Select Page

Tan solo eso?” (Just that?)

This was what the man said to me while I was buying a bunch of grapes the other day at Tirso de Molina, the small two-story market before the real chaos of La Vega begins. In this case, I was coming from the north to the south, buying supplies for a New Year’s Eve meal, and the last thing on my list was grapes.

Grapes? you may say? Why would you eat grapes on New Year’s, when grapes are not even in season in Chile at the end of the year? I would have to assume this is yet another imported custom, like el Viejito Pascuero (Santa Claus) being dressed in a furry suit even though it’s in the 90s here (side thought, are the viejito pascueros secretly wrestlers trying to sweat off weight?). I assume this tradition comes from Spain. And you have any word on the yellow undies, please weigh in, but I digress.

I’m having a bunch of Chilean friends over, and since it’s their tradition, it’s also mine and why not eat 12 grapes at midnight for good luck, for fiber, for them to join in your belly the happily fermented grapes you have already consumed in the form of wine and espumante (sparkling wine).

But what I want to get here is the question. “Is that all you’re buying?” With twelve grapes per person, and about a kilo of grapes, it is clear that I am not having a large gathering. And to many Chileans, this might seem sad. Where is my mother, my father, my extended group of cousins and siblings and partners of same? Why do I celebrate New Year’s with such a small group of people? This was what I heard, when the man selling me the grapes asked if I was only buying that.

And on the one hand, the vendor was just asking to see if he could make a bit more of a sale, because grapes are crazy expensive this time of year (see out of season), and because maybe I could buy something else from him before I shouldered through the masses to get out of the general market area and back home. The interpretation of sadness or inadequacy of my gathering is mine. But if I took everything literally, a) I would be a robot and b) you would not enjoy my bearshaped musings nearly as much. Also, what would you be doing right now? And this is not a digression.

It seems like at this time of year, there is a tendency to focus on what is lost. I was at a very gringo Christmas (TM) celebration where for about a half hour, people delved into when it was that their family Christmas or indeed, families had gone off the rails. And while that kind of sharing is healthy, I think it’s also healthy to think about what you have, rather than what you’ve lost, or wish you had. I don’t have an extended family, due to low birth rates, high attrition (death and the occasional feud), and certain worldwide genocidal events that we pray will never be repeated. What blood family I do have is a hemisphere away, and also live several hours’ flights from each other, making spending holidays with them a logistical impossibility.

But here in Santiago I have a messy collection of pretend siblings and fake cousins, and friends and acquaintances, and some selection of these people I will see tonight before and after midnight, and we will drink the fermented things and likely eat me out of house and home, and stand on the balcony where those grapes are in the photo, watching a pyrotechnic display of unknown proportions from the tower also visible. And if I have anything to say about it, we will be thankful for the here and now, and the things we have, and for the chance to live another year on this crazy planet, and spend less time worrying about what the guy at Tirso de Molina thinks of my smallish purchase of grapes. I hope he has a happy new year, too. And you as well.

See you in 2017!