Friday, January 1, 2010

LESSONS OF THE NEW YEAR

So much for ringing in the new year on the couch. In the end, I went to dinner in a party of seven and ended up having a more enjoyable evening than I expected to. Though the meal began with broken glass everywhere, courtesy of a cute but clumsy waiter, the food more than made up for the inconvenience. Mishaps aside, it was a night of revelations and realizations.

I realized that 10,000 Maniacs, the Natalie Merchant-led band from the '80s and early '90s whose Hope Chest, In My Tribe, Blind Man's Zoo and Our Time In Eden albums I listened to before and after dinner, is one of the great underrated bands of my time.

I realized that taxi cabs in Buenos Aires are a sometimes-necessary evil that, thanks to a recent fare increase, are now bordering on overpriced. If I can't walk there, chances are I will no longer go. To all of my friends who live outside of Palermo and Recoleta (the only two barrios that really matter in BA), see you in my neck of the woods, or see you in the next life!

I realized that an excellent mushroom sauce can rock my world, porteño chefs are aware of the existence of broccoli and are even capable of cooking it just right (they also can prepare chicken in ways other than dry grilled and dry roasted), and mojitos just might be my new favorite drink.

I realized, during one of the more intellectual dinner conversations, that letting go of your burdens is easier said than done. As much as I loathe carrying around excess baggage, like taxi cabs, baggage is a sometimes-necessary evil. Nobody gets too much heaven no more, and is that such a bad thing? How do we really appreciate the good times if bad times aren't part of the deal?

Pretending that your burdens don't exist is not the answer. As my new friend Carolina recently said, life is 10 percent what happens and 90 percent how you react to it. Rather than sweeping them under the rug, face those burdens, learn to live with them and deal with them constructively, because even if you fool yourself into thinking you've let them go, they'll eventually pop in for a surprise visit.

I realized that I am not alone, courtesy of one of the people at dinner whom I had never met before. All night long, he struck me as being in a kind of foul mood, a total killjoy, a buzzkill, the guy whose cranky gaze turned my tipsiness into a world-class headache shortly after the arrival of 2010. After the rest of the gang went off to a club, he walked me to my corner, and during our chat, I realized that we actually have quite a bit in common. Like me, he is a former full-time journalist who moved to Buenos Aires three years ago in search of something. Like me, he has a few ideas for new ventures floating around in his head but nothing concrete. Like me, he still hasn't found what he's looking for.

I realized that wasted friends are pretty useless, thanks to the guy down the street from the restaurant who was simultaneously puking and nodding off, while his pals partied on besides him without so much as giving him a concerned glance or stopping him from ruining his nice brown shoes. He was kind of amusing when he was merely dozing and my friends sat down beside him for a photo op (hope those pics don't end up on Facebook!), but when the vomit started to flow, it was all over. Time to go home.

In my first-ever lengthy conversation with my portero, who forced me to toast the new year with him as I entered the building, I realized a few interesting things: He's 37 years old and thinks I don't look a day over 32. He doesn't want me to leave Buenos Aires for good. He likes hockey. Both he and his wife are missing several teeth.

Now that we've really broken the ice after three years, will I have to stop and chit chat every time I see him, upon entering or exiting the building, or will our newfound camaraderie eventually peter out and return to polite acknowledgement? As I typed that last sentence, I realized that I secretly don't care.

I realized that I would prefer never to receive another email or text message not intended specifically -- and only -- for me. Remember when everyone used to complain about "forwards," those emails sent out to the masses, usually with some silly joke attached? Well, I'd put those numerous "Feliz Año Nuevo" text and Facebook messages that I received from unknown sources in the same category.

What's so touching about a New Year's greeting from someone who put everyone in their address book in the "To" field and then pressed send? I didn't even know who most of them were because I've been through so many cell phones in the last year that the names attached to their numbers were lost multiple phones ago.

I realized that there's nothing like a personal touch. Manu, whom I spent the better part of 2009 avoiding, at least got it right: "Happy new years hermosó un beso enorme exitos en este 2010." Punctuation problems in his message aside, why haven't I given this kid more of a chance? I don't think I met a nicer guy in 2009.

I realized, courtesy of the New Year's email I received from someone who has been a very good friend for at least 15 years, that some people really care. Our friendship has been long and close, but it's never been particularly sentimental. So imagine my shock when I came across the two most overused, abused but still-beautiful words in the English language at the end: "Love you."

What a nice way to begin 2010.
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