What are you doing New Year's Eve?

How Salon Travel's favorite writers plan to ring in the new year.


Don George
December 31, 1999 10:00PM (UTC)

Whether or not you think Dec. 31 represents the end of the millennium, it's an evening that has assumed a special significance this year. So I decided to ask the extended Salon Travel family -- our columnists, regular contributors and far-flung correspondents, plus my favorite world-wandering travel writers -- the inevitable question: What are you doing for New Year's Eve?

Here are their responses. Pieced together, they compose a grand global puzzle of New Year's celebration plans.

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PICO IYER

Feeling myself more and more bombarded by the moment, and reeling from
information overload as I find my choices and priorities made for me by the
ever-proliferating media, I decided long ago to sit the millennium out -- to
tell myself that in most of the countries where I spend time, no new century
is starting at all, and that, in any case, a new century, or even a new year,
has meaning only insofar as you are going about the hard work of fashioning a new self.

Better to spend it in a monastery, I thought, or any place where there
would be no talk about the new millennium, and none of the self-consciousness that is the enemy of wonder and free feeling.

And so I find myself taking my mother to Easter Island for the
millennium, and going to what, in certain respects, may seem among the
trendiest and most popular of destinations!

In Japan, where I live, we seldom
hear about Y2K problems, or the madness of taking a plane from Rapa Nui to Papeete around New Year's Eve; likewise, we seldom have occasion to think about
the virtue of being relatively close to the international date line on this
historic occasion (albeit on the wrong side, with the result that we will be
among the last people to see the new century in).

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So the new millennium will find me on a desolate, windswept island,
hundreds of miles from the nearest sign I can recognize, overlooked by
lowering and unexplained forms, and telling myself that being in so desirable a place is a way, completely inadvertently, of casting a vote for the
century, the 10 centuries that are passing away. I'll be near the cusp of
something, but I'm counting on the fact that it's the something that has no
thought of millennium or change.

Salon Travel contributing editor Pico Iyer is the
author of "Video Night in Kathmandu," "The Lady and the Monk," "Falling off the Map," "Cuba and the Night" and "Tropical Classical."

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BARRY LOPEZ

My plan always when there is a big celebration like this is to get as far away from it as I can. It's almost a capitulation to the forces of commerce to do anything on New Year's, so traditionally, every New Year's I go off as far into the woods as I can get. It's a process of removing myself from the arena of disturbance. I prefer to celebrate the solstice rather than the New Year.

Culturally, the bright side of New Year's is that it is a time of renewal; it forms a kind of rest area on the interstate of daily life, where we can step aside and assess where we have been and where we want to go. I go up into the woods very far away from the highway on the west slope of Oregon's Cascade Mountains, off where there is snow and ice along the river. I make an effort to resensitize myself to what the great overarching questions are. For me these have to do with increasing the level of compassion in society for the ways others suffer, particularly as a result of trying to develop capitalistic inroads. I think of compassion and the errors in my own life and how to rectify them.

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I grew up in a Roman Catholic tradition, and the life of St. Ignatius Loyola was one of the things that was most impressed on us. Loyola made examination of conscience a regular part of his spiritual practice -- and I think this examination is something I strive for at this time of year: a meditation on compassion and generosity. I don't think we can eliminate evil, but we certainly can go a long way toward eliminating thoughtless or unnecessary cruelty in the world.

Barry Lopez is the author of a dozen books, including "Of Wolves and Men," "About This Life," "Crossing Open Ground," "Field Notes" and "Crow and Weasel." He won the National Book Award for "Arctic Dreams."

SIMON WINCHESTER

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Providing that the notoriously lumpy waters of the Drake Passage allow for an
uneventful passage, and providing that the ice cover on the Scotia Sea allows
navigation for a ship as fragile-hulled as the one I shall be aboard, I am
hoping that early on the final afternoon of 1999 I will be passing through a
slender rocky cleft known as Neptune's Bellows and into the flooded caldera
of the sunken Antarctic volcano that is now known as Deception Island.

We will drop anchor in the lagoon at a point 61 degrees west of Greenwich, 63 degrees south of the equator, and close to where, 70 years back, there
was a whaling station. Small boats will then take the few of us who have
arrived over to the shore.

Later on, at midnight -- it will still be light on the island, with an
approximation of a last dusk and a first dawn as the great fat buttery sun
performs an elaborate curtsy about the north horizon -- I expect to be lying
lazily in one of the thermal springs that feed Deception's tropic-warm
lagoon. At the precise appointed moment -- Deception keeps sensibly to Greenwich Mean Time --
I will crack open a bottle of something suitably cold and bubbly, and say my
considered welcomes to the new century in utter peace and serenity, in a
country that is not a country at all, in a place that, like all Antarctica,
belongs to no one, and where all the manifold cares of the world up north
will be just the faintest echo, one swiftly borne away on the clean and
eternal polar wind.

Salon Travel contributing editor Simon Winchester is the author of a dozen books, including "The Sun Never Sets," "Korea," "Pacific Rising," "The River at the Center of the World," "The Fracture Zone" and "The Professor and the Madman."

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PETER MATTHIESSEN

We're not paying any particular attention to the millennium or Y2K and we
don't want to do anything spectacular. We're having a few friends over for
a quiet dinner and then at 10:30 I'll be joining my Zen students in the
zendo we have built next door. We'll sit and chant and at midnight we'll gong out
the old year and gong in the new in the traditional manner, with 108 tolls,
and have a little toast. It's going to be very quiet, just the way we like
it.

Peter Matthiessen is the author of more than 20 books, including "At Play in the Fields of the Lord," "Far Tortuga," "In the Spirit of Crazy Horse," "Under the Mountain Wall," "The Cloud Forest" and "Bone by Bone." He won the National Book Award for "The Snow Leopard."

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BURT WOLF

I live in a small cottage built by a painter in 1917 on the roof of an old building that overlooks New York's Central Park. I intend to spend New Year's Eve alone in the greenhouse of that cottage looking at the city's skyline, calling my family and friends to wish them good luck in the New Year, reflecting on the experiences of my past and the coming attractions for my future.

At the moment of passage between the old year and the new, the shuttle that weaves the story of our lives pauses and presents a brief opportunity for a change in the pattern. I want to be clear-headed and focused at that turning point and able to consciously direct my fate.

When the fireworks start, I will open, decant and drink a small bottle of port that was put down in the year of my birth. It is an old English tradition for a family to put away a few bottles of port when a child is born and drink them decades later at an important occasion. In the old days, most people knew that they would not live to drink their best bottles. "Unless you are a babe in arms, it will see you out" was the conventional wisdom.

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But thanks to our increased knowledge of how and why we age and the techniques that are being used to retard the negative effects of getting older, that may no longer be the case. It is quite possible that I will outlast my port, and like the writer Oliver Goldsmith, see the lords of humankind pass by, while my heart distrusting asks if this be joy. Of course, Goldsmith lived in the 1700s without the prospects of Rogaine or Viagra.

Burt Wolf is an internationally syndicated television journalist with special interests in travel, food and cultural history. His reports are broadcast worldwide via public broadcasting stations, the Discovery Network and CNN.

TIM CAHILL

I'm going to spend New Year's in my cabin on the edge of Montana's Absaroka-Beartooth wildnerness, probably in thigh-deep snow. We'll have wood for heat and we'll chop through the ice for water. It's going to be cozy and peaceful, just my partner Linnea and me.

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Tim Cahill is the author of six books, including "Jaguars Ripped My Flesh," "A Wolverine Is Eating My Leg," "Pecked to Death by Ducks" and "Pass the Butterworms."

DAVID DOWNIE

It struck me as almost obscene to stay in Paris and be one of 11
million locals and several million tourists celebrating Y2K on the
Champs-Elysies or the Seine. To me, New Year's should be observed in private,
alone or ` deux. A candlelit dinner, a bottle of bubbly and into bed by
midnight plus 10!

As New Year's approaches, my wife (photographer Alison Harris) and I
usually retreat to our Ligurian hideout, on the Italian Riviera about 20
miles southeast of Genoa. And this year is no exception. Our Italian
friends and neighbors -- all of them at least nominally Roman Catholic --
seem to view this latest millennium with bemused detachment. For instance,
they're fully expecting the Jubilee celebrations in Rome to be utter chaos --
something the Romans deserve, by the way, since Rome is the seat of
government (another government crisis is on as I write this) and source of
nearly 3,000 years of mayhem.

Our village-mates shrug when anyone mentions the Y2K bug. Many have never seen a
computer, don't really know what the Internet is and glance skyward when
we try to explain about chips and slots.

There's a spring with fresh water down the path from our village, they say.
Everyone has plenty of candles for home (and church) use. The power often
goes out anyway in the spectacular Mediterranean storms that hit the
Ligurian seaboard. Pantries and cellars are always stocked with sea
biscuits, pesto, vegetables preserved in olive oil, pasta ... "So why worry?
We've lived with a lot longer than two millennia of mess, what could be
worse than what we've already seen?"

As for my wife and I, we'll pop our bubbly under the olive trees and watch
the fireworks arc over the Gulf of Genoa. If they go off, that is.

David Downie is Salon Travel's Paris correspondent. He is the author of
several fiction and non-fiction books, including "Enchanted Liguria: A
Celebration of the Culture, Lifestyle and Food of the Italian Riviera" (with photographs by Alison Harris).

JAN MORRIS

Millennium night in Cricieth, Wales:

I was planning to go to bed, but then I heard that at midnight our local arts center, housed in a former chapel in the shadow of our waterfront castle, was going to celebrate the moment by opening a Potters' Path, to which artists from 22 different countries have contributed their own tiles as a gesture of universal friendship. So, as the last chimes of the 20th century sound, I shall be standing there in the drizzle with half a dozen others while a damp firework or two, I would guess, fizzles out over the Irish Sea. THEN I shall go to bed.

Salon Travel contributing editor Jan Morris has written more than 30 works of travel literature, including "Fifty Years of Europe," "The Matter of Wales," "Hong Kong," "Venice" and "Spain."

MORRIS DYE

Keeping track of the days and years is tricky business here in Thailand. The
Gregorian calendar, which counts years from the birth of Christ, is widely
used to keep the kingdom in sync with other nations, but it's not the only
way the Thais organize their time. Many local holidays are set according to
the lunar calendar, and often reflect seasonal events that are completely
alien to the European climes that gave birth to the Gregorian system -- the
onset of the wet season, for example, when the annual Songkhran festival
signals the traditional start of a new year. Chinese New Year is celebrated
here as well, especially in Bangkok, which has a significant Chinese-Thai
population. And while Thailand's official Buddhist calendar conforms to the
Western convention of beginning each year on Jan. 1, years are numbered
not from the birth of Christ, but from the Buddha's entry into Nirvana.

When the day dawns on Jan. 1, I will be kicking back in a simple cottage
on the island of Ko Samui, and dividing my affections between two
significant others: Lyn, my lovely wife, and Caitlyn, a gorgeous petite
blonde with dreamy blue eyes and a wickedly flirtatious smile who captured
my heart in August 1998. Caitlyn is the 17-month-old daughter of some dear friends from California
who are bringing her to Thailand for her very first overseas journey.

After spending Christmas in the northern hill country of Mae Hong Son, we'll
head south to Samui and meet up with other friends at the Tamarind Hill Retreat, a collection of hillside vacation homes
adjacent to the Tamarind Springs spa. There
we'll launch the New Year in tropical style, with blue skies and sweet ocean
breezes, birds and frogs singing in the garden, traditional massage, all the
fresh fruit and Thai food we can eat, a delightful toddler in our midst and
not a care in the world about the Y2K bug. Nirvana? Perhaps not in a
strictly devotional sense, but it certainly seems an auspicious way to
embrace the year known in Thailand as 2543.

Morris Dye is Salon Travel's Bangkok correspondent. He also writes for Islands, Time Asia and numerous other publications.

PAUL THEROUX

My plan is simple -- it is to spend New Year's 1999 with as many members
of my family as possible, in the happiest surroundings I can think of.
This might involve a pleasant hotel in New York City, but it is the family
that matters and the memorable and effective peace-making ritual of eating
a meal together.

Paul Theroux is the author of more than 30 books, including "The Great Railway Bazaar," "The Old Patagonian Express," "The Happy Isles of Oceania," "The Mosquito Coast," "Saint Jack" and "Half Moon Street."

JEFF GREENWALD

What am I doing on New Year's Eve? Funny you should ask. Only a few days ago did I truly realize, for the
first time, how weird and freaky this whole new century business is. It
happened in the Emery Bay Theater. I was looking at posters of coming
attractions, and there it was:

Jim Carrey

The Grinch Who Stole Christmas

November 2000

The glib nonchalance of the poster -- and the very notion of thousands of
people already waiting for the year 2000 to end -- brought it all
home. The century is over. Forever. We're closing the joint, turning out
the lights, boarding up the windows.

Suddenly I was overwhelmed with nostalgia. I experienced a sort of temporal
vertigo -- as if the whole 20th century was receding beneath me,
spiraling forever out of sight, with everything I'd done and felt and
thought for 45 years falling away into a battered trash bin. I dropped to my
knees and began tearing great hunks out of the carpet with my teeth: my
own private Y2K meltdown.

That said, it will come as no surprise that I intend to spend New Year's
Eve in a remote location, with my feet planted firmly on the ground. And my
favorite piece of ground on this planet is the Point Reyes National
Seashore, an hour north of San Francisco. There's nowhere I'd rather be, a
truth that becomes more difficult to argue the more I travel. For the past
20 years I've been schlepping myself around the globe, trekking across
muddy valleys or riding sardine-can night coaches to reach an assortment of
highly-touted destinations. And 90 percent of the time, my first thought when I
actually reach those destinations is, "Gee ... I'd rather be at Point
Reyes."

For one thing, I feel a sense of solidarity with the place. Point Reyes
itself is a traveler. Attached to the northward-shifting Pacific plate
(we're on the North American plate), it's been creeping inexorably up the
California coastline for eons. It was once attached to Mexico; a million
years from now, it'll border Alaska. What's a millennium to this sluggish
piece of geology? Chopped liver, that's what.

The plan is simple. At the stroke of midnight, we will perform a collective New Year's ritual.
Each of us will receive a party "loot bag," containing a single 100-watt
light bulb. In the tradition of Jewish weddings (and the shattering
wine glass at the end of "2001: A Space Odyssey"), we will stomp on the bags
and explode the bulbs -- symbolizing the technological superstitions of
Y2K and our wedlock with the new millennium.

At some point we'll retire to the house we've rented. Then we'll spend
1/1/00 hiking our favorite trail. It's bound to be spectacular. Point Reyes
is lonesome and foggy and wild; there are often more pelicans than people.
This suits me, as I often prefer pelicans to people. The best part is, the
world could stumble right into the Y2K abyss -- and we'd be utterly oblivious.

That, truly, would be something to celebrate.

Jeff Greenwald is a frequent contributor to Salon Travel. His books include
"Shopping for Buddhas," "The Size of the World" and "Future Perfect: How
Star Trek Conquered Planet Earth."

JEFFREY TAYLER

I am one of those who will take little heed of the so-called
millennial aspect of this New Year's Eve, since in fact the third
millennium starts a year from now. However, my adopted homeland is the
abode of the big-time "vecher," the vodka-bedecked "zastol'ye," the raging
"p'yanka," the sublimely debauched "tusovka" -- all of which translate as occasions for the consumption of alcohol and the subsequent
performance of below-the-table shenanigans. Thus we take it for granted, here in
Russia, that New Year's comes twice, first on January the first and second
on January the 13th, which is New Year's by the Gregorian
calendar -- a measure of months rendered defunct by Lenin but revived by
modern Russians to double the number of drinking holidays. And thus we also take it for granted that the
partying will be fierce, whether or not this or that millennium is getting
underway, petering out or just dragging along.

I will spend New Year's with my wife, Tatyana, and her family in a
small town outside Moscow, and probably in a more sober state than one
might expect, for New Year's here is also considered a family holiday of
cheer and soulful reflection. Out at Tatyana's parents' house, a feast
will be set of caviar, sturgeon, smoked meat, vodka and champagne; "The
Irony of Fate," a Soviet-era film about drunkenness and true love in prefab
housing, will be playing on television, as it has for the last three decades; and the toasts and best wishes will no doubt ring loud and long. But
those in attendance will fall silent to listen to Alla Pugachova sing,
through the lips of Barbara Brylska, the haunting verses of "Marina
Tsvetayeva" and "Bella Akhmadulina." This is appropriate: New Year's Eve,
millennial or not, is most of all an occasion for each of us to treasure
those beside us, and remember those who, during the past 365 days, left our world forever.

Then, with the midnight chiming of cathedral bells across the snowy
land, it will all begin again.

Jeffrey Tayler is Salon Travel's Moscow correspondent and the author of "Siberian Dawn." He also writes for The Atlantic Monthly, Harper's and Condi Nast Traveler, and is a regular commentator on National Public Radio's "All Things Considered."

MAUREEN WHEELER

My husband Tony and I are being very quiet for the millennium eve. We will join
friends at a neighbor's house for the first part of the evening, with champagne,
nice food and lots of chat, then we'll walk down to the Yarra to see the fireworks
display and along to Southbank, where there will be bands. Remember that it's summer here, so we are hoping for a beautiful, warm night.
This isn't terribly exciting, I'm afraid, but it should be fun.

Maureen Wheeler is the co-founder and head, with her husband Tony Wheeler, of Lonely Planet Publications.

ELLIOTT NEAL HESTER

For New Year's Eve, I'm going to be jumping around on the roof of my
apartment building in the heart of South Miami Beach. Joined by 200 of my
closest friends, we'll be jamming to some really loud house music, courtesy
of an overpriced DJ. Along with four co-hosts (including a party-hearty female
landlord), we've constructed a 25-by-25-foot dance floor, hired a
half-naked go-go dancer, purchased machines that spew smoke and bubbles and
laser beams, smuggled in gallons of duty-free liquor, bought silver party
hats and wearable neon "glow sticks," and hired two security guards to
protect us from would-be party crashers who can see us having fun from down
on the street.

At sunrise, once the last dance tune has merged with the sound of chirping
sparrows, a motley crew of die-hard guests will accompany me (and the other hosts
who are still standing) to the beach. It's a seven-block walk from my apartment
to the lip of the warm Atlantic. If the weather is as warm as it has been in
past years, there may be a whole lot of skinny-dipping. But I'm sure we
won't be the only ones. With a half million party-goers expected to invade
my neighborhood, there are bound to be a few visitors left, splashing around
the water, delirious, with us.

Elliott Neal Hester writes Salon Travel's biweekly "Out of the Blue" column. He has been a flight attendant for 13 years, and has written for National
Geographic Traveler, Men's Fitness, Glamour, Maxim and Caribbean Travel & Life.

DONALD D. GROFF

On the eve in question, I plan to travel a manageable distance -- 12 miles. I'll celebrate in Philadelphia with my friends Kent and Cecile, who are spending their first New Year's in the 19th century row house they've been renovating for most of 1999. Some of the celebrants helped mix concrete for the kitchen floor, so it's fitting that we'll be feasting there. This time the mix will include Chincoteague oysters, 15 braised lobsters, a big striped bass, Cecile's famous potatoes on the grill and -- in homage to a holiday tradition in her native Provence -- 13 desserts.

We'll wash it all down with beer and bubbly, to the tune of Cuban, mariachi, jazz and reggae music. After midnight we'll adjourn to a neighbor's home, a former convent, where the spirit will move us to dance until dawn -- or collapse. If the city awakes to a Y2K crisis, at least we'll dine on leftovers worthy of the occasion.

P.S. Philadelphia's got a 24-hour lineup for New Year's Eve, including 2,000 people dressed as Rocky Balboa, running up the steps of the art museum, as in the movie. Details on all are available online.

Donald D. Groff writes Salon Travel's weekly "Travel Advisor" column. He has been dispensing travel advice for more than a decade for such publications as the Philadelphia Inquirer, Newsday, the Boston Globe and the Kansas City Star.

ROLF POTTS

Noplace to go:

In the fall of 1992 -- back before Y2K was known by its current
hipster-alarmist acronym -- Time magazine speculated on which world travel
destinations would host the grandest year 2000 party. The Great Pyramids at
Giza (supposedly slated to host a $10,000-a-head celebrity bash) were
mentioned, along with Stonehenge, the Acropolis and the Great Wall of China. "Those who don't start planning now," the article read, "may find
themselves, on the night of nights, all dressed up with no place to go."

Seven years after this far-sighted warning, I confess that I have yet to
start planning my own New Year's revelry.

Fortunately, the best option when faced with "no place to go" is to go
Noplace. That, I am proud to say, is where I'm headed this year: Noplace.
And -- considering that so many other people seem to be suffering from an
overload of information about information-overload -- I suspect I'll have
lots of company.

Late in the pages of "Cannery Row," John Steinbeck points out that
overplanned, over-anticipated fetes often become "slave parties," whipped
and dominated by the very gravity of their own expectations. "These are not
parties at all," he writes, "but acts and demonstrations, about as
spontaneous as peristalsis and as interesting as its end product." Hype and
circumstances considered, Y2K threatens to be the biggest slave party in
human history.

The good news is that the celebration of New Year's -- Y2K or otherwise --
has never really been about history. New Year's, rather, is about joy --
and this is why Noplace is such a good place to go.

By Noplace, of course, I mean Someplace. And by Someplace, I mean Anyplace
-- be it Timbuktu, the Gobi Desert, or Novi, Michigan. Technically,
Anyplace could even include the Great Pyramids at Giza -- although any party
with a $10,000 entrance fee is probably less an expression of joy than an
expression of status. But wherever Noplace is, the point of going (or
staying) there has very little to do with the place itself. Information
society too often tempts us to idealize the other, to know where we want to
be instead of knowing where we are. Thus, to realize that Noplace is the
only place is a spiritual victory of sorts.

For me, the trailhead to Noplace will begin a few days before 2000 in a
northern Italian village called Cimone. There, I will escort my friend
Valentina to the wedding of her 60-year-old uncle. Once the vows have been
spoken, Valentina and I will probably not go to Rome or Prague or Vienna --
even though all these destinations are all very fashionable and well within
striking distance.

Instead, we will just go -- and hopefully joy will follow.

Rolf Potts writes Salon Travel's biweekly "Vagabonding" column.


Don George

Don George is the editor of Salon Travel.

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