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Santi Auguri!
You'll want to read every word — but you'll have to know Italian, or have access to an Italian dictionary or Web translator. But you'll buy this book so just so you could enjoy looking at all those beautiful nativities…
Santi Auguri!
Vittorio Pranzini
The pages of Santi Auguri! spring to life at the country Ravenna home of Co-Author Vittorio Pranzini. This soft-spoken, religious man—who has just retired as the Superintendent of Ravenna’s schools—shares his love of presepi di carta, a love he developed as a child, helping his father install his family’s Christmas crib...
Elisabetta Gulli Grigioni
Co-Author of Santi Auguri! philosopher, teacher, collector

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Empress Theodora, adorned in Byzantine splendor, is accompanied by her retinue in this mosaic masterpiece from the Church of San Vitale, Ravenna. You find yourself spellbound in her presence—and that of her husband, Emperor Justinian (see photo, below)—but you also find yourself wondering about Ravenna's other two famous citizens, Elisabetta Gulli Grigioni and Vittorio Pranzini

The book is in Italian—but it speaks to creche lovers everywhere. Now you're going to Italy and wonder: would it also be possible to meet its authors?

The dark blue cover of "Santi Auguri!" (Edizioni Essegi) frames a fold-out nativity from the collection of Vittorio Pranzini. The book's in Italian, but its lovely images—understood by creche enthusiasts everywhere—rekindled my love for paper nativities.
You're looking at toy theater sheets at Benjamin Pollock's Toyshop—a wonderful playground for young and old alike at London's Covent Garden—and you see this dark-blue book with a paper creche on the cover. It's just like the ones you loved as a child growing up in Greece in the 1950s.

It was a Christmas present, or, more precisely, a St. Basil's Day present (January 1st) when the Greek Santa makes his rounds.

Presents were few in our village, and what you really hoped for was to be the lucky one to find the 5 drachma coin that your mom baked in the traditional sweet Vasilopitta bread. A colorful nativity sheet, to cut out and assemble? A dream come true.

Color was a precious commodity then, purchased a strand at a time for your sisters' cross-stitching on burlap bags, or a gram at a time, for your mother's dyeing of Greek textiles. Your school books were black-and-white, and your color creche sheet the talk of the one-room school.

That's what the Egyptian-themed creche sheet in "Santi Auguri!" brings to your mind, and awakens a passion that had lain dormant in the New World, through high school, college, and a stint in the army as a second lieutenant.

You want to read all about it, but the book's in Italian! But no matter: that creche sheet sends you down the slippery slope of crechemania madness, rekindling your love of paper nativities and there is no turning back! The rest, as they say, is history: was born; and the Creche Guild; and a glowing review of "Santi Auguri!" on crechemania's book pages. You concluded your remarks by saying,"Elisabetta Gulli Grigioni and Vittorio Pranzini, I owe you two big plates of mousaká!" But you're in America, they in Italy, and in your heart you knew you probably wouldn't ever have to share your favorite Greek dish.

This nativity sheet on an Egyptian theme from "Santi Auguri!" — the first I encountered in decades — awakened my childhood love for paper creches. (Vittorio Pranzini Collection.)
A quest for Elisabetta and Vittorio

A business trip to Italy makes you wonder if it wouldn't it be possible to meet the authors of "Santi Auguri!" after all. "I'm a big fan of 'Santi Auguri!'" you write to Edizioni Essegi, the publisher of Elisabetta's and Vittorio's book. "I will in Florence, plan to travel to Ravenna and would love to meet its authors who I understand live there. I would appreciate contact information for Elisabetta Gulli Grigioni and/or Vittorio Pranzini. Looking forward to hearing from you, I thank you for a wonderful book…"

But there's no reply, and you find yourself in Ravenna in the company of Theodora and Justinian, not Elisabetta and Vittorio (see mosaic photo, right).

This year, you try again. But this time you call Edizioni Essegi. A most cordial woman named Brunella apologizes for what she calls her bad English. You explain the reason for the call, and she's about to tell you how to reach the authors when someone speaks to her in Italian. There's a pause, then you hear: "I'm sorry, I was just told that Mrs. Gulli and Mr. Pranzini do not wish to be contacted."

Are you going to take no for an answer? You're going to be in Ravenna again—are you going to settle only for Justinian and Theodora? Of course not, so you hit the web. A quick "Vittorio Pranzini" search produces a phone number, and you dial it. But it sounds like you must have reached a fax machine.

Next day, on your way to the airport you decide to call again. This time a woman answers! It's Vittorio's daughter, who speaks little English, and who puts her father on the phone.

The Emperor Justinian and his courtiers look down from high above the apse of Ravenna's San Vitale.
You can't believe your luck. It's Vittorio on the line! He valiantly tries to follow all you're saying—about what their book means to you, about your trip to Ravenna, about wanting to meet him and Elisabetta. But your words are flying past him fast and furiously, and he's not understanding you. In desperation, you try, "Un momento, por favore, un momento," (the only Italian you know besides "grazie," and "prego,") and you quickly punch in another line and dial Edizioni Essegi.

Good old Brunella answers and hands the phone to Raffaella whose English is perfect. With Vittorio still holding on, you ask her to please explain to him who you are and why you're calling. But all that, it turns out, is unnecessary: Edizioni Essegi has come through for you. "We've already contacted Mr. Pranzini and Mrs. Gulli," Raffaella says, "and they are expecting you. I'll send you Mr. Pranzini's email address so you can make arrangements to meet."

You can't believe your ears. All you can manage to mumble is a request that Raffaella thank Vittorio for patiently hanging on while you played international phone operator and a thank you to her for getting you in touch. You say goodbye, and look forward to meeting the authors of "Santi Auguri!"

Later in the day, an email reaches you from Italy: "Your telephone call was totally unexpected," Vittorio Pranzini writes, "but it was a big pleasure! I want to thank you for your congratulations on "Santi Auguri!." I cannot believe that the book is known outside of Italy. Please let me know the day that you will come. Mrs. Gulli was notified of your visit and she will be happy to meet you. My son Nicolò will try to translate as best he can and will help us to arrange our appointment. Ciao, arrivederci a presto!"

Remembering those plates of mousaka you promised, you wonder: is there a Greek restaurant in Ravenna?

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