I try to be as sensitive as possible to the early moments of the year in order to get a sense of which direction things will go for the next 365 days. It’s an irrational procedure, frankly, and one which warrants an entire array of criticism from the scientific field, but since this post is not to be published in some scholarly journal, they can stick it.
Anyway, the first couple of hours were greeted with cheers, and hugs and kisses and, of course, the twelve grapes of good luck which preceded everything. The challenge of stuffing my cheeks with twelve pieces of fruit as a kickoff to the next lap around the sun does depart from the normal manner of celebration in this world, but it happens to be one of my favorite Spanish traditions precisely because of its uniqueness.
That does not mean I haven’t been confronted with some near death experiences over the years as I took on gulping the daunting dozen down with a degree of aggressiveness. And I have to admit it doesn’t quite match sidling up to the best looking girl at the party and planting her with the year’s first kiss, but it certainly provides for a little excitement.
This year was a little more relaxed than usual since the grandmother at the home I was dining at set about peeling everyone’s grapes to reduce the difficulty of the task and, in passing, avoid any unnecessary gagging. After all, you only have 36 seconds to perform and complete the task. I have always felt that peeling was kind of like cheating and that doing so could have and unfavorable effect on my fortune that year.
I never peel. I told her I was a “skinner” myself.
But she insisted and I wasn’t comfortable with ending the year by telling an 80-year-old woman to shove it, so I acquiesced.
It’s an arduous task and worth avoiding at all cost, but as long as someone else is doing it for you, well then I guess it’s all right. It was kind of her to offer and execute the task and I was grateful.
Midnight came and with it, the imminent tolling of the bells. Before them you have the tingling of the four quarter-hour chimes, and then onto the main event. We rolled through the procedure rather uneventfully, with the exception that the fleeced fruit tended to stick to the plastic wrapping, causing a few moments of mild panic amid the thought I would find myself caught behind the rest of the country’s grape-gulpers, but I managed to stay with the crowd.
Then it was music and dancing for the next couple of hours. I have to admit that this is something I cherish aboutSpain. People from 3 to83 inthe same room laughing and singing and dancing to the corniest music you could imagine. And having a blast. I have trouble revealing my corporal movement flaws in front of even the smallest of crowds, but I did get up and shook my booty from time to time. The Spanish, on the other hand, can be totally unabashed about their dancing, especially when they are bashed. So, it was good fun for everyone.
Around three o’clock I decided I had had enough and told everyone I was leaving, which was met with the usual, “Why so early?!” which is no exaggeration since there were people in Madrid who hadn’t even begun to go out yet, let alone retire to their beds. It’s a tricky challenge bidding farewell to a group of Spaniards who inevitably are going to insist you stay on. In the past I would give in, but I’ve learned that all you have to do is be steadfast for about three or four critical minutes and then you are home free.
My biggest concern once released from the home was whether or not I would actually find an unoccupied taxi, since New Year’s can be notorious for this problem and a rainy one, as was the case, would make things that much more adverse.
As I approached the corner though, I noticed several taxis zipping by with their wet tires kicking up water and making that crisp damp sound on the asphalt. I also observed that most had that distinctive green light on, indicating that they were free. Hmm, I thought to myself, maybe it’s because I am not right in the center of town and in a direction which is going towards the heart of the city. It can make a difference you know. Most free taxis come from the outskirts while most taken ones head away from the center.
The long and short of it was that I was glad to see I wouldn’t have to wait at all. I plopped into the back seat, told the driver where I wanted to go with a tired voice, and zapped off a few Whatsapp messages wishing various people the best for the New Year.
As we approached my corner I glanced at the meter and saw that it was 6.30€. Being the holidays and a time for cheerful generosity, I mentally decided that I would up the final fare to 7.00€ and treat the man to a fairly plush tip. After all, the poor man had to work on a night like this instead of being with his family or friends.
My calculation for the gratuity my startle some of my readers who are not familiar with the way things work here. In Spain, people don’t feel obliged to tip at all and often won’t, which is why a 50-cent keep-the-change is many times met with a sincere how of gratitude.
In any event, the cab comes to a full stop, and just as I am tugging out my wallet, I see the man punching all sorts of buttons on the meter, the word, supplement appears on the screen, followed by the amount, 6.70€. The man says in a natural tone, “that’ll be 13.00€ all together.”
“What?! Are you sure?” What was he, drunk?
“Yeap. New Year’s supplement.”
It was late at night, ladies and gentlemen, and even though I was astounded by the extra cost tagged on, as you can see it was higher than the actual fare, I was in no position to dispute it because I did not know. It had been so long since I last took a taxi on New Year’s Eve, I really couldn’t say if it was true. The driver certainly seemed normal about it. He had heard me speak; maybe it picked up on my foreign accent, which has stubbornly never disappeared. Had I just been taken for a ride with a 106% mark-up? Great. What a way to begin the year.
This man was certainly getting no tip from me.