Musings On The Eve Of The New Year

Money’s a horrid thing to follow, but a charming thing to meet.
Henry James

I’m relaxing, enjoying the memory of a nice dinner out with friends last night after the theater, much time spent with family this past week, and a holiday shopping season successfully completed.

The Rottie and I enjoyed some relatively warmer weather yesterday and took a trip to the dog park. But then we woke up this morning to another dusting of snow and a cold winter wind.

Since I don’t cook for Christmas but enjoy the hospitality of my family, I usually bring the liquor. I took a ride to my favorite liquor superstore at 8am on Christmas Eve and had the store and the expert on Italian wines all to myself. Sam’s is a wine and liquor warehouse, full of things from all over the world.

On New Year’s Eve, it will be filled with people from all over the world. It’s fun to watch people selecting something special for their big New Year’s Eve parties. Kegs of beer will be lined up outside, staying nicely frigid, waiting for their pickup. Just looking at the labels last year gave me a good idea of the neighborhood tastes. Although there were a fair number of Miller Lite and Bud Lite kegs (the largest Catholic university in the US is nearby), there were also quite a few exotics:

Stella Artois – I would follow this one home! $151.99 for 15.5 gallons
Berghoff Lager – Of the historic restaurant in Chicago that closed last year, boo hoo. $96.99 for 15.5 gallons
Guinness – The crowd that would drink 13 gallons of the dark stuff would make quite a party $164.99 for 13.2 gallons
Three Floyds Alpha King – Don’t know this one, but it sounds like fun. $151.99 for 15.5 gallons
Rogue Old Crustacean – Don’t know this one either, but it was the most expensive one out there at $207.99 for 15.5 gallons.

They don’t even carry my favorite dark beer from Mexico, Negra Modelo, in a keg. Although I prefer tequila or rum when I am out on the town, a long night like New Year’s Eve sometimes calls for keeping it simple and drinking beer, preferably a lite or at least lighter lager in order to maintain momentum for the long haul. It’s either that or champagne all night!

For Christmas Day dinner at my brother’s, I bought Italian wine, including some prosecco, sparkling Italian wine. For a house party later this week, I chose a bottle of Laphroaig single malt scotch for the host. If you like drinking liquid peat moss, this is the one for you.

Many cultures have very specific rituals for the stroke of midnight. In Mexico where I spent a lot of time until recently, midnight is passed with the family, with everyone eating twelve grapes, one for each stroke of the clock. My Sicilian mother also prefers to have the family together, but that is not as easy as it used to be. I remember my grandmother eating pickled herring for good luck. It’s a habit I never acquired. But as kids we did enjoy going outside and banging pots and pans at the stroke of midnight.

Out and about in the bars here in the Windy City, we have the custom like everywhere else of finding someone to kiss at midnight, preferably either someone you know and love or someone you’d like to know and/or love up. I have avoided the big parties for the last several years. My most memorable New Year’s in the recent past was one spent in Mexico City, with a quiet dinner and drinks at the Four Seasons and then a big blowout party at a mega club that started at 2am after all my friends had left their family get-togethers.

Late in the pages of “Cannery Row,” John Steinbeck pointed out that overplanned, over-anticipated fetes often become “slave parties,” whipped and dominated by the very gravity of their own expectations. “These are not parties at all,” he writes, “but acts and demonstrations, about as spontaneous as peristalsis and as interesting as its end product.” I would agree and so usually I keep it simple, both in destination and demeanor.

I started this post feeling a little melancholy, but the act of writing has invigorated me a bit. I looked up a favorite poem from Phillip Larkin and planned to start with it, but it’s better to end with it. It’s exquisite.

Happy New Year /Prospero Ano Nuevo

I Have Started to Say
by Phillip Larkin

I have started to say

“A quarter of a century”

Or “thirty years back”

About my own life.

It makes me breathless

It’s like falling and recovering

In huge gesturing loops

Through an empty sky.

All that’s left to happen

Is some deaths (my own included).

Their order, and their manner,

Remain to be learnt.