Saturday, January 2, 2010

happy new year

A year ago I was in Phitsanoluk, Thailand, enjoying a local celebration with dancing and local Thai heavy metal bands. Two years ago I was in Dogon Country in Mali, watching a traditional dance and drinking millet beer, which was being passed around in calabashes all night long.

This year I’m in Oaxaca, Mexico. The celebrations have been going on for several days with the Zocalo and the square in front of the gorgeous baroque style cathedral filled with dancing, music, and street performers throughout the night. On New Year’s eve, a large fireworks display, standing some twenty to thirty feet tall, was set up in front of Santo Domingo (the most beautiful church in Oaxaca). The full moon had slowly risen up over the fa├žade of the church, its brilliant silvery orb illuminating the nearby clouds. The firework display was lit from the bottom, and then whole thing went up and changed shape and form as they burned through, until it reached the top and set a wheel spinning, sending bursts of light and color in every direction.

At the Zocalo, my group of friends and I grabbed some mezcal (the local drink, made from the same agave plant as tequila but distilled in a different way). At midnight, locals tossed thunderous fireworks in the plaza near the cathedral, the boom echoing throughout the zocalo. My Austrian friend, Nalie, taught me the basic steps of the Austrian waltz, so she could celebrate in her traditional way. After the celebration, we went to a nearby bar and got some local beers on the rooftop terrace overlooking Santo Domingo.

We went back around 3 am. As we walked back, we passed some of the local street vendors and accordion players that had been there since morning. They still sat on the street corners. Their children sat next to them, heads buried in their knees or hands, trying to grab some sleep. A few young children, maybe 5 or 6, lay wrapped in blankets next to their parents, trying to keep warm as the cold night air descended on the city. The accordion music echoed throughout the cobblestone streets.

That afternoon, sitting in Santo Domingo, I had read Borges’ story about the lottery in Babylon. The protagonist had been omnipotent and a slave; he had been poor and rich, based on the Company’s lottery. As had everyone else. The lottery evolves into a parable on the capriciousness of life, where death and life, fortune and failure is subject to little more than a roll of the dice.

Harvey Dent, in the graphic novel Arkham Aslyum, once reflected, gazing at a full moon through the bars of Arkham. “The moon is so beautiful. A big silver dollar flipped by god. And look it landed scarred side up. So he made the world.”

I don’t agree with Dent’s cynicism. It’s not true. At least, not for everyone.