(More than…) Two Years in Torino

"Le cose belle sono lente." –Pane e Tulipani

Month: December, 2012

Merry Christmas!


…Christmas tells us that God became breakable and fragile. God became someone we could hurt. Why? To get us back. And if you believe this and take it into your life, you’re blessed. As you take in the truth of what he did for you—how loved and affirmed you are—you’ll be able to let down your defenses in your own relationships with other people. You won’t always need to guard your honor. You’ll be able to let down the barriers down. You’ll be able to move into intimate relationships with other people.

What is in the package of Christmas? His vulnerability for intimacy with us, which gives us the vulnerability to be intimate with the people around us. If you believe in Christmas—that God became a human being—you have an ability to face suffering, a resource for suffering that others don’t have.

 –Tim Keller

We’re here in Georgia after a twenty-one hour, three-legged flight.  The days leading up to Christmas were busy, so I haven’t been able to write.  But our hearts are full, and we’re glad to be here.

Merry Christmas! I’ll write more when I’m able.


Winter lights


1. Via Po 2. Several photos from Via Roma 3. Piazza San Carlo

On Sunday, Sarie went with the young adults from our church to tour the lights Torino puts up all over the city center during the winter. Every year, whoever puts them up picks different streets for each set of decorations. They’re not all Christmas decorations, but some of them are. They really do add a lot of beauty to the city during the dark days of December.

DSC_1342DSC_1414The story street, Via Maria Vittoria, is one of our favorites.  It starts out, “The city was full of noise. It was ever more difficult to speak and to listen. And then there were the silent woods, but in the silence of the woods, there was lost…”  and at this point, I lose the story in the depth of the perspective!

The leap frog street, we think, is Accademia delle Scienze.  There are many other lighted streets as well.

DSC_1357DSC_1366There was also a tram festival going on all day Sunday, with historic trams in service.


This nativity scene is in Piazza Carlo Felice, at the end of Via Roma and across from the main train station, Porta Nuova (it’s visible in the third photo from the top, but in person you can even see it from Piazza San Carlo).  These figures remind me of old Maurice Sendak drawings, but the artist’s name is Emanuele Luzzati.

May your Advent nights be full of light!

All photo credits Sarie.

Bringing home the tree


Last Christmas, which was our first in Italy, we never did find a tree.  So this year, I wanted more than ever to unwrap all our ornaments while listening to Handel’s Messiah.  I had collected a lot of ornaments during our 14 years in New York: a little cookie dough cab and penguin from Grand Central; old-fashioned glass birds from the Museum of Natural History, a Santa ball from a friend long since moved back to Australia; a 1-train ball from the New York Historical Society: and a variety of glittering shoes from the Metropolitan Museum. And from further back: a silver bell from each year since 1997, gifts to Sarie from her grandmother; red tin silhouettes of a boy and girl from Bob’s and my first married Christmas; one guitar ornament from my childhood tree. I wanted badly to bring a little bit of our Christmas history forward to Italy.

So I put out an APB for a tree, but something was wrong with all the solutions:  IKEA–too far away without a car.  Nurseries–too expensive. Fake trees, which are more popular in Italy–beside the point. US-style Christmas tree stands–non-existent.

Then last Friday I got a call from a friend. “I was just walking out of a Pam store near our apartment and I saw three Christmas trees!” she said. The store was two tram rides away, but I jumped at the chance.  I put on my coat and scarf and was out the door with two tram tickets, in evening rush hour traffic.

I got rather turned around on some back streets and never found the second tram, but eventually I found the grocery store. The trees were reasonably priced, if scraggly. And they had the root ball attached. I picked one up. Heavy! But I was determined to have a tree. I paid and left the store lugging my prize.

Not surprisingly, people stared. Christmas trees, I think I’ve mentioned, aren’t that common in Italy. Middle-aged women carrying 40-pound live trees that are as tall as they are, even less so. And I was in an unfamiliar neighborhood, so I had to ask where the tram stop was. Finally I found it and gratefully set the tree down on a planter to wait for the ride home.

The tram that arrived was an orange 13, an old type of car with round wooden seats and high steps at the entrance.  When it came, I was able to get the tree up the steps, under the door (just barely) and plop it down just behind the driver, shedding a few needles. But as I tried to straighten up again, I realized I couldn’t. My coat button was hung in the netting. As I worked it free, I realized that there was simply no way I was going to be able to walk the distance between the stops for my transfer, which was to another line with old orange cars. So as I watched our progress out the front window in the dark, counting stops, I fished my phone out of my purse with one hand and called Sarie.

Finally she answered.  “Please meet me at the Porta Susa tram stop with the red cart in fifteen minutes.”


“Porta Susa!”


“Porta Susa!!”

Where at Porta Susa?!”

“The only south-bound tram stop there is!”

Here I was, a woman on crowded tram with live tree, button stuck in the netting, shouting into a phone, in English. At that moment, I heard gypsy music on a violin, inside the tram.  I started to shake with silent laughter. This was like something that would happen in New York.

One stop before Porta Susa, the tram engine sputtered and turned off. “This tram is going out of service. Everybody off the tram!” Down the steps I plunked with my tree.

By now I was tired. This time I really struggled to get the button untangled. And the next tram was coming. Just in time I got myself free and unbuttoned the coat altogether, but I couldn’t get the tree back up the steps quickly enough. A young woman kindly pulled up the other side from inside the train. “This thing is heavy!” she exclaimed appreciatively.

One stop later, I went down the steps again, into a huge crowd. I pulled the tree a little ways out of the crowd, where three men were smoking and shouting in Arabic. A woman ran across the street in front of the tram yelling “Aspetti!,” and trying to make eye contact with the driver so he’d wait, but he apparently  he thought she just meant, “Don’t run over me,” and didn’t. Trams came and went. My hands were cold, but I knew that holding the tree with gloves on would make them permanently sappy, so I left them in my purse.

Sarie called again. “Where are you?” I described the location. Eventually I saw her, pushing our huge old red New York folding cart, the kind with wheels that won’t turn unless you throw your whole body into it. But I was very thankful to see it. She helped me lift the tree into the cart and we started for home.

As we continued south down the porticoed avenue that runs perpendicular to our street, an old man stared wildly as we walked by. “You better water that tree,” he warned in a shaky voice, “or you’re going to kill it!” Did I mention that Italians are skeptical of live trees in houses?

It took another series of maneuvers to get the cart onto the tiny elevator and through the front door, but soon we stood in the foyer, shaking and happy–with a live tree.

Two nights later we were decorating our tree, which had been planted in our old tomato pot. We were listening to a new Baroque version of Handel’s Messiah.  The shoes and bells were too heavy to put on, and the velvet balls wouldn’t fit.  But we had plenty of “Oh, the bear ornament!” and “We need more red balls over here,” moments, and Bob remarked, “For the first time since we’ve moved here, it feels like we’re home.”



The pink pig goes shopping–not!

DSC_1279This ad has been in all the subway stations in Torino for the past month.  The pig is now eyeing our credit cards very suspiciously.