I really enjoy my No TV New Year’s celebrations. My late husband was a habitual TV user. He grew up that way, so New Year’s Eve with him always included some televised ball drop with interviews and pop music. My parents stored the TV in the den closet and brought it out on for certain occasions like National Geographic specials and episodes of Masterpiece Theater and Monty Python. Steve and I don’t even own a TV, so once more I am back on my original footing. What do we do instead? I’m so glad you asked.
Yesterday afternoon, after some homemade lentil soup, we snuggled up in bed with the laptop on the breakfast tray to watch another installment of the DVD we borrowed from the library: Simon Schama’s “The Power of Art”. The featured artist this time was JMW Turner. Epic skies, light, emotion, chaos, romanticism. The photography in the film paralleled the visual of the oil paintings quite effectively. It was a scenic feast. The sun was setting while we watched and cast its last rays across the bed as it ended. We discussed the experience for a while, and then I excused myself to nod off for a nap. My brain was over-stimulated, I think, and I needed to close my eyes to let the images settle.
I awoke about an hour later. I was thinking about a book on photography that my son had been browsing on Christmas. I went downstairs to find it and fix drinks and appetizers. Steve joined me and brought a book on Turner that he had found in his stack. So we nibbled brie and Gorgonzola on crackers and sipped vodka martinis while looking at pictures and discussing art. The attempt to point to something beyond ourselves, to depict holistically the experience of living in body, mind and soul…how do we do that? Reality isn’t all realistic…impressionism, expressionism & romanticism try to get at something more, something beyond, some movement and change that is hidden but implied. As we talked, the salmon fillet was baking and the brown rice simmering. We moved on to dinner and talked about memories. I was recalling the last heart surgery my late husband had and how I tried to manage my anxiety as I looked out the window in the atrium of the cardiac wing. Consciousness and fear, peace and presence. What is reality, anyway? I drained my glass of the last drops of Chardonnay and cleared the dishes. We then settled on the couch with James Joyce’s Dubliners to read our favorite story, “The Dead”. I first read this aloud to Steve our first Christmas together. We had gone to a bed & breakfast place in Whitewater, Wisconsin called The Hamilton House. We had “The Pisarro” room in this 1861 mansion, and I read to him from the satin-covered four poster that night. I remembered enjoying a chance to use my theatrical British accent and reveling in the details of the text that reminded me of my family’s Christmas celebrations. I had absorbed the atmosphere and the dialogue, but didn’t really catch the arc of the piece that first time. I had been curiously surprised to find Steve in tears as I finished. So, last night, I paid particular attention to the end of the story, the widening of scope in the main character’s vision. The story is brilliantly crafted. “His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.” I read the final line and looked up to see Steve wiping his eyes. He spoke a while about the expansive feeling of love that story illustrates for him.
Subdued but happy, I rose to check the time. It was already NYC midnight, so I brought out the bottle of champagne and the fruitcake my eldest sister had sent. Now, I know what you’re thinking. “You had me up to the fruitcake!” But listen, this recipe has been in my family for as long as I can remember. It’s Julia Child’s version, I think. It’s dark and rich with fruit and nuts and brandy and rum. I topped our slices off with a little hard sauce, too. (You know, brandy and sugar and butter…like frosting.) Forget your prejudices and work with me, people! So we ate fruitcake, sipped champagne and talked about our year together. I moved in with him last January 10; he’d been living alone almost his entire adult life. We had my daughter’s cat for the first 8 months of the year. We took a 4 week road trip to the West Coast in April. We entertained family and friends for dinner and “sleep overs”. We have changed, danced, been with each other in all of our facets and moods. It’s been a beautiful year. The digital clock on the stove shone out 12:00 and we kissed. We finally put on some music to accompany the new year. Steve selected the movie soundtrack from “2001: A Space Odyssey”. We skipped the Richard Strauss and listened to the atonal and dissonant Ligeti pieces and then the Blue Danube waltz. Mysterious, elegant, spacious. Our world is huge. I don’t like to imagine it being shut up in a box on TV. I am looking forward to sampling it all year in different ways, through all of my senses.