Fuel To The Fire

New Year’s Eve might be even a bigger deal in Europe than it is here.  (Google “drunk Brits new years eve” if you don’t believe me.)  But in Cologne, Germany — and in other cities in Germany and elsewhere — the drunken mayhem took a turn for the worse.

In Cologne, mobs of drunken men surrounded, assaulted and robbed women in the huge square outside the city train station; two rapes also were reported.  German police now estimate that as many as 1,000 men were involved in the incidents and are looking for 16 men in particular.  More than 100 women and girls have come forward to report the gropes, robberies, and attacks by the men, and they describe a chaotic and lawless scene in which the gangs of men did whatever they wanted without fear of apprehension or reprisal.  The women say there was no meaningful police presence at the scene, and the Cologne police chief said the scale and nature of what happened was “a completely new dimension of crime.”

GERMANY-EUROPE-MIGRANTSWhat makes the story even more incendiary is that witnesses described many of the men gathered in the square as being northern African or Arab in appearance.  Critics of Germany’s recent decision to permit more than 1 million refugees from the Middle East to enter the country have seized upon the attacks in Cologne and elsewhere as another reason to reject the open-door policy.  German authorities have said, however, that there is no evidence that the men who committed the robberies and assaults were recent refugee arrivals.

And there is an undeniable undercurrent of distrust of German authorities lurking in reports of the incidents, too.  The initial police report on the New Year’s Eve celebration in Cologne said there was a “joyful, party atmosphere” and a celebration that was “mostly peaceful.”  It was only after countless women began telling people about being mauled and robbed that authorities changed their reports to acknowledge the lawlessness and disorder.  You can’t read about the Cologne mobs without wondering whether the initial reaction by authorities was to minimize the extent of the criminal activity in order to avoid additional criticism of the German immigration policy.  Indeed, comments by Cologne’s mayor, Henriette Reker, amazingly seemed to suggest that the assaulted women bore some of the responsibility for the attacks, saying they should “keep at an arm’s length” from strangers and “stick together in groups, don’t get split up, even if you’re in a party mood”.

We’ll have to wait to see whether the German police apprehend and identify specific suspects, but the failure of authorities to be forthcoming about the incidents in the first place simply, and unnecessarily, adds fuel to the anti-immigrant fire.  It’s hard for many of us to accept, but Donald Trump apparently appeals to some Americans because of the perception that he is “speaking truth to power” — and that perception can be created only if there also is a perception that power isn’t speaking truth in the first place.  When authorities are seen as trying to downplay the facts or bury the true story, it only reinforces that underlying perception and gives blowhards like Trump more ammunition for their anti-immigration rants.

A Year, Probably, Like Any Other

It’s December 31, which means the end of another year is upon us.  It’s traditional to reflect upon the year that is passing, and I’ve done that.  But the older I’ve gotten, the more I realize that the themes tend to be the same — because that’s just the way life is.

tsq_nyeve_2012We’ll remember 2015 as a year when we’ve lost some loved ones, but when new family members have been added through marriage.  Friends and colleagues have had good news and bad news on the personal health front.  We’ve seen some family members lose their jobs, while others have achieved graduate degrees and reached new heights in their professional careers.  Some doors have opened, and other doors have closed.

When you think about it, years are like that.  The days when you could reach New Year’s Eve and confidently conclude that the year just ending was the best year ever, but the next year will be even better, are gone.  You know there’s no predicting with certainty that the curve will move you ever upward, and when you get to a certain age, the years kind of blend together, unless they feature a marriage, or a special graduation.  Who remembers much about 1998?  Or 1994?  Or 2003?  At some point, shortly after the ball drops in Times Square, they just fade into life’s tapestry.

So 2015 probably will be viewed, in retrospect, as a year like many others.  The main point is that we’ve made it to the end.  At a certain point, that becomes a kind of accomplishment in itself, but the focus has to always be on what is to come.

Bring on 2016!

Completing The Circuit

IMG_4481Last night we decided to celebrate New Year’s Eve by attempting our inaugural German Village pub crawl.  With the help of our friends the Bahamians, and stoked with some tasty appetizers Kish put together, we first hit Barcelona, then the Olde Mohawk, followed in order by Lindey’s, the Beck tavern, and finally dinner at the Sycamore.

Although it was a very cold evening, our little crawl worked well.  None of the establishments are very far apart, and the crisp air felt good as we moved from place to place.  Lindey’s was so packed that we couldn’t even get in to the bar area, Barcelona was busy and had a good jazz trio performing in the corner of the bar, and the Mohawk and the Beck gave us neighborhood bar respites from the New Year’s Eve crush.  We also got to have our first delicious meal at the Sycamore, where we counted down to midnight and 2015.  By the time we legged it home, the new year seemed bright indeed.

Happy 2015, everybody!

The Worldwide Celebration

Every year, I approach New Year’s Eve with a meh feeling.  It’s a phony holiday, I think, based solely on the arbitrary divisions of time set by medieval calendars created by forgotten leaders.  It’s also a an event that causes people to raise their hopes for great parties and great times, and often it ends up being a tremendous letdown.

Unbeknownst to me, however, there is a hard core of people out there who love New Year’s Eve.  They live for it and celebrate it with joy and fervor.

Why?  As one person explained it to me, it’s because New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day are really the one worldwide holiday.  Many holidays are national, or religious, and therefore aren’t recognized, much less celebrated, by people in different countries or of different faiths.  But New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day are different.  Across the globe, as the hour strikes 12 and the calendar page turns, people of all nationalities, faiths, colors and creeds celebrate the New Year and the promise of a fresh start that a new year holds.

I never really thought about it in quite that way — and while I’m not sure that the remote villages in Papua, New Guinea, for example, are waiting for a ball to drop, there’s a lot of truth to the notion that New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day are the closest thing we’ve got to a worldwide holiday.  Turn on the TV now, and when it strikes the hour you’ll see fireworks and celebrations in some faraway land.  So maybe New Year’s Eve really does deserve to be the subject of festivity.  This year, we’re going to give it a shot.

The Night Before The Night Before

019In London, the arrival of the New Year is conducted in grand style. There will be fireworks over the Thames, blocked-off streets, and a general air of festive chaos.

Piccadilly Circus is the one of the traditional gathering spots to count down to the New Year, and last night they were getting ready for the celebration. Miles of metal barricades were stacked up in and around the intersection, and excitement was in the air. Tonight Piccadilly Circus will be jammed with people.

It’s not going to be easy getting around central London today.

On The Eve Of The New Year

I’ve never much cared for New Year’s Eve.  My father referred to it, with humor and scorn, as “amateur night.”  It’s a contrived holiday that tends to be the focus of too much partying anticipation.  I can’t remember how many New Year’s Eve parties I went to during my college years, but I can remember that none of them met my ridiculously high expectations.

What’s a year, anyway?  It’s a rough approximation of how long it takes for the Earth to revolve around the Sun, marked according to a calendar decreed by a long-dead Pope.  Logically, calendar years mean little.  They help us account for the seasons, and plan our activities, and look ahead to when we hope it will be warmer — but that’s about it.

And yet . . . years often have a consistent vibe to them, don’t they?  We recall good years and bad years.  We especially remember the bad years, when loved ones died or personal failures occurred or some other adversity dominated our intimate little worlds.  If we’re having a bad year, we hope that the change to the calendar that arbitrarily occurs at midnight on December 31 will similarly mean a change in our fortunes.  It can’t, obviously — but sometimes it does, just the same.

So, if you are having one of those bad years, I hope that your fate changes in 2013.  I hope that, as that calendar page is torn away, you start to realize your personal goals and experience satisfaction in your personal lives and feel contentment with your circumstances.  If you have had a good year in 2012?  Well, then I just hope that calendar years are as meaningless as our rational brains dictate they must be.

Happy New Year!