I'm not big on New Year's Eve. I mean, I'm happy to have an excuse to drink Champagne and it's fun to yell down the countdown to midnight together, but I've never really felt that you need to have a big party to transition from one year to the next or that if you find yourself in pyjamas in front of the television on December 31st, you've somehow failed as a human being. (Which was convenient last week in Paris since that is exactly where I found myself, throat swollen beyond comprehension, medicated with powerful French antibiotics and just barely able to sauté some of the most flavorful pink shrimp with tomatoes and garlic for a celebratory dinner while we watched a French talk show. Huh. Max valiantly drank the entire bottle of Champagne by himself as I looked on sipping a verbena infusion. Double huh. He got the better end of that deal.)
It is no surprise, then, that my most magical New Year's Eve moment, exactly a year ago, didn't involve a party or a sequined dress, but played out in our car in the moments when 2009 passed into 2010. In Berlin, New Year's is a big deal. Fireworks aren't illegal and the whole city truly explodes at midnight (depending on what neighborhood you're in, this can be rather thrilling and fun, or a total terror trip: Kreuzberg, I'm looking at you). Incidentally, if you like celebration, come to Berlin for New Year's. Seriously. I always think the Berlin tourism board should feature it as one of the reasons to visit this city.
So we were in our car, driving from one party to another, when we realized or, actually, admitted to each other that instead of being at yet another loud, anonymous party, we both fervently preferred to be at home. Were we brave enough to ditch our plans? We were! And just like that, with a gentle u-turn on snow-covered streets, we slowly drove home. It was 11:50, and then 11:55, and then suddenly, as we found ourself in the narrow, residential streets of leafy Wilmersdorf, it was midnight. The city, so dark and quiet and empty just moments before, exploded in light and sparkle. People flooded the sidewalks, setting up empty Champagne bottles to launch their fireworks, striking matches, preparing the show. As we drove, gliding almost, on the thick ice layer, our car barely made a sound. Street after street, we saw children's beaming faces, staring upward into the black night, fireworks gleaming in their eyes. We saw their parents and other adults dancing on the sidewalks, with the night sky lit up, the colorful explosions reflected in the snow. I sat in the passenger seat, mouth agape, looking out at sweet Berlin transformed into a pink! gold! silver! green! blue! movie set, watching in slow motion as 2009 - as painful and as joyous a year as I've ever known - ended and 2010 - so unknown then! so unfamiliar! - opened its first pages. It was a stunning couple of minutes. And I felt so... lucky to have had those minutes. They were like a gift, like someone drawing open a heavy velvet curtain on the secret machinery of humanity and letting me have a few minutes watching it all unfold. You know? Pretty darn special.
I'm not quite sure how to sum up 2010 in words. I guess, at the root, it was a year full of learning experiences. Learning to live without New York. Learning to be a Berliner again. Learning to work at home full-time. Learning to make new friends. Learning to stay close to my friends far away. Learning to function outside of my comfort zone, learning to be my own boss, in so many more ways than just the one.
But I also became a tourist in New York, walked along the canals in Venice, picked olives from my mother's trees, felt the sand of the Baltic sea under my feet. I wrote three chapters of my book, then six, then eight. Hated all of them, learned to like some of them. Wrote some more, had more sleepless nights than I can count, wrote more and more and more. I stood at the top of snow-topped mountains in Austria, walked familiar streets in Paris, met my girlfriends for a pedicure in London. Celebrated Christmas in a wood-oven-warmed living room in Bavaria, walked along the swollen Elbe in the dog days of August, picked wild plums where the Wall once stood. I made my own sauerkraut, roasted my first goose, canned my own applesauce. I started a new blog, wrote my first article for a national magazine, learned to call myself a writer. I was confronted, again and again, with the funny fact that life can be glorious and infuriating at the same time. It always is. It always will be.
And, a few months ago, in this year full of firsts and second chances, we started planning our wedding. This summer, in the shadow of my favorite fig trees, we'll become a family. Though really, as Max said just the other day, we already are one.
So, happy new year to you, dear readers. May 2011 be full of wonderful moments that make you happy to be alive, strength for the difficult times, bravery for the big steps, love to keep you going. I hope you have enough hot sauce to make your lips curl and the promise of drippy fresh peaches in summer to make you smile. Thank you for reading, for being my loyal audience, for your patience through the long silences I left here this year, for inspiring me every day (truly) to be a better writer, better cook, and better observer of all those little things that make life worth living. You continue to be the reason why starting this blog over five (!) years ago remains one of the best decisions of my entire life.