I know, despite my family's secularity, that, traditionally, people rush to inspect their suspended stockings bursting with treats. I check my socks before I slip them on for the morning walk - the closest I’ll get to that is a scorpion, most likely dead around this time of year, but you can never be sure.
Breakfast: a succulent amalgam of a hand-torn chunk of last night's panettone, a dried fig, a boiled egg I hadn't managed to eat the day before, a savoiardi biscuit (or two - they comprise egg, sugar and a touch of flour, but mainly air, so one clearly isn't going to hit the mark), and a palmful of my brother's Krave cereal. This package claims to be a kind of roulette, where you never know whether you'll be hit by the flavour of caramel or hazelnut or milk or white chocolate. But each nugget of Krave tastes universally like the same sweet chemicals. I wash all this down with a swig of lemon soda.
Apparently, the most shocking thing is that we don’t have a tree. Enough wildlife manages to creep its way indoors without our having to rip up part of the countryside and insert it in the living room: two summers ago there was a gorgeous infestation of gem-like bugs that clustered against window panes. The ribbons of evergreen Cyprus trees that twist round the patchwork hillsides is the closest we get, I suppose.
It takes a couple of hours after shouting ‘it’s time to go’ before everyone assembles by the car. In a twist of fate sharply influenced by my mother’s taste, we all seem to be wearing navy pea coats this year. The words ‘Christmas’ and ‘jumper’ do not dare fall into the same sentence.
Being in the car doesn't actually guarantee that we’re going to move. First on the agenda is an argument, the rules for which are 1) it has to be founded on minute pedantry, 2) someone has to get out of the car (or at least threaten to do so) in order to flounce and revel in the argument that he/she has set in motion, and 3) shouting levels have to rise above 80 decibels.
Before we can reach our lunch destination we have to endure the downside of being immersed in the majestic, rolling Tuscan countryside. It is a requirement that each passenger feels on the point of throwing up. The car twists around hair pin bends, cliff side meanders until finally we reach a little town, and the place where the oldest human settlements of central Italy were discovered, dating back to neo-Paleolithic times, only 80,000 or so years before Jesus was born.
The square around which the town is built is aglow with winter sun, and empty apart from the bench where a squad of oldies tend to gather (but not speak). Christmas has managed to invade, but in a rather awkward fashion with snowmen made out of plastic cups jarring with the baked yellow ochre of the traditional farmacia and chapel. The combined scent of cheese, blood & boar bristle wafts across the square from the local macelleria.
Vincenzo, who bears a semblance to Mario (from Mario Kart), stands in front of his restaurant toward the back of the square. Over his belly plumped with years of his own tagliatelle all'aglione - a mark of his own kitchen excellence - a stained apron is stretched taut. He beams, and booms: “Buon Natale”.
No menus for us. Instead we let Alessio reel off the daily selection despite the fact it is a very close variation of that of the day before, and the day before that, and that of summer fifteen years ago when we first stumbled upon “Da Vincenzo”.
Bruschetta al pomodoro - nothing like the weak imitations found in the UK, the tomatoes are plump, and bleed their tangy and garlic infused juices into the unsalted bread. And, of course, all is doused in October’s verdant olive oil. By the time we leave, our joints are more than lubricated, and squeak-free.
The food is simple, and all the better for it. This is a cuisine without pretence, with no picky squiggles of sauces or cream-laden pastes. It is food that needs no justification.
Pici all’aglione - the hand-rolled, worm-like pasta which is a local delicacy, and perhaps what influenced Dahl's The Twits.
Zucchini alla griglia – simple, yet not to be underestimated - almost peppery in their charred perfection.
Ribollita - the twice cooked soup, at the heart of which sits a sponge of soup-saturated unsalted bread.
Filetto di manzo – tender beef, crisp on the exterior and molten in the middle.
Patate aroste - whose name is a thin disguise for the fact that they are simply media to bear oil, and all the better for it.
No dessert, no Christmas pudding, no pies, no chocolates, no candy canes, no crackers, no turkey, no stuffing. Welcome to the anti-Christmas.