Saturday, January 1, 2011

Fêtes galantes

Christmas Eve, before we came home and lit the candles on our own little tree, we were guests at two wonderful gatherings.We ate lobster and rolled turkey leg, red cabbage with apple and tender sweet potatoes, tarte tatin and almond mousse. The violist and the flutist turned businesswoman sang in harmony as they lit the candles and their adult sons listened. The pianist and flutist wore evening dress and stealthily pressed gifts into people's hands. We talked about movies and politics and holidays past with the actor, the actress, the students, the young engaged couple, the still-bereft companion of the famous conductor, the doctor, the Austrians, the Hungarian, the Swede, the ex-New Yorkers. We walked home through the icy streets full of light and slept late.

Christmas Day we looked at our computer screen saw our parents, our brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews. We talked about the perfect gifts, the mouths of babes, the irritating habits, the surprising step forward, the overindulgence, the joyous pause, the good chocolate, the beautiful snow. We missed each other and looked on each other with undisguised pleasure.

The work week: Don Giovanni, Il barbiere di Siviglia, Die Fledermaus. Italian and German, tragedy, comedy, a stage of people from all over the world singing music from three centuries. The famous guests on New Year's Eve added a Gershwin duet to the Strauss, and the Philharmonic played it with their old-world sound and made it belong to the waltzes and polkas, Imperial Vienna letting loose at the club, and I marveled at the short step from Broadway back to the Ringstrasse.

Champagne flowed and firecrackers exploded across the city, and we ate goulash soup after midnight in a house full of musicians and translators and children visiting from various foreign universities. We waltzed on the icy flagstone: the woman who lost her sister, the singer-actress who is changing professions, the couple brand new in a second marriage, the man pulling out of depression, the law school graduate, the proud new apartment owner, the budding romance, the gracious hosts. We toasted the auspicious date, four times one, and Vienna was still partying when we called it quits.

As I write this, our dear ones in the US are probably heading towards sleep, having also rung in the New Year with drink and dance, music and cheer, joy and sorrow. To think on each of these people and the roads they have walked only in the last year is to stand amazed and reverent at the complexity of this human life. Babies were born and lives drew gracefully to a close or ended suddenly. Long illness was endured with and without patience, dramatic accidents were survived. Love flared up suddenly, it was fought for against brutal odds and was strengthened in victory, it was lost. People  spoke their first fragments of words, learned to read, made up stories, rushed home with news, laughed, lied, apologized, joked, argued, wept, promised, sang, shouted, spoke too soon, should have said more. Mistakes were made in foreign tongues! Friends did great work, went to school, lost their jobs, got new ones, didn't try hard enough, beat the odds, prayed unceasingly, walked the dog, didn't take care of themselves, cooked at home, lost the weight, got new shoes, cut their hair, shaved their heads, took the vows, took the long way home, didn't fix what wasn't broken, pushed a little harder, tried to relax.

And everywhere, everyday, in every place, people extended their hands to each other and offered themselves, a miracle, common and nearly invisible, holding the whole wild party together.


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