I hate some Venezuelan New Year traditions, like that horrible race to eat 12 grapes before the clock strikes midnight, immortalized by Andrés Eloy Blanco in his beautiful -and painfully appropriate- poem. For those of you not familiarized with this ritual, the thing goes like this: About ten minutes before midnight, on new year’s eve you must eat one grape for every month of the coming year, while making a wish with each one. I always ask for the same clichées: January: health for my family, February: enough food to not starve, March: the end of communism… and so on, I usually run out of wishes by July… You are supposed to finish all the grapes before midnight but me and my cousins never do. I think the skill to gulp down those grapes without choking or swallowing the seeds fast enough is something you only acquire after you turn 40 years old.
This year, I think about the grapes as I get dressed for New Year’s Eve dinner: Tonight I’ll be the only person in that table who won’t finish his grapes before midnight.
I’ll be the only person under 50 years-old, for that matter.
It’s not that I don’t have a big family: I have two siblings in Chile, three cousins in Madrid another one in Kansas, another one in Maryland and a last one in Prague. At least three of them had been constants in every New Year’s Eve dinner since we were toddlers.
None will be with us tonight.
When I talked to them these holidays, the typical question of “how are you guys doing?” came out, and for the first time, the stereotyped “We’re fine” that I gave for an answer felt like a lie. No one in Venezuela can be fine. It’s impossible to be fine as hyperinflation turns your salary into dust, or as every year less and less chairs are placed around our table.
This can’t be fine.
But then, I feel bad complaining: we’ll have a nice, fully-loaded new year’s eve dinner: ensalada de gallina, homemade pan de jamón and baked turkey, we even have a bottle of whisky that my aunt bought about ten years ago and had been lost in some cupboard until it was rediscovered last week; take away the small number of chairs, the total lack of fireworks in the background and the overwhelming fear for what 2018 will bring and it could be a fairly “normal” Venezuelan Año Nuevo.
I know that’s way more than most Venezuelan families can afford nowadays. I am actually fine compared to them, and I’m more grateful for that than I ever thought I could be. But I can’t help to ask myself how it’ll be next year…
My uncle dropped his usual “next year will be better” in the middle of our Christmas dinner one week ago; he was – as always- applauded by my grandma, who cheered his optimism. He’ll probably repeat it tonight while making a toast. But last time he said that, his children were sitting next to me in that same table. The next time he does, I may not be there for my grandma to point out my lack of faith.
Next year will be the worst year in the recent history of our count. It’ll come with new faces of a crisis that were up to now unthinkable, new tipping points, and probably -and God knows I want to be wrong- with an even more depressing holiday season.
Tonight the clock will mark 11:50 but my aunt won’t bring any grapes. She said the few she could find were too small and too expensive so we’ll have tangerine slices instead. A nice change, if you ask me. I’ll eat my last slice late again, but I won’t run out of wishes this time. We have a lot to ask for in Venezuela, and who knows if we’ll have anything or anyone to do so with next year.