did not have to be introduced to the maglia della salute, which are prominently featured in store windows in quite fetching designs. This is the required undershirt one wears in the winter to safeguard one’s health – and I have been wearing those for years from November through March.
But I have wandered off from the subject. Obviously thus attired, I was ready to enjoy the festivities at this tiny island of Frenchness, whether in the menacing freezing night air or in a daytime drizzle. And it really is delightful. The breadth of French cheeses are on glorious display. Really, as far as variety in textures and tastes, they are masters. Since we are forbidden in the US to have any cheeses from the EU that are made with lait cru or raw milk, the first item we bought was a Camembert version. So good, but it makes you wonder why we, who read weekly about major bacterial outbreaks and related deaths, along with food recalls in our news, are afraid of highly regulated raw milk cheeses from the EU. Oh and rabbit and duck pates went in our bag too. An inexpensive Calvados for cooking so I wouldn’t use the Camus version so dear to the RWM’s heart. I have never seen so many varieties of Breton cookies in my life. And French linens in holiday motifs.
Some of the other experiences include my first quaff of Vin Brule, which is actually a Northern Italian version of hot spiced wine — called vin chaud in France. Just about every country in this continent has a version, including Glluhwein, Glogg, and many other iterations from Moldova to Scotland. But interestingly, it is derived once again from the Roman legions, according to my fount of all knowledge, Wikipedia, who took their viticulture and recipes to every land they colonized.
For those of you who plan trips to Italy during the holidays, this fair is open from November 25 through December 24, with hours from 9 am until 9 pm. My experience has been that credit cards are accepted. Below is a lovely video created by Valeria Marco that captures the essence of this outdoor celebration of Christmas shopping, minus the mall and Muzak.
After owning one of the best cooking stores in the US for 47 years, Nancy Pollard writes a blog about food in all its aspects – recipes, film, books, travel, superior sources and food related issues.