A night for celebration around the world, Año Nuevo is more of a family-oriented holiday in Argentina, an extension of the Navidad festivities with family. On the night of December 31, my Argentinian madre Nora took me to the home of her brother in central Mendoza so I could experience the bringing in of the New Year the Argentinian way.
I was a bit nervous considering my last big dinner experience was less than a week before and I had had no idea what was being said to me the entire time. My Spanish had not dramatically improved in just five days. Luckily, some of the family members spoke a bit of English, so we made a game of it. They could speak English to me so they could practice their English (and I could understand what they were saying!) and I had to respond in Spanish. I think I understood what they were saying to me more than they understood what I said, but it was a good way to practice my Spanish speaking skills nevertheless.
There were many times when I wished I could speak with more complicated words, such as when I wanted to ask the teenage son how he was enjoying the Steve Jobs biography he was carrying around or the preteen daughter what kind of music she listened to and movies she liked. My true test of Spanish proficiency will be when I can have a normal conversation about topics like this.
At the normal dinner eating time, around 11pm, we sat down to a meal of tomatoes and olive oil, garbanzo bean salad, a lentil bean dish, and meat. And I mean, MEAT. Argentinians are known for their consumption of carne, and this love for meat is glaringly apparent on special occasions and get-togethers. When we arrived, the meat was already slowly cooking on the outdoor parilla, the Argentinian version of a BBQ grill.
As we dug into the side dishes, a huge plate of meat was brought to the table. It was overflowing with chorizo (sausage), chinchulíne (intestine), costillas (ribs), vacío (flank), and angosto (back). I served myself a heathy portion of cow deliciousness and began tackling the heap of sizzling beef.
While my meat pile slowly diminished, another overflowing plate of meat was set in the middle of the table and I was offered even more. Thinking it was rude to refuse, I added another large slab of vacío to my pile. Digging back in, I felt my skirt getting tighter and tighter. And then yet another huge plate of meat arrived at the table.
I was in danger of getting the meat sweats, but I had to have more. Finally, after my third huge helping of carne, it was time for dessert. My dessert stomach was empty, so I was able to stuff myself with lemon bars, brownies, dulce de leche ice cream, and chocolate ice cream, finished off with a spoonful of a special brand of mouthwatering dulce de leche sauce.
It was ten minutes to midnight, so we prepared for the countdown. Glasses were filled with Sidra, a bubbly champagne-like libation made from apples instead of grapes.
Diez, nueve, ocho … tres, dos, uno, FELIZ AÑO NUEVO! We all kissed each other’s cheeks as the sound of fireworks began to reverberate around the city.
Sipping on my Sidra, I followed the family to the street in front of the house to watch the neighborhood fireworks displays. This was not the usual neighborhood fireworks exhibition. These fireworks were almost on par with the huge, booming fireworks in shows put on by the major U.S. cities on the Fourth of July. And they were coming from all directions, in a 360 degree view above the city roofs.
I stared at the sky for what could have been hours, thinking about what a different direction my life is taking now than it was exactly one year ago. Last New Years Day, the seed was planted in my mind that I wanted – needed – to drastically change my life. And here I am one year later, in another hemisphere, with new friends, experiencing a new culture, learning a new language, with no job and no home, but happier than I’ve been in a long time.
It was the perfect way to bring in the New Year.