Tag Archives: New Years

New Year’s Notes

I took some time off work and tried not to look at screens. I looked, instead, at people, at books, at the rather impressive rain, at various animals, plants and things, and at the moon through my son’s new telescope, which was a Christmas gift. How sad it would be if we suddenly had no moon.

In the eighteenth-century, William Herschel thought the moon’s craters might be ring-shaped cities. In The First Men in the Moon (1901), H.G. Wells imagined the craters were huge mechanical doors to an oxygen-rich interior where Selenites lived safe from the absolute zero of night on the surface. It’s been cold on the surface here too. There was ice in the grass this morning.

My daughter has assigned names to all the neighborhood cats. She’s made a field guide with pictures of each. There’s Sam and Jenny, Orange Soda and Orange Cream, White William and Cinnamon, others too. The neighborhood cat she admires most is called Alice Featherlegs. Alice is a short hair, dirty blonde, a bit chubby, eager to roll on her back for a belly scratch.

In old Rome a soothsayer that read omens by the behavior of birds was called an auspex (a haruspex read the livers of sacrificed animals). Today when we say that a moment is ‘ausipicious,’ we mean, without quite meaning it, that the bird-sign is favorable. My daughter reads omens by cat-sign. If she gets a “cattish feeling” and then Alice Featherlegs appears, it’s a very special day and wonderful things might happen. She might get a letter in the mail, or a gift, or dessert after dinner.

Assuming I don’t surprise myself by dying before September, this is the year I will turn forty. I’ve started it with a head cold. This put a damper on any New Year’s Eve plans we might have cooked up, but the wife and I kept vigil until the required hour and I sipped a bit of medicinal scotch to bury the old year and bless the new. I’m feeling a bit better now.

I don’t often make New Year’s resolutions, but this year I’ve resolved to read less. According to my notes, I read more than seventy books in 2012. Some people read more than that, but it sounds like a lot to me and, frankly, not all the books that I read were worth it. If I read a little less this year I might have time to think a little more. I might also have more time for re-reading, which I’ve decided doesn’t technically count.

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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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