Tuesday, January 30, 2007


For the ones wondering, I've survived my nose surgery and, despite quite an amount of sheer pain and uncomfortableness, I'm already back home. I'll write more about last week-end and these days when I'll feel a bit better.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

VCN Ethnic Dinners go to Peru

Yesterday was quite a day. Combining work, swimming, barber and then a dinner out all in the same evening is already difficult, but if weather plays hard against you and Rome's streets produce half a meter deep ponds for lack of drainage, then it becomes borderline crazy to do just one of the things. Somehow, I managed tho.

And so, we did have the 5th VCN Ethnic Dinner. After Mexico, Turkey, Eritrea, Thailand, it was the time of South America again and Peru in particular. Of course, Following the most obvious application of Murphy's law, after a winter absolutely poor of rain, yesterday we had a perfect storm to make logistics complicated for many of the participants. However, it didn't go all that bad, considering that of the expected 20 participants, 13 were stubborn enough to fight against the elements and make it to the restaurant and other 3 late comers made the whole number raise to almost the one considered in the original plan.

The evening turned out to be quite nice, the food tasty (and abundant, we all left overfed and there was still some leftovers...) and all in all inexpensive, considering that, with the exceptions of the ones who decided to try the Peruvian beer, we ended up spending less than 20 €.

(click on the pictures to see the enlarged version)

So, at 20.15, quarter of hour before the planned time, I was at the restaurant, which, as it can be seen, is in a definite Inca fashion. As it had to be Expected, there was no one yet, but already a message was waiting for me about the forfeit of 2 persons.

Prodigiously ahead of time, Can did show up a few minutes later.

But then, the storm took its tool and it eventually took 45 minutes before everyone managed to arrive at the restaurant and we finally managed to be all assembled and ready to start. Visible on the left Laura (Italy), Magda (Italy), Silvia (Italy) and Can (Turkey), on the right Claudia (Italy) and Cristina (Brazil).

The other side of the table. Visible on the left, Dario (Croatia), Isabella (Italy), Liesbeth (Belgium), Maria Rosaria (Italy), on the right Frances (USA) and, partially, Jean-Fracois (France).

Now why is everyone having their right fist up? Some sort of ancient Incaic ritual? The one on the left is Deborah (UK), then Jean-Francois and Frances.

Can tries the... slightly... spicy "orange" cream.

Isabella smiling... as usual.

Does Caroline (France) have a secret to tell? French people, for once, made the second most numerous group at this VCN dinner, whereas usually this position is taken by the Americans, this time represented by the sole Frances. The most numerous group was, as usual, the italian one.

Someone is apparently enjoying her food...

About half the people who attended this dinner had not been to another VCN dinner before. The atmosphere looseded up quickly anyway, and while some people were having fun and some had serious talks (talking with Deborah is Cliona from Ireland)...

...someone was doubling himself to control the table and make sure everything is ok with service and food (that's me).

But eventually I managed to relax as well. In the middle, Maria Rosaria (Italy).

Monday, January 22, 2007

The week-end and the coming week

So, yes, I did the TOEFL and yes, I managed to get to Germany.

The TOEFL was worse than I thought it would had been. First of all, despite I should had known, I hadn't fully realized that the test would had taken 4 and a half hour of constant attention, which left me somewhat exhausted in the end. Secondly, while I think I managed well the reading and writing part, as I wrote replying to a comment in the previous post I have doubts about the listening and spoken part, the first made harder by the background noise produced by another dozen or so of test-taking people the second by the strange feeling produce by having to talk in a microphone knowing you have less than minute to say something meaningful. Anyway, in three weeks I should have the score and I'll move from it, deciding if it's good enough or if I'll have to take it again.

In the evening, I was not still sure whether my flight would had left to Germany or not, considering the hurricane that had stormed Germany and most then norther Europe the day before, causing billions of euros in damages and about 50 casualties. Turned out, flights going to west Germany were on schedule, while the ones to east Germany or Sweden, due a wide detour they were forced to avoid the storm at the time over Poland, had from 2 to 6 hours of delay.

Taking off on time didn't help me much anyway. Already tired from the test, I had the misfortune of finding myself right behind a family with two hyperactive kids who basically yelled and cried for the whole two hours, despite the attempts of the parents and of the cabin crew of distracting them. Once at Hahn, I found out that, if the storm was over, the wind was still strong and cold and the last of my energies were drained by the waiting for the bus to Mainz. I was so utterly exhausted that I didn't even bother arguing with the taxi driver who took me from Mainz train station to Susanne's house and who failed to give me back the exact change for the ride.

Saturday was a quiet day, not surprisingly comprising a lot of sleep, studying on Susanne's part and reading and computer playing for me, until we decided to head to Frankfurt for a movie. It should had been "Casino Royal" (Susanne is a Bond girl of sort) yet, due mostly to the slowest MacDonald's employ of history, we ended up missing a fateful train and arriving at the theatre when the tickets for our show had been sold out. It turned out to be a good thing anyway as, given we couldn't go to see "The pursuit of Happyness" due the fact I'm going to see that with Liesbeth on wednesday, we decided to see "Babel" and that turned out to be an impressive, if distress-producing, movie (on the left, part of the cast).

Parenthesis about the theatre, the Turm. Never in my life, at least for seeing a recent movie, I had been in such a small, cramped, totally irrational (with the middle seat row being higher than the one behind it) place with such a small projection screen (that could had just as well been a larger than usual flat screen for how small it was) and who sported at times a bright vertical green line at the sides of the picture. It's really a testament to the movie that we left the cinema without being upset about all of that, but rather discussing about the meaning of the story or its inconsistencies.

Oh, we ended up with a James Bond movie anyway as, once back home, we put on the DVD of Goldfinger from Susanne's collection.... well, "we" might be a bit too much as I think I managed to see maybe one third of it, sleeping in and out of it.

And sunday came and as all sundays it went away much too soon, with the added stress that it will be one month and a painful surgery before I'll see Susanne again. Oh, and I got on the way back the same happy family that made such a wonderful event the first flight, and again they happened to be right next to me, behind rather than in front, with the added joy of being patted on the head from time to time by one of the over-exuberant kids.

And now, this week, which will be quite a full one too, it seems. VCN Ethnic dinner tuesday (which will be odd, my last list sees 16 girls and 4 guys), movie with Liesbeth on wednesday, Tandem happy hour with the Arcadia University of Thursday, probably an evening out with friends I have not seen for months now (between Being constantly in Germany and Christams time) on friday, a week-end out of Rome with Nova Romans and on monday... Bah, don't want to think about it.

Have a nice start of the week everyone.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Quick one

So, my TOEFL day arrived, today at 2 pm I'll do it and in two or three weeks I will know how exactly good or bad my english is rated by an officially recognized institution. Slightly nervous, I must say, it's years I do not have to take an exam and I'm too relying on spell checkers for my writing, which obviously I will not have at the test.

This evening, in theory, I should fly to Germany. Only problem is, last night a hurricane struck the country forcing the cancellation of hundreds of flights and, for the first time since the war, shutting down down the whole national rail system so, I do not know if my flight will take off, if it will land in time and in which airport, if the bus connection will be working as usual. So many ifs...

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Boy I'm beat

News, more news...

Yesterday was a day devoted to sport. After my usual 2 kms at the pool (with a time of 52 minutes and 25 seconds), as that was not enough, I went to play football until 10 pm. The result is that today I'm aching all over, but I'm sure once I'm back in the water I will be ok again (or my arms will fall off, which is also possible).

In the meanwhile, it's sales time here in Rome. Over two days I got myself three shirts, three ties, a pair of gloves, a hat and tried out 3 suits (none of them, unfortunately, fitting well). Suits apart, I wouldn't mind getting a pair of good shoes and maybe a couple of blouses, we'll see. All that while I should be studying a bit of english grammar as this coming friday is the day I will be taking the TOEFL exam.

What else, what else... I've decided to start the VCN ethnic dinner for 2007 and organizing a peruvian dinner coming tuesday. A half a hour ago, using my lunch break, I drove quickly to the place, arranged the menu and, considering I'm basically skipping lunches these days, came out of the place with an immense hunger. To make things even nicer, I was caught midway back to the office by a storm.

Thinking about it, the coming days will be pretty full: TOEFL on friday, Mainz over the week-end, VCN dinner on tuesday, the following weekend out of Rome with Nova Romans and on monday my surgery. All along, swimming and possibly some reading and german studying. I wish I had 48 hours days.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

New year's first...

...book. As I was coming back from Germany I finished my first book for 2007. No, it's not Figes' monograph about the russian revolution yet, curiously, it has something to do with it and it's called "The Commissariat of Enlightenment". The book is a novel taking place right before, during and after the same revolution, having as main character a russian man called Gribshin, an early cinematographer believing in the power of the images of changing history and people, Stalin and a professor who invented a revolutionary way to preserve a human body, Vorobev.

It's a hard book, both in language (for the first time in a long time I had serious roubles in reading a book in english, and that is right before my TOEFL exam, scary) and in atmosphere, especially the second part, taking place in the violence of the civil war and in the claustrophobic year followed the communists' victory and consolidation and eventually the last day of Lenin and Stalin's triumph. Yet it's a little gem, compelling and extremely well written, full of characters that pass by and sometimes get lost in the whirlwind of events of that period, leaving you, despite their brief appearance, with the immense curiosity of what happened to them.

The Commissariat is Klefus' first work, bought by my father second hand I think, and already my serial reader nature is moving me to find other books by him... if only I didn't have another meter and a half of books waiting for me on the shelf...

Monday, January 15, 2007

There and back again

In so many, for now only announced, changes, I got back to the usual week-end migration. Friday evening at the usual time I got to my usual airport, boarded the usual flight and made the usual travel to Germany. Something unusual happened then, when I met Laura, another of the "sentimental travellers" I did write about a while ago and I was offered a ride to Mainz rather than having to get a bus.

Only thing was, I couldn't give precise directions so, eventually, I made them stop at a place that looked more or less familiar and then, for about half a hour, i tried to orientate myself in Susanne's neighborhood, too stubborn and proud to call for help. Maybe as a form of premonition, tho, I had taken with me a little map of Mainz and eventually, despite the scarce light, I made sense of the tiny characters and made it home, finding a Susanne jumping for my arrival (which is something I honestly adore, when she literally jumps around... it's a bit childish, but lovable).

What followed was a very relaxing and unfortunately short week-end including restaurant (unfortunately our favorite one turned out to be closed for unknown reasons), cocktails (and there I was reminded that german cocktails are twice as big and twice as strong as their italian counterparts), grocery shopping, italian studies (for her, with me as corrector) and all the niceties of an established, yet none the less enthusiastic, couple. Indeed, Susanne and me turn 18 months right today and a month from now we'll become each other's longest relationship, right on Saint Valentine day, go figure.

Anyway, the week here has opened in a mixed way. My weight is still way over the warning line despite strict diet and 2 kms of daily swimming. To be precise, I lowered it to 71.6 (for the new electronic scale we got today), down from the 72.5 of right after the Christmas holidays but still far away from the minimal BMI (68) and another universe form the sought after 65. On better news, my soon to be manager invited me to a play five-a-side with him.

Oh, and struck by the delusion that the artistic gene that was in my grandfather (a quite good painter, in my opinion) could be awaken in me if only I tried long enough, I got myself a graphic tablet... we'll see if I'll manage to draw something even vaguely unable to produce nausea in the observes.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Quite some news

Sometimes an event that you have expected so much that you were losing hopes to see it happen combines itself with another event you didn't really expect at all and the mix opens wild new possibilities.

The expected event is my office transfer. I was unofficially given the news yesterday afternoon that, operative from the 1st of febraury, I'll be working for the Institutional Relations office, a nice label that actually covers the unofficial lobbying and legislative contacts department of my firm. That's good news, if nothing else because I will be doing something new. Actually,to be honest, I'll be doing something, as the last months here have been a time of total no-employment, compared with the previous years of under-employment. The still unofficial, but this time written, news came this morning by the way of an email from the HR manager, so I can finally say it's true.

The unexpected event came about yesterday as well, just minutes after the news of above. The same HR manager sent about a note in which he basically froze the use of overtime for the whole firm, based on budget re-allocation for 2007. At first, that was a pretty annoying news, as the first consequence of such a thing would be a net economic loss for me of about 200 euros a month, a good 1/7 of my monthly incomes, yet, moments after the note was made public, it opened a whole new horizon to me.

The enlightenment too the form of a call from one of my soon-to-be colleague. In a brief coffee talk, he explained that my new office, for its peculiar kind of work, had the need of having at least some people working, in turns, until 8.00 pm. In the impossibility of having overtime anymore, flexible time was "offered", meaning some people would get to job at noon rather than at 8 am and finish at 8.21 pm rather than 4.21 pm. And everything fell in its place when I considered that, with two free morning every week, I might get back to lawyer practicing (although a light form of it) and most important, to hearings attendance, two years of which are necessary to even consider taking the bar exam.

And so, I did call my best friend (I was working in his father's, now his and his father's, firm as a practitioner), explained the situation and, almost exactly three and a half years (damn, can't believe so much time has passed already) after leaving for the job I have now, I was welcomed back in the ranks.

So, not only I will have a new work in February, I will actually have two. While I'm sure it will mean a mighty effort to put forward both activities while keeping a LDR relationship going and possibly not abandoning the idea of a MBA, I'm challenged by the idea. Of course, coming out of three years of hibernation just to jump right in hell doesn't help at all. Somehow, I feel my brain has been in a sort of a coma, I just hope it is still a reversible one.

I do actually not know if I will be able to make it, but if I do not try, I shall never know, I suppose.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Me and Politics

A couple of friends have asked me why I do not write about politics anymore. That probably has to do with the reason I basically do not even talk about politics anymore, with the exceptions of some exchanges with my parents and with Susanne. It actually gets even worse, as my rejection has worsened to such a point that it's about 6 months I do not even read newspapers anymore, with the exception of the online versions, which do not say much anyway.

And after all, why doing that? If I check the things I did write about untill last summer, I see nothing has changed: Iran was then and is still now developeing its atom bomb in the more or less total indifference of the world. Same for North Korea, assuming the test they performed a few months ago was indeed a failure, as labelled by the US, and not an actual detonation of small scale. Iraq is the usual bloody affair, made worse by the democratic victory at the US midterm's election (why worse? Because I think Iraq needs more determination to be applied and not the "when are we leaving" attitude the Dems will unavoidably bring in the picture). Israel is still being targeted daily by rockets, despite the light civil war that is ongoing in Gaza.

In Italy, the center-left coalition government is more and more conditioned in its choices by the extreme-left parties and, in the 8 months they have been ruling, they have only been able to agree on a 40 billion dollars tax increase. For the rest, foreign banks rule the economy (for example, former Goldmann & Sachs people can be found everywhere, first and most notably the governor of the Bank of Italy), the foreign minister moves Italy more and more on an anti-american and generally filo-islamic line in foreign politics, while the country, as a whole entity, is generally stuck in the mud.

In the meanwhile, the head of the conservative party here opens to gay marriages, euthanasy and fetal researches, basically depriving me of any political representation, as I do not need a conservative party for things the left and radinal ones have been the heralds for since forever.

If there is somone who is disillusioned with politics, that's me. The very illusion, because that was it, of the existance (somewhere, somehow) of politics as rational ideas transmutated in objective plans efficiently put in action to achieve practical goals, hopefully in light of teh national interests and for the good of the state and the society as a whole, or at least of a majority of that, has faded for me and therefore any interest in following the minor and usually irrelevant squabbles of more or less secondary politicians which will not translate in anything practical, locally or internationally.

Hopefully, this state of mine will last only for a while and not forever, inthe meanwhile, I promise to make an effort and get back reading at least a newspaper. If my stomach can stand it, that is.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

One thousands steps and more

Ok, last post about new year's vacations, both because it has been almost a week now and because after last wednesday, nothing much of interest has happened. All the pictures following can be clicked upon to get an enlarged version.

Wednesday the 3rd was the last full day of Susanne staying here and we decided to have a little day trip. After having evaluated Siena and Viterbo, both turned down because too complicated or too long to reach, the choice fell on a little, ancient and fascinating city in Umbria, Orvieto, which I happened to visit two or three times in the past, even because some relatives of mine live there.

So it was that we found yourself under my office early in the morning. There I parked the scooter and hoped to get the tickets at the travel agency right next to my firm's entrance, but that revealed to be a vain hope, as I actually should had imagined, given that the agency was closed. The line at the station's ticket office was better than I expected anyway and so, after little more than a hour of train in a freezing car (we discovered almost as we arrived in Orvieto that our car was the only one in the train with the heaters broken) surrounded by americans, we reached our goal.

Out of the station, a cableway took us up the steep hill Orvieto is built upon and from there, a bus rode directly to the Cathedral's square, right in front of the tourist information office where we could easily get a card allowing us to visit the most interesting things, with the exception of Saint Patrick's well. Our first stop was, obviously, the Cathedral (on the right, picture taken from the Moor's tower) and the famous San Brizio's chapel and its Signorelli's frescoes, which I always loved. After having given a look to the rest of the cathedral, we moved outside and we spent a few moments taking pictures over its steps.

Ah, the steps. The steps turned out to be the protagonists of our visit, the beginning, the end and the in between, above and under the ground. As we had booked a tour of the underground of the city (Orvieto is built over an immense number of artificial grottoes dug in the volcanic ground) and we had a bit of time, we decided to check the Moor's Tower, the highest point of the city from where one can truly enjoy a breathtaking panorama. If only the breath hadn't been already taken from him by the 240 steep steps needed to reach the top (left), which making the way back become 480. The view was truly magnificent anyway and we happened to be there at noon, which meant being deafened by the tower bell.

After those 480, it was the turn of the 200 or so of underground steps as we went visiting the quite interesting grottoes under the city, excavated for almost 3.000 years, since Etruscans time and until late XIX century, and used along the millenia as wells, mills (right), pigeons' farm (left), cellars, smuggling heavens and even bomb-shelters during WWII. And after those 200, the 240 of the not particularly interesting civic museum followed. At that point, it was finally time to eat something and, after having wandered a bit, we finally settled down in a nice restaurant where I had a language incident. It is common in Rome to ask for "two" of something indicating "a small portion of". Apparently, and for the first time ever, I found a place where this way of speaking isn't properly understood and in fact after I asked for "two potatoes" I was actually presented with two full portions of them, much to my puzzlement and Susanne's merriment.

Anyway, as it often happens, time ran fast as we sat at the table and enjoyed our meal and so, while paying the bill, we found out it was almost time to leave. But a visit to Orvieto couldn't possibly be finished without paying a visit to Orvieto's architectural wonder: Saint Patrick's well... and it's 248 (496 if we count both ways) steps. So we walked all the way there, we easily went down to the bottom (right, click to enlarge), which is incredibly suggestive and still water filled... but I must admit I heavily struggled my way back up. And so it was that we made it back to the station and the trip was over. Not really surprisingly, we ended up staying home that evening...

A few more pictures from Orvieto (as usual, click to enlarge):

Sunday, January 07, 2007

The first days

The first days of the new year presented themselves with a rare opportunity: both Alessandro, my best friend, and myself with our girlfriends in Rome. Now, it has always been a problem for Susanne and me to go out with others. On one side, most of my friends in Italy are single or have their girlfriends abroad, making going out together unpractical, on the other hand Susanne doesn't have many friends in Mainz and in any case, germans in groups have this unfortunte habit of talking in german (which is true of italians as well, if you consider they speak italian rather than german, but Susanne speaks italian).

Seizing the chance, with Ale we decided to take them at a concert the 1st evening, a Strauss Gala along the line of the yearly concert held in Vienna. So it was that, after the traditional immense new year's lunch, we took our time to dress up and I must say the results were, obviously on Susanne's side (I'm hopeless in any case), astounding. Thanks also to a mantle lent to her by my mom, she had this perfect "Princess Sissy"'s look, much appropriated for the occasion. Monica, Ale's american girlfriend, looked superb too, making us the most eyed people at the bar during half time break.

The concert was in the main cavea of the auditorium, the music was good and accompanied with all the classical "jokes" between the director (who happened to be the russian Bolshoi's one), the orchestra and the public that Vienna's concert got used us to, the soprano that sung some of the pieces was good (even if she sung rigorously in russian, which was a bit strange), but the ballet part was absolutely ludicrous.

The late hour the concert finished and, admittedly, the need of recovering for the past day's late hours made us part early, with promises, that eventually never came to fruition, of meeting again in the next two days.

The 2nd was indeed a day all devoted to relaxing, reading and all around recovering, culminated in a movie, Eragon, at the cinema theatre near my house, a run to a stylish bar for a glass of red wine and then back home, where we eventually got to see another movie, "Sliding Doors".

To be noted that while the second was in english (and we both struggled with the heavy londonish accent of the charachters), we saw Eragon in italian... just to point out to what level Susanne's italian has risen in little more than 18 months. Much to my shame.

The end and the beginning

It's traditional custom in Italy, the last day of the year, to wish "A good end and a good beginning" and I think I do not want to hear such a wish anymore. The days between Christmas and new year's eve were pretty uneventful, spent going to work as any other day and , for once, without the stress of deciding what to do the last of the year. In fact, Susanne was supposed to fly in and arrive around 11 pm at Fiumicino. Now, considering that Alitalia has a terrible record at flying on schedule, especially on holidays, that she had to make a stop in Milan and that Fiumicino has an awful record when it comes to baggage delivery, I was fully prepared to spend the midnight in the waiting corridor of the airport. Yet, it was not so. In fact, I almost spent it in front of the damn airport.

What happened was that, thanks to Susanne's incredible skill of fitting stuff in her Mary Poppins' like backpack and a nice Alitalia's officer, she managed to switch flight in Milan and arrive in Rome at 9.30. With barely the time to reach the airport, I jumped on the car as my father arrived bringing a guest (our former neighbor from the old house) and leaving dinner behind and off I went, reaching the place just in time to pick her, while my mobile was all a ring of messages wishing me a good ending of the year.

And then it happened. We got back to the car and, taken by a moment of madness, I picked up the phone to call home and announce that we would had been back in 45 minutes top. The Gods above didn't miss my act if hubris tho and as I turned the key... nothing happened. Worse, something happened, and was that kind of noise that no driver would ever want to hear, and surely not the 31st of december with midnight nearing.

The car was dead, dead as only a dead car can be and nothing I could try while wearing a full suit would revive her. Much to my desperation, the battery had gone where no battery goes with any chance of coming back, the good old "push and start" wouldn't work and not myself, not apparently anyone in the airport, police included, ad some damn cables to connect it to another car. So it was that my year ended giving 120 euros to a tow car's man for a 25 minutes job: he came, sparked my engine, got the money and went with a wonderful "And happy new year, have a good end and a good beginning".

As I got home it was already a quarter to midnight and there was barely the time of a bite before fireworks had to be fired, champagne drunk and all the other rites performed. And I must say, between fireworks, sparkles, wine and, most than anything Susanne... well, the beginning made me forget the end.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Christmas Tales - Part II

During the Mass of the 24th night the Pope said, perhaps more as an allegory than literally, "Do not invite at dinner the ones who can return the invitation, but the ones who will never be able to, make presents to the one who can't give you presents in return, rather than the ones who can". Now, my father didn't just take it literally, but actually anticipated him, inviting home, after years no one had seen him, the 99 years old last survivor of my grandmother's family, my grandmother's older brother and therefore my 2nd removed uncle Alberto.

Now, it should be said that a number of happenings over the years, coupled with the troubling strain of maniacal selfishness and insane greed that plagued most of my grandmother's family (and eventually made it to my father's brother) had irremediably ruined the relations and, as I said, for years we had no contact whatsoever with him. Plus, sometimes along those years, his memory started to fail and, despite being absolutely conscious of himself and able to remember perfectly the times he was fighting as a volunteer in the nationalist army during the Spanish civil war, he basically doesn't remember at all my father or any of us and has problems remembering who of his acquaintances are alive and who, and at his age are an overwhelming majority, have passed away.

Yet he lives in a state of abandon and my father, being the man he is, took it upon himself to provide that minimal care and, for instance, have electricity restored to him, just to make an example.

Anyway, so it was that, much to my mother's dread and my brother's discomfort, this man came to lunch, the most important lunch of ths year in an italian family, and for hours entertained us with memories of his youth of dubious taste, sayings in strict neapolitan slang that no one, save perhaps my father, could understand and hard invectives against relatives gone since at least a quarter of century. As we finally took him home at the beginning of the evening, both my parents were showing signs of exhaustion and, more than usual, I was wondering about the effect of stress on the coronaries of my father.

And yet, after what was indeed a heavy day, the fact of having given my uncle probably the first decent meal in a long while and not having made him spent the day alone, in a way, made us, or at least me, feel Christmas more than ever.

Ah, the Pope's words...