Oh look — there’s a big box containing a whole new year sitting out there on our doorstep. Batteries not included — we have to provide our own. Some assembly required — all the tools are around here somewhere. User’s manual — the same as every year. The instructions are few but really easy to understand: Don’t do bad things. Think about somebody else at least once a day, not just about your own blessed self all the blessed time. Work more. Work less. Smile. Be thankful.
And in whatever time is left over, get the attic/garage/basement under control. And of course, start the famous diet. If I never see another panettone in my life, it will be too soon.
I happen to hate New Year’s Eve, and always have. It fills me with foreboding. Celebrating the old year doesn’t usually strike me as appropriate, and celebrating a year about which we know nothing seems like just asking for trouble. But as soon as midnight strikes, all the shiny possibilities of the new year, latest model, dazzle me, and I feel good.
The diet will be easy to start (all diets are), because at this point the holiday glut has transformed me, my brain, my world, into a shapeless mass of inert material. So at least the next few weeks will be devoted to erting up as much of the material as I can.
But let’s go back to New Year’s Eve for a moment. The day before it, we celebrated our third or fourth New Year’s Plumbing Crisis. The water system in our little hovel seems to want to be part of the festivities, like lentils and cotechino. We had been battling a blockage in the kitchen sink drain, using progressively heavier chemical artillery, till said artillery conquered the pipe leading into the wall, allowing the accumulated substances, including sulfuric acid, to spill onto the floor. We’re fine, the floor is sort of fine, but the blockage was found to be further inside the wall and was removed by Lino somehow and a new pipe installed. Fun.
Most people who come to Venice for New Year’s Eve (about 70,000, if the reports are to be believed), have a simpler idea of entertainment than that: They think that celebrating it here is the most fun thing imaginable. Piazza San Marco. Fireworks. Bottles of spumante.
We don’t go to the Piazza, as you might imagine, though we do open a bottle of prosecco at home when the clock strikes twelve. And we do usually walk down do the edge of the Bacino of San Marco to watch the fireworks. While it’s true that any firework is better than none, especially over a reflecting expanse of water where it can illuminate the facades of the most beautiful city in the world, etc., this year’s display was unusually dull. I had the impression that the city had looked over the fireworks offered and picked what amounted to the classic tourist menu. It was the visual equivalent of spaghetti with tomato sauce, breaded veal cutlet, French fries, and a half-liter bottle of water. The pleasure you derive from it isn’t in the eating, but in the having eaten. Main value: It didn’t cost us much. Not very festive.
However, two essential elements of New Year’s Eve in Venice, and I daresay in Italy, don’t show up anywhere on the tourist’s program of the evening’s entertainment.
The first is mass at 6:30 PM in many parish churches, the end-of-year acknowledgement to the Almighty. The liturgy is basically the same as every other day, but at the conclusion the “Te Deum” is recited, chanted, or sung. We don’t go to the basilica of San Marco anymore because the notion of going to that part of the city on New Year’s Eve, even at dusk, is unthinkable. They sing the Te Deum in Latin, which makes it even more solemn, but whatever the language, pausing to basically say “I’m still here, and You’re still God, so thank You” is one of the best things you can do.
The second is the President’s Address to the country at 8:30 PM, byTV, radio, or computer. In England this takes the form of the Queen’s Christmas Message, and in the US we have the State of the Union address (on a wandering date unattached to any events significant to the world at large). As you can imagine, ever since the world economy vaporized in 2008, this speech has not been especially cheerful, and has tended to be rivetted together with words such as “hope,” “trust,” “courage,” and “sacrifice.”
On New Year’s Day itself there is the annual concert from La Fenice, broadcast live on TV at 11:00 AM or so; it’s now also viewable via streaming on the RAI, the national TV company, website. You can also watch its big brother, the New Year’s concert from Vienna, in the afternoon. Those should be sufficiently soothing, and give you the impression that you’re doing something when you’re actually not. Unless you’re already out there, dragging your suitcase, heading home.
Wherever you are, I hope 2014 is your very best year ever. I mean, why not?