Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Nuevo Año

I have believed since my young life when I kept failing to kiss some hot, eligible girl at midnight that New Year’s Eve is the most overblown holiday there is. You pay five times as much to get into any bar you normally go to that’s now overcrowded, noisy, and sweaty for the privilege of a plastic cup of cheap champagne at midnight. But I had never experienced New Year’s in Ecuador.

At home I think we traded the fun symbolism of a year turning over and offering new beginnings for a boozefest. Do we truly reflect on the year and consider what was good about the year and what bad that we hope to change in the next year? In business if you don’t do that kind of thing you will likely end up an “X out of every X new businesses fail each year” statistics. Why don’t we do that with our lives?

Maybe lots of us do and that American culture merely promotes keeping your personal life personal. But Ecuador (and Latin America generally) is an open culture. Generations of families live together under one roof (just try to keep a secret). Public urination for men is akin to adjusting a bra strap in pulic--big whoop. Same goes for whipping it out in a restaurant to breastfeed--big whoop (some bigger whoops than others, obviously).

And if you think you’re going to make a meaningful change in your life from one year to another, what do you think the success rate is for private resolutions vs. public ones? So if you’re going to make a real resolution, shout it out, make it public, give it some accountability. Burn stuff. Blow stuff up. A lot of stuff.

We visited our friends in Guayaquil to get the full frontal view of New Year’s in Ecuador. Thank God for pictures, because F. Scott Fitzgerald couldn’t convey the sense of alien invasion from all the “monigotes” in the streets. Monigotes are just meant as scapegoats, but this is way better than shoving an innocent goat out into the wilderness. The basic requirement of a manigote seems to be merely something of a humanoid form that will burn. As the manigote is drug out, folks will punch and kick and cast aspersions at the thing to demonstrate their lack of love for the ills of the past year that the manigote represents.

Yes, they're real...and they're spectacular!
Yes, it's personal.

As you can see this has become not only an art form, but a dynamic custom to allow better means of closure for the past year and hopes for the next. Most of what are sold in Guayaquil are papier-mâché, and the personas now go beyond the more traditional “a personality of significance from the year” to “what will the kids make daddy buy.” Our hosts are traditionalists who elected for the basic guy-in-old-clothes-stuffed-with-wood-chips manigote. Not only is he much cheaper ($6), the cloth and wood chip style “burn better.” Optional also is to put pieces of paper with events, people, thoughts or other things from the past year you want to purge. But you may also write hopes, dreams, ambitions, or wishes for the coming year. The manigote is also stuffed with firecrackers to enhance the dramatic effect. This is not optional.

You will also see people (men, pretty much) walking around in black dresses and such wailing and crying and asking for alms. These are the “viudas” or soon-to-be widows of the manigotes who beg for donations to support them, given their impending loss. In reality, the very real donation you give them goes to buy more fireworks for the neighborhood (in an apparent and gargantuan effort to prop up China’s struggling economy).

If manigotes are the none-too-subtle kicking of the old year out the door, fireworks are the door slammed on its ass. If I haven’t yet mentioned it, Ecuador embodies far better than the U.S. the Jeffersonian idea that “the sole purpose of government is to keep men from harming one another.” Can I get three Tea Party cheers? One may create house-sized bonfires and ignite any kind of incendiary and explosive one likes provided it is not on blacktop, which would cause the tar to melt and the street to deform. We only regret that the nearly permanent hazy sky (coastal city) was absent, as the December 31 midnight sky in Guayaquil is legendary for its intense red glow, as if from the dawn of the new year.
Remember, they all burn at midnight
...even next to power lines
Why they only build out of brick and cement in Guayaquil
One cup, one glass, one minute

What we did not miss were countless other traditions for the new year that become almost Stupid Human Tricks to accomplish in the last minute leading to midnight. We had to hold coins in one hand (to bring wealth the coming year), while eating 12 grapes with the other, washed down as needed with a glass of champagne (which must be empty come midnight), while wearing yellow underwear (to bring luck, of course). Optionally, one may dress for a trip and walk once around the block with one’s luggage during this minute to ensure travel and adventure in the year.

There are as many other traditions as there are desires for the New Year and people to come up with the ritual to actuate them. The best was clearly Anita’s feast at one in the morning--the best meal I’ve yet had in Ecuador.
Hulk seems big this year (so to speak)
Wondering how you get 'em home?
And a one...
...and a two...
...and the whole 'hood is on fire.

1 comment:

  1. Awesome post. Have added you to our fav's. Its been nice meeting Diane, hope to me you too some day.