Monday, December 20, 2010
Christmas for Nostographers
We've lived in our new town for two years now, and I've just started to leave behind the feeling of shock and dismay that used to strike me whenever I said my new address, a concrete reminder of the fact that we live here now, rather than there. Though I don't feel a weight sinking in my gut whenever I say the name of my new town now, I still miss there more than I can say, for so many reasons, and especially so at Christmas. Here are some of the things I miss the most at this time of year:
- Shopping for fish for Christmas Eve at Citarella. It's always been traditional in my family to have smelts, linguine with aia'uol (i.e. aglio e oglio), and a salad made from dandelion greens on Christmas Eve, and it was always hard to find smelts closer to home. And then, when I think of Citarella's (in New Yorkese, it's obligatory to add an apostrophe-s to every proper shop name, even if none is indicated), I start to think of my dear friend T. who lived a block away, and who's been dead for almost five years now. I miss her.
- Shopping for Christmas dinner at Prime Cuts, otherwise known simply as "the Irish butcher" (or, rather, "the Irish butcher's").
- The tin boxes of Jacob's Afternoon Tea Biscuits (above) that were piled high in every Arab bodega in my old neighborhood this time of year. Everyone has them out when you go visiting in the neighborhood on Christmas, and they are hella good.
- Walking to the Cloisters in the snow, and viewing the snow-covered Palisades.
- Walking to the Cloisters the day after Christmas, and getting Metropolitan Museum of Art Christmas cards at half-off, and possibly one or two Met Museum tree ornaments too if I had the extra tin in my pocket.
- Singing all the Christmas Masses at Saint Anthony of Padua Church at the corner of Houston and Sullivan Streets, the same church where one of my Neapolitan cousins had attended Mass when he was working as a laborer in New York, as I found when I visited him in Italy in the late 1990s. I would have Christmas Eve dinner with the Franciscan nuns and priests and sleep in the convent so I'd have no distance to travel for the next morning's Masses.
But missing all of these things is really missing another life, a life that I no longer live. In some ways, it's much better that that life has now been put away. It's not the difficulty of that life, its sadness, its loneliness, that I miss, but the shreds of color, of light, and of sound that it bore, and I miss the companions of yore, some of whom I will never see again. There is so little of the beauty that I miss, and so little of consolation, here. I pray every day that God will allow me and my family to plant seeds, where we live now, that will bear fruit -- seeds of beauty in a place that is starved for it -- and that, perhaps, my consolation will come in this way.