I'm going to buy my panettone this week, and so I'm reposting this essay from a few years back:
I opened the panettone.
I wasn't going to. I bought it last week at the Whole Foods store on Ponce with the idea of bringing it somewhere as a special treat.
But then I thought, well, I would like a special treat. Right here, right now.
So I opened it, and still mulling over a long-awaited email I had received from a British friend this morning, I had a flashback to, of course, what do you expect? the days when I lived in Florence and I would buy a panettone to bring for Christmas dinner.
(Please understand, I lived in Florence just after college and I think those early years of adulthood, no matter where you spend them, remain disproportionately impressed upon the brain, perhaps because it's then that we launch our own independent lives, with their own rhythms and routines, separate from Mommy and Daddy).
Specifically, I remembered going to order a specially-made panettone from a bakery on Borgo San Iacopo to bring to my British friend's family in Luxembourg.
They had invited me to spend Christmas with them that first year that I lived in Florence, and as I counted down the days until I boarded the overnight train from Santa Maria Novella station, I made the rounds of neighborhood stores to pick up treats and gifts.
I remember walking over to the bakery along the narrow, cobblestone street on the other side of the Arno from the Duomo, and pausing a moment in front of the glass storefront.
You know the type, either from movies or real-life.
It had a large front window through which you could see a display case full of Christmas delicacies and everyday pastries, and perhaps the baker had stuck his head out of the kitchen for a moment to share a laugh with the girl behind the counter.
Condensation had formed on the window from the heat of the kitchen, and there was a clutch of older women, in their quilted jackets, identical grey, knee-length wool skirts, and sensible brown leather shoes, issuing specific instructions about the items they wanted.
It seemed so evocative of city or village life, the neighborhood bakery. Ever since, I've always wanted to live in neighborhoods that are anchored by a bakery, but alas it's not so easy in America.
And while I was cutting myself a piece of panettone this morning, I wondered why that chore had remained lodged deep inside my mind. Living in Italy, one would not find it unusual to buy a panettone.
But I think the idea of rushing around town, preparing for Christmas, crossing chores off your list -- it all constitutes such a fundamental activity that it almost seems like a scene out of Dickens.
Going to the neighborhood bakery and ordering a Christmas treat is as far as you can get from the suburban shopping mall or car traffic or the incessant intertwining of romance with the birth of Jesus (doesn't that seem a bit odd?).
And it was enough just to breathe in the scent of the panettone this morning to unearth this memory.
Ok, so, if you buy a panettone this Christmas, you may not remember the same thing, but they are seasonal treats. And Lord knows, nothing is more Italian than eating a particular dish at a specific time of year -- and then not again until next year.