January has left us, already! And Christmas and New Year are but a fading memory. Celebrations came and went and everyone has settled back into their regular routines.
Although I indicated that I would touch on working life, it’ll have to wait until the February installment. There are pictures and experiences to share pertaining to the festive season before moving on.
I will however answer the question quite a few of you asked, and yes, I am working. I’ve taken up teaching ESL again and also work temporarily for another company – around 10-15 hours /week– through a temp agency. The latter should end around March; I’m helping out verifying data by calling companies in Belgium and Luxembourg (Dutch and French) and the languages are coming in handy. It’s nice for a change to be able to utilize the other languages that have been remaining idle for lack of opportunities.
Teaching English has been different than previously in that I strictly teach business English and English for Engineering – highly specialized but rewarding nonetheless. The language school in Ulm sends me out to teach on location at various companies and I also teach a few private lessons at the school. More on this in a future blog. For now… let’s turn to the end of year celebrations.
Winter conditions didn’t inspire me to drive the 500 kms to Villafranca (about 30 kms from Verona, Romeo and Juliet’s city). I travelled by train and was surprised at the difference between the train compartments going south and those I was on when travelling north to Belgium a few months ago. The former were far less comfortable than the latter. Even the restaurant compartment was inferior in quality and in the choices it had to offer.
The train was packed and thankfully I had reserved a seat not wanting to run the risk of having to stand for any part of the 6 1/2 hours journey that involved two train connections. The ride itself though was beautiful as we crossed southern Germany, then Austria and Italy. I shared a compartment with five Italian young men who were looking forward to their skiing holiday in the Alps.
The scenery kept changing as we went through the lower Alps, the Alps, the Brenner mountain pass and into Italy. Green and brown pastures, followed by lightly snow-dusted meadows and urban areas, made way for thick snow, which covered forests and valleys. Not just the scenery was ever changing but also the architecture, as three-story houses with solar paneled roofs made way for chalets and then apartment buildings. Mountainsides were dotted with villages and churches, and every Alpine village we passed boasted imposing castles or fortresses. The pictures may give you a bit of a feel for these trans-border vistas.
At Verona station, where I arrived in the evening, I was greeted by damp and cold weather. Fortunately family was there to pick me up so that I didn’t have to wait long in the cold. Irony had it that while I was freezing in Italy over the Christmas season, Ulm and Munich regions enjoyed balmy weather – 18 to 20C! Italy was below 0… -5C, not so cold by Canadian standards but it felt very cold due to the high humidity level. Of course this didn’t dampen our festive spirit (no pun intended).
Villafranca was awash with people preparing for Christmas day. The hustle and bustle didn’t die down until Christmas eve. The market – although quite different from the German Christmas markets – was operating daily until the very end. Stalls displayed artisan goods, food specialties of other Italian regions, all sorts of china, leather goods, and with the regular market stalls assured a constant flow of buyers.
I was staying with a family member right in the centre of town; we only had to walk a couple of blocks to get to the stores; the market activity we could watch right from the apartment window above. In-between preparations the two of us enjoyed playing card games and had quite a few intense Canasta marathons!
It was wonderful to spend time with my niece, godson and the extended family and friends as we enjoyed a laughter-filled Christmas eve meal together. I did miss not being able to attend Christmas church service, we did however have a moment of recollection around the dinner table, while I read from Isaiah and Luke on the birth of Christ. We compared notes on what tradition was followed – which families celebrated Christmas day or eve. Those who live in northern Italy stated that they celebrate Christmas day and I remember celebrating Christmas eve in my childhood – and still keep that tradition. Apparently that’s a southern Italian tradition, which makes sense considering my maternal ancestry is Sicilian.
Time flew by and a week later I was back home and curious as to how Germans celebrated New Year – or “Sylvester” as it is called here. Well, I wasn’t disappointed. Although everything appeared quiet – village life isn’t exactly conducive to wild parties – from 10:30 pm the occasional firework made it’s presence known. Then… just before midnight pandemonium! The sky exploded with the cracks and whines of fireworks and bright colours as far as the eye could see. From my vantage point, I could see all the neighbouring villages sparkling with fireworks. We’re not just talking fifteen minutes or so but more than an hour of non-stop crackling and erupting flares as seen on the pictures that I hope will give a glimpse of what it was like in reality.
Shortly after midnight neighbours came by and invited me to join in raising a glass of sekt to welcome the new year. It was a nice way of getting to know these other neighbours whom I had only met in passing (two families, a couple and I live in this building).
There was opportunity to pray and give thanks for the many incredible experiences and blessings of the past year, and to pray in the new. Some of you may be curious as to the place faith and religion plays in the region where I live, and I hope to devote a post on that topic soon. History, rich with its spiritual giants and sweeping revivals, has deeply influenced the fabric of the south.
In closing I’d like to add that the frist draft of one of my manuscripts is finally finished and edits are already underway. This has given me a tremendous boost in wanting to get the book print ready, although it may take several months while I finish the process and find a publisher.
Until next time, keep warm … summer is just around the corner! Well, almost.