Christmas in Italy

A Christmas like no other

by Rebecca Bricker on December 27, 2015

I had planned to spend this Christmas in Berlin with my dear college friend Nancy, who lives near Alexanderplatz where an enormous Christmas market takes place each year. I love German Christmas markets and, in fact, wrote a children’s book about them, featuring a little mouse family.

My Italian mouse puppet named Topo (eager to see his German cousins) was happily nestled in my carry-on between loaves of an Italian fruit bread called panettone, as I zipped up my bags on the morning of our much-anticipated departure for Berlin. Just minutes away from calling a taxi, I sat down to put on my shoes and suddenly felt a very painful pop behind my right knee. I couldn’t straighten my leg, which was suddenly frozen along with my plans for a wonderful holiday in Christmas-y Berlin.

 

 

 

The next few hours were a blur, as I tried to cope in a state of aloneness. There was the fear of not knowing what I could or couldn’t do without triggering excruciating pain. Could I reach across a table? Yes. Could I stand to get a glass out of the cupboard? Not on your life.

My IKEA desk-chair-on-wheels saved the day. I quickly discovered I could painlessly maneuver across the wooden floors with ease, and I could exert less effort if I wheeled myself in reverse. My left leg was strong and could do the work, while I propped my gimpy right leg on the wheel base. I learned efficient patterns of maneuvering, holding onto countertops and executing a reverse turn behind the sofa to get to the bathroom with minimum effort. The scene in the bathroom, however, resembled a Laurel and Hardy skit.

I managed, with some pain, to remove the contents of my food cupboard to see what provisions were on hand. I had emptied most of the fridge, knowing I would be gone for two weeks. So the pickens were slim: a box of Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Pancake mix (brought back from my last U.S. trip), a bottle of maple syrup, tins of coffee and tea, a bag of crackers, a jar of peanut butter, a bottle of olive oil, and a box of Honey Nut Cheerios. Clearly, I don’t spend much time in the kitchen.

I suddenly remembered the goodies I had packed in my bag: the PANETTONE!! Not to mention a panforte brick that weighed as much as my shoes. Panforte is a dense compression of gooey fruit and nuts invented centuries ago to sustain Tuscans through harsh winters. WHEW! I was not going to starve before help came. 😉

And help did come. My dear friend and chiropractor made a house call that afternoon, fretting about what a mess I was and giving me strict instructions about my sanctioned movements for the next 24 hours. I slept on the sofa that night with my knees bent at a 90-degree angle, positioned on top of a stack of pillows and a folded-up Kashmir rug I had purchased at a Provence market last summer. Blankets were upstairs — a climb I couldn’t face. So I slept in my puffer coat, which is basically a sleeping bag with sleeves and a front zipper.

The next day dawned brighter after an amazingly sound sleep even with my feet in the air. I have a Martha Stewart streak — nothing maniacal, but my brain likes a sense of order. I organized stations on the kitchen counter for dry goods and a separate beverage-preparation area with tea kettle, coffee/tea tins, water/wine bottles, corkscrew and shot glass (I had poured a wee dram of Baileys, for medicinal purposes, on Night One). The dishwasher became a functioning cupboard. Remember I’m wheeling, so everything had to be reachable at chair level. When the dirty dishes overtook the clean ones, I shifted remaining clean dishes to the countertop as the dirty dishes went into the wash.

My dining table became my entertainment, e-mailing and eating center, alternately. My suitcase and carry-on remained in place, unzipped, with all my essentials conveniently at hand. Under my jammies, I wore a bra where I carried my glasses, Bose sound-dock remote and phone (switched off so The Girls wouldn’t be subjected to harmful waves). I was rockin’ and rollin’ in Girl Scout survival mode.

And then the thought occurred to me: I’m going to be alone this Christmas. And from the core of my being, a wail pierced the air. Wahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!

The writer-in-me loves drama and whipped out her steno pad, to record every moment of my emotional meltdown. She can be so irritating sometimes.

I reached for that Bose sound-dock remote (snugly tucked in my bra) and hit PLAY, determined to give her no satisfaction. I had to prime the endorphin pump and the only way I knew to do that in my gimpy state was to SING!!!!!!! Mick, Carly, James, Joni, Petula, Bette, Dino, Paul-John-George-Ringo, and Pharrell. An eclectic group, yes. But I was determined to rock the HAPPY-JUMP-UP-AND-DANCE vibe. Except that jumpin’ and dancin’ weren’t happenin’.

Then I went to iTunes and started downloading Broadway show tunes. “The Sound of Music” struck a chord. I was groovin’ to Maria’s cathartic number “I Have Confidence” when something amazing happened. I carefully stood up and held on to the bannister of the stairs leading up to my apartment’s only shower (I was desperate for a cleansing rinse). And one step at a time, I climbed that mountain with exhilarating confidence in me.

There were moments of pain, but I soon realized what movements triggered the knife stabs and intelligently avoided them. (I’m highly evolved in some respects.) Coming back down the stairs was even easier. I was at a turning point.

The desk chair/wheelchair was my go-to mode of transportation for another day. I put out an SOS on Facebook and a cane arrived, along with Three Wise Women whose gifts included toilet paper and chocolate. Nothing like BFFs who fill your candy dish and cover your backside in your darkest hours of need. In the Facebook SOS, I included my Skype username and calls started coming in.

To increase endorphin flow, I set up feel-good-activity centers: I draped my ironing board with a quilt-in-progress and set up my sewing machine in a newly created craft-making sector of the dining table. I got out my knitting bag and started a new scarf. Near the knitting center, I had positioned a little table for movie viewing: “White Christmas” and “It’s a Wonderful Life” were in the queue. Christmas songs on the iPod were in play on Christmas Eve day, though some old favorites sung by Bing, Nat, Andy and Julie (again) left little lumps in my throat as I remembered family Christmases Past. My childhood family is now on High.

But mostly, I felt embraced by an outpouring of love and greetings from friends around the world. Facebook has a few sterling qualities. I joined a Christmas Eve party via Skype at Nancy’s place in Berlin. Although I wasn’t there in person, I was still part of the fun.

 

So was Topo. I poured  a little Baileys for him into a flask I won at a Tchotchke Swap recently. Why not? We definitely deserved to mix a little Merry with our Christmas Like No Other.

On Christmas Eve, my neighbor Beth — a lovely Yorkshire lass — brought me a bag full of goodies: Italian cheeses and freshly baked rustica bread from EATALY, along with her homemade chutney and warm-out-of-the-oven “Christmas muffins” (from a recipe by English food writer Nigella Lawson) — “my first-ever muffins!” Beth exclaimed. They were delicious and the perfect Christmas breakfast.

 

By Christmas Day, I miraculously was walking without a cane. I’m proof that laughing, loving and singing your way to wellness isn’t just psycho-babble. There hadn’t been a pain-killer in this regimen, except of course for a few wee drams of Baileys. 😉

As a high school friend named Liz wrote to me on Facebook about my best-laid plans turned upside down: “You will be blessed in ways you never knew existed.”

Liz, you were so right. :)

May love, laughter and beams of soothing light bless your New Year. They were the saving graces of my 2015. Thank you, all, from the depths of my chocolate-covered heart!