Tuesday 1 January 2008

New Year's Eve, Pisan Style....

.....is not something for the faint-hearted!

We feasted not-wisely-but-too-well on Duck Terrine, followed by spit-roast leg of Welsh lamb (accompanied by a garlic sauce, which was effectively greek skordalia, as interpreted by Mapie de Toulouse-Lautrec, with final twists from the version given in the Moro cookbook.....), and finished with a Marjolaine, a very splendid many-layered confection of meringue and creams flavoured variously with hazelnuts, almonds and chocolate. The latter was originally fished, years ago, from a volume called ' Les Meilleurs Recettes Secrettes', and although it might sound heavy, is in fact light and delicate and a perfect end-piece to a festive menu.

For those who felt up to it, we left the ruins of the dinner table at around quarter to midnight, and headed in the direction of the Ponte di Mezzo. Under a spreading canopy of stars and a clear night sky, we walked through almost freezing and silent streets - whilst along the way various others materialised silently from side streets and from the doors of various Palazzi, all heading in the same direction, like so many members of a secret brotherhood en route to a midnight gathering. By the time we were in Borgo Stretto, there was a constant stream of people, and already the occasional sounds of fire-crackers and sometimes more serious explosions could be heard in the distance. Just beyond Café Salza the fireworks stall which has been doing a roaring trade for the past few days was still open for business, and attracting much attention.......and by the time we approached Piazza Garibaldi, the centre of the street was best avoided, as there was an intermittent but fairly constant stream of bangers, crackers, and the occasional rocket or other stand-alone piece of firework theatre blocking the way.

And then, Ponte di Mezzo itself. Perhaps several thousand people thronged the Lungarno on both sides of the river, and the bridge itself was almost impassable. Gaps opened within the crowd from time to time, as somebody indicated they were about to set off a particularly large firework - and many of these were seriously large events - and then, after that particular show had finished, others would take advantage of the gap in the crowd for the next few minutes to toss bangers and fire-crackers onto the temporarily exposed ground, until another gap would open up somewhere else in the crowd, which would flex and re-form accordingly. The whole thing was jubilant and good-natured and exhilarating........and the health-and-safety killjoys in the UK would have had kittens had they been present for even thirty seconds, I should think! Amazing to think that all those people were quite capable of assessing for themselves the risks involved, and could readily move aside as necessary in order to preserve life and limb, and yet continue to enjoy the event (something we are apparently incapable of doing these days in the UK.....)

At midnight, the whole place erupted. Rockets and shooting stars and volcanoes were set off in the street, on the parapets of the bridges, from roof terraces and balconies the length of the river, and even a few official fireworks from the roof of the Loggia dei Banchi, where the Capodanno party kicked off as soon as midnight had passed. People toasted each other with bottles of prosecco, and waved sparklers around, and enthusiastically wished each other Buon anno....and for about ten minutes, the entire place was a glorious mayhem.

Eventually, we decided it was cold enough, and we were old enough, to call it a day, which we did, threading our way back through the crowds, avoiding the residual firework-throwers along the way......and that was New Year over for another year.

Tonight's Dinner:

Scallop & Crayfish Mousseline

Gressingham Duck, spit-roast, and served with Broccoli purée

Tarte Normande (with Marsala replacing the more traditional Calvados)

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