Notes on New Year’s Eve

The year closes with unexpected guests, unexpected gifts, and snapshots from a sixty-year-old funeral.

We found a grasshopper in the kitchen. I don’t know what usually happens to grasshoppers in winter time, whether they go into hibernation or simply die when it gets cold. I like to think that this one heard rumors of my daughter’s affection for all insects, snails and slugs, and so made a desperate trek through storm and hazard (he’s missing a leg) in hope of adoption. Which he’s now found. ‘Salty’ (from the Spanish saltamontes) is nicely set up in a little mesh insect cage on the counter, fattening on leaves of romaine and producing remarkable amounts of excrement. Really, you have no idea.

In the mail today I received a gift from Patrick Kurp of Anecdotal Evidence: a hardbound copy of Aldo Buzzi’s Journey to the Land of the Flies. I’ve been searching for this book more than a year. Mr Kurp recently mentioned picking up a copy, and I knew he’d written about it before. No wonder I can never find it, I joked, since you keep snatching up all available copies. A few days later I had an email to say that he was sending me one. ‘Merry Christmas,’ he wrote. Like a good many readers online and off, I was already in Mr Kurp’s debt. But for him and his blog, I might never have discovered Peter De Vries or L.E. Sissman or Eric Hoffer; without his encouragement, I might never have got round to reading Anthony Powell’s Music of Time or Christina Stead’s The Man Who Loved Children. But this is the happiest sort of debt.

In The Way of the World, which I’m presently reading, Nicolas Bouvier describes an Armenian funeral in Tabriz (Iran) that he attended in the 1950s. It was December. A young Christian girl had poisoned herself for love of a Muslim Romeo. At the end of the service, after the whole congregation had filed past the deceased, the doors of the church were thrown open and the girl’s jewelry and shoes were publicly removed. Grim old women with scissors cut her dress to ribbons. This was no judgment on her suicide, but rather, according to Bouvier, “it was winter, season of dearth and grave-robbers: it was hoped that by these gestures profanation would be avoided.”

We had a wind storm the other day. The leaves that had collected on our porch and sidewalk and that still clung to the sycamores like stubborn memories of summer were caught up into the air (along with everything else not bolted down) and blown to God-knows-where. Next day the world out of doors was bare and clean. How right, I thought, that New Year’s should come to us in winter rather than spring. Laying the year to rest in a world stripped of  adornments, we’re better taught, I think, that sentimentality only steals from the past, that only empty hands are open to receive new gifts.

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3 Comments

Filed under Misc.

3 responses to “Notes on New Year’s Eve

  1. CG

    About that grasshopper: today I was reading Helen Waddell’s ‘Beasts and Saints’. In the Translator’s Note she mentions (among other stories not included in the book) “The grasshopper who came to Portiuncula through a winter’s night to sing the midnight office for St. Francis, and left his small tracks in the snow, to the compunction of the slothful brethren who had lain warm in their beds.”

  2. Ian Wolcott

    That answers it then: grasshoppers spend the winter in choir practice.

    That’s a great little story. Thank you.

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