Saturday, 1 January 2022

A lonely woman’s New Year Eve

 Forty two years ago I went to the Library of Foreign Literature in Moscow to read Swedish newspapers. In those dark and evil days, foreign newspapers, unless published by approved Communist parties, were only accessible in special reading rooms that required a permit. Permits were issued if for whatever reason you needed this dangerous reading matter for work. I had a permit, renewable every year, because I had to read Swedish film reviews for work. In the largest Swedish morning daily, film reviews appeared on the page facing columns, so when I opened the paper on that January day I saw a column titled “A lonely man’s New Year Eve”. I had just had a brief and stormy affair with a married Swedish journalist, and I was really sad to read his column describing his lonely celebration. Why on Earth was he alone on New Year Eve? Where was his family? Didn’t he have friends? I was used to wild New Year parties or at least quiet New Year parties in the company of close friends, and I felt so profoundly sorry for the lonely man that I had no mental energy to read any film reviews that day. 

Eventually the brief and stormy affair developed into a long and stormy marriage, and during those years I would occasionally go back to Moscow for New Year and leave my husband to spend it on his own, but more often we had wild parties and quiet family evenings, and every year we would listen to New Year Eve bells from Sweden’s thirteen cathedrals on the radio, followed by La Jouissance.

The last two years, I spent the New Year Eve on my own. I considered feeling sorry for myself. I considered ignoring it altogether and going to bed as usual (a bit difficult with loud firework displays outside). Then I decided that dignity demanded I celebrate no matter what. This year in particular I had learned that several of my close friends were also spending New Year Eve on their own. There was nothing extraordinary about it. (I guess during years with wild parties and quiet family evenings I never gave a thought to people mentioned by the radio host: “If you are lonely this night…”).

I prepared an elegant four-course dinner for myself. I bought a piccolo bottle of sparkling (I don’t drink alcohol otherwise, but I can make an exception for New Year Eve). I set the table nicely. I lit candles. I dressed up. I gave the cats some extra delicious food I had saved for the occasion. During my meal, I listened to Baroque Tafelmusik on Spotify. Between the meal and midnight, I watched a movie and did a jigsaw puzzle. I sent good vibes and WhatsApp messages to my lonely friends. At midnight, I opened the bottle and listened to cathedral bells, ignoring the loud fireworks outside. I cried floods, remembering all those previous New Years and realising how much I valued them, although sometimes I got irritated: “Can’t we listen to something else for a change?” It turns out, I cannot. And the radio host’s words resonated deeply: “If you are lonely this night...”

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