As this is being written, New Year’s Eve — with its champagne revelry, midnight kisses, and the promise of bright beginnings — and New Year’s Day — with its Alka-Seltzer chasers, bleary-eyed hangovers, and the endless parade of college football bowl games — have yet to happen. If you’re reading these words, you are probably past all that and on to the rest of January.
Maybe you’ve eaten the classic, traditional Southern-style “good luck” meal for your New Year’s Day dinner: Hoppin’ John, an oddly-named dish that’s a seasoned mixture of black-eyed peas and rice, with chunks of pork, ham or bacon; collard greens or mustard greens; and cornbread. Discounting the rice, the folklore says that black-eyed peas represent coins, while the pork and other piggy products suggest general prosperity, perhaps because pigs are constantly digging for goodies like truffles. As for the greens, they symbolize paper money, hopefully in large denominations, and cornbread, by its very color, stands in for precious gold. When it comes to culinary voodoo from the old Confederacy intended to bring on financial advancement, my accountant might think it’s a good idea, but my dietician would veto it.
Of course, any discussion of healing or nourishing New Year’s Day activities is putting the aftermath before the main event. So what did you do for New Year’s Eve? Did you go to a simple get-together with friends or family at a private home, or some ornate, elegant indoor event? Did you brave the outdoors and mingle in whatever crowded public space is designated as the place to toot your horn and scream “Happy New Year!” to friend and stranger alike? Or did you sit at home alone in front of your high-def screen and watch the digital-age-edition laser-zapped crystal ball drop over New York City’s Times Square as the clock struck 12?
OVER TIMES SQUARE, UNDER PRESSURE
This year, Ryan Seacrest might have exorcised the spirit of Dick Clark at the partially pre-recorded Rockin’ New Year’s Eve TV marathon while introducing the cookie-cutter hitmakers of today between shots of the hordes in the Big Apple with their party hats and noisemakers. Perhaps Kathy Griffin took off her top in the chill winter air and gave Anderson Cooper a wedgie while they anchored CNN’s Times Square coverage. Now, that would’ve been a night to remember. Regardless of where you were, it’s a good bet that you or someone near to you was hammered on one brand of joy juice or another. Call it the New Year’s Eve license to booze. One hopes that things didn’t get too ugly.
The pressure of arranging and experiencing a magical New Year’s Eve celebration — with or without a loved one — is somehow worse than the hunt for the right Christmas or Hanukkah presents. Do you go formal and cough up the big bucks for a fancy-schmancy dinner at a restaurant you’d never patronize at any other time, and then attend a lavish ball with an orchestra in a hall filled with no one you know? (I can tell you straight-up that I’ve never worn a tuxedo and doubt that I ever will, though they do look great on James Bond.) There’s the option of the elaborate, participatory happening held at a freak-filled warehouse or multi-floor venue crawling with various musical, burlesque, and performance art acts. I always loved the long-running Sea of Dreams parties that began south-of-Market at gallery spaces, moved up to concourses, then migrated to the Regency before scaling down to the less extravagant version that just happened in the North Bay.
If you choose wisely and you’re fortunate enough to make it inside, there are some genuinely jubilant dance parties on the night of December 31. A couple of New Year’s Eves ago, I had the honor and good fortune to escort a lovely and accomplished Italian actress to a rather exclusive bash at the Los Angeles headquarters of the multi-national private club Soho House, located in a Sunset Boulevard penthouse overlooking the after-dark sparkle and twinkle of Hollywood, Century City and, in the distance, downtown L.A. The woman was visiting the U.S., and a producer she knew invited us to join him and his entourage for the festivities.
MOVING ON UP AND GETTING DOWN
Though the view from Soho House was spectacular and the hors d’oeuvres were delectable, the DJ was way too mainstream for my taste, and the partygoers were, in many cases, a bit stiff, a tad smug, annoyingly clique-ish, or a little too busy passing judgment on one another’s shoes to be any fun. So the signora and I had the good sense to bail before midnight. We hightailed it over to a comparatively intimate house party a few miles away where the people were more on the arty, cool, and accepting side and a buddy of mine was spinning tracks that ran the gamut from extended mixes of new-wave rock hits and ’70s funk to classic R&B and French ye-ye pop of the ’60s. We celebrated there until dawn. I can’t think of a better way to ring in the new year, though watching the Northern Lights from the balcony of a four-star hotel suite in Reykjavik while sipping top-shelf Armagnac might be in the conversation.
Speaking of memorable New Year celebrations, I recall attending one San Francisco gathering at a joint near Market and Van Ness on the last night of 1999. Right before one millennium ended and the next one began, hordes of us left the club, ventured out to Market, and peered down the street where we could see a canopy of fireworks blooming and pluming in the sky above the Ferry Building. The prevailing mood as Y2K came upon us was “Y not 2K?” And I’m trying to approach the coming year with the same optimism, despite some overwhelming obstacles, scary forecasts, and serious misgivings. For starters, I wish us all a happy 2017, and that the happiness carries on through the rest of the year.