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Christmas in Italy

For the first time in our lives we are spending Christmas abroad, in a country where the season is celebrated but where we can expect the customs to be different from those we have grown up with. We are also living in a small isolated village, pretty far removed from many of the commercial pressures which have taken over this season elsewhere, and in a home that is not ours, one we must give back in a few months time. We find it strangely difficult to grasp the fact that 25th December is just around the corner as many of the familiar markers are missing – the crowds in the streets, the mad media build-up or the shops hung with flickering decorations. We reluctantly admit that our Christmas here could end up being just another day, one we will spend in the delightful company of my brother Graham and his partner, Anna, but possibly devoid of any mystery.

One of the unexplained mysteries of Christmas is the one about Father Christmas and the chimney. Somehow I can appreciate how he might be able to slide gracefully down a chimney, an activity in which he has the force of gravity on his side even if the traditional view of him is of a plumpish sort of individual. But what about his subsequent ascent. How can anyone seriously be expected to believe that he could climb nimbly back up a narrow, sooty pipe unaided, especially after imbibing the mince pies and sherry left for him by the generous family down below.

Well here in Italy there is no such mystery. They have completely overcome the problem because nobody expects him even to try the chimney (which also neatly solves the problem of modern houses which don’t have them anyway). What happens here is that they expect him to come in over the balcony and in through a window and to help him in this, many householders will rig up a convenient rope ladder for him to climb. They even put lights on the ladder so he can find it in the dark.

Whilst I was out on a stroll the other day, a few miles down the road in the village of Serro, I happened to glance up just as Santa was nipping into someone’s house to leave some presents. The chances of catching him ‘on the job’, so to speak, must be very slim so I am rightly proud of this picture. The poor man had clearly started early and was working overtime, delivering in daylight, so rather than embarrass him I left him to it and walked on.

To be fair though, although the village of Torri prefers the low-key approach, a short drive away along the coast (and across the border into France) lies Menton, a place where too many Christmas lights is still not enough. As dusk the coast road becomes a dripping sea of white, lights trailing from every lamp post, draped across the road in huge suspended banners and wrapped around the trunk of every palm tree, all blinking and oscillating randomly. The new kid on the block here is the light emitting diode or LED. Small and relatively indestructible these tiny devices can be wired together in ways never before possible, an opportunity for the designers to come up with many new ways to surprise and dazzle us. And all of this is achieved using less electricity than ever before, unless of course you use far more lights than you did before when the eco- argument rapidly breaks down.

Amongst this sea of white the sodium street lights appear yellow and where an old tungsten bulb still glows it appears tired and tawdry. The new white is LED white, like the washing powder advert says, whiter than white. Before this white came along we thought we knew what colour white light was but put the two together and anyone can see the difference. Is this the end, I wonder, or is there another even whiter white out there somewhere.

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