Monday, December 18, 2017

You Are Invited to: A Fantasy Moveable Feast of Friendship

I'm so pleased to join the group of bloggers that D. A. Wolf has been gathering for a monthly exploration of a particular theme. And ever since I was asked to participate in December's version of


with its theme of a Fantasy Cocktail or Dinner Party, I've been trying to figure out how I might develop this notion.

Since mid-November, when I first received the invitation, I've entertained and discarded a few ideas: one fantasy was a prolonged evening in Paris with my mother,  an evening in which I could ask her all the questions I've thought of over these past four years she's been deceased, all the memories I wish I'd shared one more time with her while she was here.  I've been writing a memoir-ish piece of creative non-fiction this past year, all centred around her, and I'm so aware of what I never knew about her. I'd love, now, to see the Paris she visited with my dad, to discover the vintage shops I know she trawled, to hear the stories I never found time to listen to. But the topic's still a tender one for me, emotional, and I'm not sure I'm ready to write about it on the blog yet.

I also thought of a sit-down meal, either catered or potluck, which would gather together a friend or two from each of my decades, those friends who were so much a part of daily, circumstantial life, so close for a period but then lost to time in the big moves of life. I spent a few happy minutes imagining what it might be like to see all those disparate women together, to see them through each others' eyes, to see the different Me's that their many eyes reflected, to see what they might have in common, how they've grown, what they've done. But that one would get away from me so easily, an uncontainable topic, I decided, especially at this busy time of year.

The same would apply to my notion of a fantasy lunch set in the mid-30s, when I might have sat down with both of my grandmothers (where? in England, where one lived, or in the small Canadian town my other grandparents called home?). Maybe I could even manage to meet the grandmothers my husband never knew, both deceased when his parents were young, the great-grandmothers to my own children. I'm fascinated by the idea of this impossible lunch, an opportunity to flesh out, imaginarily at least, the two women whose stories have been almost completely snuffed out by history, even with their families. "If we are women," Virginia Woolf famously said, "we think back through our mothers". . . . and their mothers, and theirs before them, she implies. But too often, their stories silenced, we haven't that chance, and I did play with the idea of that table where I could ask questions of these four women who lived the turn of the previous century's changes and set my own family into motion. . .

Again, though, I let this one go, as an idea that might prove a bit too ponderous, perhaps unwieldy, and potentially too serious for this festive time of year.

So I returned to my initial impulse: a Moving Picnic on one of the trains Pater and I would be riding in the trip we were still planning when this invitation arrived. Rather than imagining a Fantastic Party -- gorgeous table settings, fabulously dressed guests, a jazz quartet playing while uniformed catering staff moved discreetly through the room offering to top up champagne glasses -- I thought I could use the word "Fantasy" to shift the party to a different track. Longtime or new girlfriends -- and, since it's a Fantasy anyway, why not invite blog readers to join as well, numbers aren't a problem on our fantasy train -- could join me on the train at any point from Paris to Zurich, or instead catch up with me as I rode the Bernina Express 

through the Swiss Alps, or you could have hopped on the day after as I rode from Torino/Turin to Roma/Rome. 

I'm not quite sure how I'd manage to book an entire Coach for this Moveable Feast, but since it's a Fantasy, let's leave those details to my assistant. What if he also ensures an ample supply of Prosecco, some decent glasses for the bubbly (it might be a picnic, but we don't drink Prosecco from plastic, okay?), and some good-sized linen napkins. That's as much elegance as this party will serve up, and we'll provide a selection of regional cheeses, some very good bread. The rest we'll leave up to you. Perhaps you'll bring a basket of mixed fruit (the persimmons are looking very tempting, hanging on the bare limbs of trees we speed by, hint, hint), or you might want to order three each of the beautiful pastries that catch your eye as you hurry to the station. No pressure, though, absolutely no obligation to bring anything. It's your company we want, and we want to feel the beneficence of serendipity.

What we would create together over several days (Paris to Zurich: Day One; Zurich through the Alps to Tirano, and then on to Torino, a very long Day Two; and then Torino to Roma, for the final day, Day Three) would be a brilliant experiment, a celebration of female friendship, an ever-changing social experience --- A Fantasy Picnic Party at 250kmh. Some of you would board in Paris after spending a few days there first, admiring the Christmas windows of les grands magasins, and you'd be sure to tell us all about your favourites. You'd pass around pale-green, Ladurée-gold-scripted boxes of delectable, pastel macarons, and we'd swoon our gratitude, giggle as we snuck a second. Someone would unwrap a selection of charcuterie, and we'd pass it across the aisle, holding the butcher paper "platter" steady as we eschewed our normal table manners and picked up pieces with our fingers to lay them across the slice we'd cut from the basket of baguettes in the corner.

By Zurich, we'd be having such a good time making new acquaintances, forging new friendships, deepening old ones, that some of you would be calling your airline to change your flight, but most of us would hug reluctant good-byes and promise to meet again soon. As you hurried through the cavernous station, some would stop for a mug of hot spiced wine at the Christmas Market stalls, lingering together until they'd drained the last stops before crossing the bridge to your hotel. . .

The next morning, we'd yawn as we dragged our cases behind us to the station in the dark dawn, anticipation building as we boarded the regional train from Zurich to Chur where we transfer to the cheery red Bernina Express. I'll leave it to you to imagine a continuation of the previous day's fun -- perhaps you might share your version in the comments below -- would it involve mugs of thick hot chocolate you'd pour from a thermos you'd filled in Zurich? We'd all be ever so grateful!

Or might you skip the Bernina Express portion because you absolutely had to use some of your travel days shopping in Milan, filling bags with Christmas gifts you'd show us when you boarded, joining us for the ride down to Rome where you had one or two more items to pick up? Again, since it's a collaborative feast here, I'd love to read your imaginings in the comments below.

Entertaining this fantasy has been delightful, and it's left me determined to pull some of the fantasy into reality next year by reviving a social practise I started back in 2013 (when, if you read that post, you'll see that I was only peering wistfully in the windows of Fantasy Parties) and enjoyed sporadically for the last several years of our island life. I expect this will be more difficult to institute in the city, but I'm going to try.  Invitations sent to a wide swath of girlfriends for a casual soirée chez moi. Ignore the logistic difficulties, ignore a temptation to shyness, just go all Nike on this one and Just Do It. . . I'll let you know how it goes.

Meanwhile, I'm going to enjoy this Fantasy Train Picnic with you -- do leave a comment and let me know where you plan to board? I'll make sure the conductor holds the train for you. And what do you think you might bring to our feast? Maybe suggest a few tunes we could play on my little Jambox speaker. . . . We're going to have such fun!!

As well, while we're all in the festive mood, let's be sure to check out the other Fantasy Parties conjured up by the other bloggers who have linked to A Daily Plate of Crazy -- D.A. Wolf sets a delicious and glamorous scene at this post, and then sends us off in wonderful other directions via the link-up.

58 comments:

  1. What a wonderful take on our BIO subject this month ... you have put mine to shame !! ...... I love reading it and shall be boarding at the very start .... I wouldn't want to miss any of it !!!!
    A very Merry Christmas to you and your family .... have a magical time. XXXX

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    1. I loved the twist you put on a Fantasy Party, Jacqueline, and I suspect you'd bring the unexpected to our moveable picnic as well ;-)
      And Merry Christmas to you and yours as well!

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  2. Wait for me , hold that train , I can’t run in the snow . I love your idea of meeting up with our ancestors . Being very interested in family history ( most social history really ) , I’d love to discover more about these people & the lives they lived . Maybe another time ? Meanwhile , pass the Prosecco .
    Wendy in York

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    1. There! I've got you -- let me just reach your packages up and you can scrambled aboard. And yes, I might just have to make that fantasy visit back to the great-grandmothers one of these days as well. . .

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  3. I'd get on in Paris, I think. So easy to fly there from where I live. You can borrow my Spotify account if you like so there may well be dancing. I shall bring some excellent English cheeses and some Fat Rascals from Bettys. And I will leave when we get to Rome. A week there will be the perfect end to this romp. Can I have a sleeper booked as well, please? I might need to periodically go and take a snooze. Grazie.

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    1. Music AND Fat Rascals AND English cheeses -- you will be very welcome (and yes, you're so lucky with your easy access to Paris!)

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  4. Oh I’d definitely alight at Chur for the Bernini Express, wrapped in my furs of course. I gather it’s still ok to wear fur in that part of the World. With me I would bring my portable fondue set that I had 37 years ago for a wedding present. It’s rather dusty now but I’d clean it up especially. I’d top up the little burner with meths and carefully set it on the table in front of us. A cheese fondue made from cheeses purchased that morning before boarding the train. Hopefully some lovely French bread for dipping. I’m sure we would have a great time. Mind you would we get round to eating with all that chatting and window watching going on. Such a fun thought. B x

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    1. Furs do seem more acceptable here, thanks to the clear need for warmth. And I'm so glad someone's thought of bringing a fondue set -- gorgeous! So perfect for scrumptiousness AND atmosphere ;-)

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  5. What an incredible interpretation of the "fantasy party" theme, Frances. Might I spend a few extra days in Paris where I have some art-biz friends? And could I pick up a few of my favorite cheeses (including the rather pungent "époisse" as I board the train to join you and the other female friends?

    Incidentally, I love ALL your ideas for a fantasy gathering! (Oh, the thought of sitting with both my grandmothers in their "hey days"
    of the 1930s. That would be extraordinary.)

    I would definitely stay on this party train for as long as possible, for so many reasons. For one, I've been to a few spots in Switzerland, but never Zurich. And for all the times I've lived in and traveled in France, I've never made it to Italy! So that would be a true pleasure.

    Most importantly, my women friends have been such a solid foundation in my life. As I've grown older, that's been harder to sustain, and feels like a loss. What a wonderful way to get to know old friends and new! That is truly a gift.

    Thank you so much for this beautiful post, and for joining the group.

    Have a wonderful holiday season!

    xo
    D. A.

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    1. Thank you so much for organising the collection of Fantasy Parties and for inviting me to participate -- it's been fun! And I'm so glad you'll be travelling with us on this train; it would be lovely to get to know you better. Happy Holidays!

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  6. Bien sûr, I'd be getting on in Paris after having purchased a few new winter outfits and some Lebanese delicacies from the market in the Fifth. I want to hear the handsome man say "Pour le plaisir" one more time.This could be a sort of women's Polar Express! I want to stay in a hotel in Zurich that the Man in Seat 61 recommended. They send a uniformed employee to the station to fetch you and your baggage. So necessary to accommodate the Paris purchases! I've never been to Zurich so I'll spend a few days before taking the night train to Budapest to meet my daughter. While we're on the train with our Prosecco, we'll hold a giant book club meeting. Because it is a magic train, we will be able to read and discuss in every European language. Enjoy your European time!

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    1. "Pour le plaisir" -- ah, that's exactly the spirit. And I love this characterisation of our moveable feast: A Women's Polar Express indeed!
      I saw The Man's recommendation for that hotel, and in my fantasy I'd stay there as well. (In our reality, Pater and I chose his other recommendation, which was clean and pleasant and convenient, but there was no fetching, no uniforms ;-)
      Thanks to your magic wand, I'm going to finally be able to read the Croatian novels Dottoressa has mentioned -- brava!

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    2. Madame, even Basque, Finnish and Hungarian?

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  7. There are so many lovely scenarios-for a series,not only a movie!
    But,let's take a train! I would join you all in Paris-,no,even better, Zürich! I have a direct flight for both the cities.
    In Zürich you'll all be already in a festive mood and I'll be a little bit shy, guessing who's who (mystery for the beginning),but it will be only for a minute or two-I feel like I know you already.
    I'll bring a whole Prosciutto (with the real prosciutto knife to make slices,not a spikey one :-),I really don't know what the security will say about it-but this is a fantasy,right?),together with Paski sir (or Cheese from Pag island) and some olives.There will be a lot of macarons,so I'll take my chocolate cake to Sue's party!
    Can we have a wagon-lit please,like in "Some Like it Hot"?
    My plan would be to leave you in Milan(because I love the city),but I couldn't resist and will stay with all of you till Rome.
    Dottoressa

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    1. It's true -- this could make a wonderful TV series, starring all of us!
      We're going to enjoy that prosciutto, altho' I'm a bit disappointed we won't get to see your spikey knife! ;-)
      And we must, we must have a wagon-lit!

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  8. You have painted such a vivid and pleasant picture...I'll be thinking about this all day.

    I will start in Paris and spend a week there doing a bit of 'historical research' ie poking around some of the places I've been reading about. By the time a week is over I will be starved for company and ready to board!

    My offerings will therefore come from the Paris markets...something vegetarian...maybe I will continue with Mme. L's Lebanese theme. And throat lozenges, to support the hours of conversation we will have.

    Now, off to pack...and oh, the very best of the season to you Frances and to everyone here, in this friendly place.

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    1. And by the time you board, you'll have so much to tell us about Paris's history. and those throat lozenges (doubtless with some great French graphics for their wrapping) will be much needed.
      Best of the season to you as well, Georgia!

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  9. Leaping out quickly in Milan to run to the Salvation Army thrift shop and stock up on hardly worn designer treasures ...

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    1. Having only ever passed through Milan or spent an hour in the station, I had no idea the Sally Ann boasted a thrift shop there and will make a point of checking it for designer goodies whenever I manage to make a longer stop. Clever you!

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    2. I could not pass that up, in fact I'd make a trip just to do it... has to be interesting.

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  10. This sounds like a delightful outing. Shopping in Milan and Rome, with a food-filled train trip through the Alps? Sign me up.

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    1. I know, right? All the good stuff and as you can tell from these reader comments, only the best company! Welcome!

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  11. Ah... how similar our minds work, Frances. I was thinking of the grandmother and great-grandmother idea... of flying with my Mum and my grandmother, and her mother, and grandmother (the one Grammie always said died of a broken heart because she missed Ireland so) back to Ireland to meet with the great-great-how many greats? grandmother who never emigrated. How wondrous that would be. But I may be able to get a flight from Dublin to Paris, with a keg of Guinness, and join you on the train. I'll also bring my grandmother's homemade shortbread, and my Mum's cherry brandy fruitcake, with marzipan and buttercream icing. Then, after Zurich, I'll have to dash back to Dublin. Can't leave all those Sullivan women on their own in the big city. Who knows what shenanigans they'd get up to.

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    1. Oh, do make that flight, somehow working that keg along and onto the train (we had a keg of Guinness at my son's wedding a few years ago, and it was much appreciated). And I call dibs on your Mum's fruitcake -- buttercream icing on a fruitcake? Perfection!

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    2. Yes, the cherry brandy fruitcake sounds delightful!
      Brenda

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  12. Enjoying this fantasy....I might be persuaded to sample the cheeses and some Prosecco! You won't even have to twist my arm Frances!
    The grandmothers gathered together work too...will you expand on that fantasy in the future? It sounds intriguing.

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    1. I should have mentioned that this is a WW Points-FRee Fantasy. ;-)
      And yes, I may have to think more about the grandmothers. . . makes me feel sad that the stories of my husband's grandmothers have been lost completely, but one can imagine. . .

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  13. What a lovely idea. I will bring a passage from M.F. K. Fisher’s The Gastronomical Me about her and her great love Chexbres, who is ravaged by illness, taking a similar train from Vevey, Switzerland to Milano. They have taken the train many times in the past, but now it is 1939, and it is the last time they will take the journey. She refers to them as ghosts and after a commotion which turns out to have been a harrowing attempted escape by a political prisoner, they go to the dining car where they have enjoyed so many meals in the past

    “Our table was nicely laid, with fresh linen and there were two or three little square dishes of pickled onions and salamis and butters. We were very hungry and quite gay.

    The boy brought us some good wine, a fairly expensive red Chianti we always drank on that train and we began to eat bread and salami with it. I remember there were some of those big white beans, the kind the Italians peel and eat with salt when they are fresh and tender in the early summer… It was good to be eating and drinking there on that train…”


    Brenda

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    1. Oh, Brenda, this is a wonderful quotation. I haven't read that Fisher book, and I think I must. Perhaps you'll bring a copy to lend me when you join our train?

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    2. I will. It is wonderful to read on a train or a ship.

      Brenda

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  14. I should have jumped on the train right away, instead of running around Paris looking for a bag of freshly roasted chestnuts! My comment was interrupted by a 6 hour power outage. Hope I haven't missed my chance! Thank you for inviting us on this magical journey and have a wonderful Christmas!
    Frances in Sidney
    Frances in Sidney

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    1. Ouch! I hate missing any of your comments, but those chestnuts will be devoured. Welcome aboard!

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  15. Please hold the train.....my flight is late arriving as usual to Paris. How lovely to be invited on this adventure. Thank you. I hope that I’ve brought the correct clothes as I’ve not packed just carry on before.
    Ali

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    1. Run, run, we'll try to stall the departure. . . .and don't worry about a limited wardrobe. We'll be too busy chattering to notice ;-)

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  16. I'll join you in Zurich on the little red train, maybe having met up with Dottoressa and Wendy the evening before... a night in Zurich would mean we'd be ready for an early train! Possibly we could also meet up with everyone who's travelled from Paris and explore a little in Zurich or curl up on sofas in front of a roaring fire, at the hotel, excitingly chatting about how wonderful it is to all be together :)
    I'd bring flasks of Gluhwein to accompany the fondue. As I did at Sues party :) and some apple strudel that I'd bought from a bakery in Zurich, freshly baked that morning. How wonderful it would be if we could all bring our mums and grandmothers ....how much fun, so much to talk about .... possibly shared memories and coincidences....who knows? So much to look back on and look forward to as our little train travels through the snowy mountain regions.
    See you all soon ....I'll be the one in the brightly coloured knitted hat!
    Rosie

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    1. We'll be so glad to have you with us to point out aspects of Switzerland we might not notice. And yes, please, to the Gluhwein and strudel. I love the idea of bringing our mums and grandmothers, although mine would have to turn the occasional deaf ear, my language being considerably, er, saltier, than either of theirs (grandma would occasionally say "darn," and then chide herself. . . .)

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  17. See you soon Rosie
    Wendy

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    1. I can almost imagine we will Wendy :)

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    2. Wait for me :-)
      D.

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    3. Oh, you three, to get you together finally would be such a treat.

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  18. What a wonderful idea! Thank you so much for the invitation. I'd like to join you in Zürich, on the way there I could see my friend in Basel and visit the Museum Jean Tinguely. I'm all for drinking from proper glasses, and as I am not so keen on Prosecco, I'll bring some Barolo (as Dottoressa pointed out, this is a fantasy!), a German stollen and some limoncello to go with the sweets.
    After a couple of days (or more?) in Rome I'd like to go to Naples and on to Palermo. Want to come along, anybody?

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    1. Sound good Eleanore. Can we include a drive along the Amalfi Coast? I'd love a night or two in Positano? ...maybe Capri?
      I'm sure some of the others will be keen :)
      Rosie

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    2. Capri was our first trip abroad , 47 years ago ! It would be interesting to see it again , especially whilst listening to Eleonore’s steel drum orchestra :)
      Wendy

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    3. I haven't actually been there Wendy, my daughter was there in September on her honeymoon, she thought I'd love it! It would be interesting to see it from your perspective ...ie how it was v how it is now :) Also looking forward to hearing Eleanores steel drum orchestra!

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    4. You would be very welcome even without that Barolo, but mmmmm, I will enjoy a glass of that! Stollen? Limoncello? Yes, please! And I like the idea of extending our trip to Palermo, although I should probably stop near Rome with the family. . .

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  19. Oh, I forgot: I'll also bring my favourite Christmas track: "God rest ye, merry gentlemen" played by a Trinidadian steel drum orchestra.

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  20. Oooh! I will join the Eurostar to Paris in Lille, because I will have started with a little pre-jaunt jaunt in Antwerp, one of my very favourite cities. I'll time my arrival so that I can skip straight on to your departing Paris train and settle in for 'des moments de convivialité'. Contributions to the feasting would include some daytime malt whisky - perhaps a light Speyside such as Glen Grant - and a richer evening whisky - perhaps the cask strength Aberlour 'A'Bunadh' (The Origin, in Gaelic) for after dinner or with slivers of dark chocolate tart. Chocolates from the Highland Chocolatier would be essential, as would venison charcuterie from the Great Glen. For the gin drinkers, perhaps some Rockrose gin from the very northern tip of Scotland? My breakfast contribution is Scotland's improvement on the croissant, especially for travellers. Much less flaky than a croissant, the salty Aberdeen Buttery, or 'rowie', packs just as much buttery-laden punch. See http://www.rowies.scot This would avoid us scattering flakes of butter pastry on the cashmere travelling rugs from Scottish woollen mill Johnston's of Elgin.
    I would leave you in Turin, to get further under the skin of this amazing city, and to visit my favourite aperitivo haunts on the Piazza Vittorio. Just to reassure you - I won't bring any Christmas carols played on the bagpipes...

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    1. Rowies look like the love-child of croissants (French but originally Viennese) and the butter-laden sweet biscuits of Celtic lands; the Scottish shortbreat and the Breton galette (the cookie,not the crêpe).

      One of the magical aspects of this journey is that we can drink our full and not wake up with a hangover, and eat all sorts of rich treats and not put on a gramme!

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    2. Linda, you are a very welcome ambassador for all good thing Scottish! Obviously, we'll have to have you organize a future version of our travelling picnic on a train across your country.
      And I did suspect you might have to leave us in Turin, knowing how much you love sitting with a Bellini or perhaps a Negroni in the mid/late afternoon. . .

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  21. The perfect take on a fantasy dinner party! Wish we had come up with this idea. London, Paris, Rome...they all sound wonderful! Merry Christmas to you and your family!

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    1. And Merry Christmas to you and yours as well.

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  22. Frances, I'd really like to play, although I'm not sure I can participate during the pre-Christmas prep and bustle going on here. Still, I'll noodle on your lovely concept and check back in later. Congrats on your Fantasy Invite. :)

    I'm also enjoying your Italian holiday photos over on Instagram.

    Ann in Missouri

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    1. It's such a busy time of year, isn't it? But all the more reason to escape into an imaginary voyage, no? So glad you're enjoying the holiday photos -- I do enjoy sharing them.

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  23. Oh! On at the very beginning for the full trip! I'd bring a supply of saucisson, which we cold have as lunch, or with our apéros. And cheese, and honey from Maison du miel in Paris. And a stock of Montréal bagels. What a marvellous fantasy you have concocted. No one gets murdered, do they? Just saw the latest remake of "Murder on the Orient Express".

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    1. Yummm! You're bringing some delightful treats -- that's the honey harvested at least partially on Paris rooftops, no?
      And I have to admit that with our travel imminent, I decided to put off viewing this remake. . . Maybe on the plane on the way home ;-)

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  24. This is so richly imagined I feel it absolutely has to happen! I'd bring Limoncello, which I recently discovered is delicious with Prosecco. And art supplies --for drawing portraits (trains are one of the few places people sit still for hours)!

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    1. Yes, Prosecco and Limoncello is a match made in heaven! When we get bored with our Kir Royals. . .
      It would be so much fun have you sketch all our portraits -- pretty please?

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I'd love to hear your response to my post. Agree, disagree, even go off on a tangent, I love to know you're out there, readers. Let's chat, shall we? I apologize, though, for the temporary necessity of the Word Verification -- spam comments have been tiresomely numerous lately, and I'm hoping to break that pattern.

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