There are a few more days of "big eating" in Italy than we are used to during the traditional holiday season. You have Christmas eve, Christmas, Santo Stefano day (day after Christmas), then New Year's eve dinner (la cena di trentuno) and Capo d'Anno which is New Year's Day.
Last year we spent New Year's Eve eating at home, then walked to St. Mark's square to join in the huge celebration there and watch fireworks. This year we had an invitation from friends in Mestre to eat dinner and welcome the start of 2010 with them.
I'm not sure I would have managed the whole St. Mark's event anyway, as I'd had major pain in my knee all week, in fact I was barely moving. We accepted this invitation to dinner thinking I'd be ok, but as the day wore on it became more questionable whether I'd be able to even walk anywhere. We got ourselves prepared, I took my pain medication, and we walked to Piazzale Roma where we were scheduled to meet Paolo, who was picking us up at 8:30pm. More Aqua Alta was predicted for 11:30 pm, so we carried our water boots with us, just in case we had to trudge through water on our way home. When we heard the sirens go off around 8pm,. we were both glad we had not made plans to go to St. Marks, which surely would be knee deep in water at midnight.
Piazzale Roma was a traffic nightmare, as there were tons of people being picked up tonight. It didn't help that the polizia were all over the place either. When Paolo pulled up, we got into the car as rapidly as possible. Given my knee situation, this was less than gracefully done.
We arrived at Paolo and Renata's apartment in Mestre in a few minutes. Paolo parked the car in the underground garage, and we went upstairs in the elevator. We don't see many elevators in the old buildings in Venice. I know my knee was doing a happy dance that we got to ride instead of walk up several flights of stairs. Shortly after the two other couples arrived, there were introductions, and we began the first course, the appetizers, in the kitchen.
First there were prosecco toasts, then the appetizers began. There was an unbelieveable assortment of appetizers, but Renata always goes way over the top with food. We got seated for the primi piatti (first course)- two different seafood dishes, one lobster, one shrimp. A lovely scroppino followed this, which I would have been happy enough to call dessert and be done with it. Everything was fabulous and I was stuffed.
Wait.. there's more. The secondo piatti of baccala and polenta was served. Yummy. And then the SECOND secondo came out- orate (a white fish, poached) and vegetables. We had no idea how we could fit this all in.
About this time, it was midnight. We first got instructions that in Venice, at midnight on New Year's Eve, the men wish each other Auguri - best wishes, but NOT the women. That's pretty different than the American tradition of everyone kissing each other at midnight. We did the countdown, which was pretty funny, we had a couple of commedians in the group, and then with a 9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 we ushered in the new year. Outside, fireworks were going off in the streets, and we could actually see the ones going off in Venice in the distance.
And then, desserts. Panettone, one of my all time favorite's, but this time it had been stuffed with a fabulous creamy filling. A few minutes later we were served an almond torte, nuts, fruit and torrone. I thought we would all pop. But we weren't done yet. Out came the grappa, and whisky, and a few of Paolo's signature funny stories and jokes.
One of the other couples, Renata and Giulia, who live in Mestre volunteered to bring us home to Piazzale Rome. Fortunately there was no high water waiting for us!
One more great experience to close out an incredible year.