By Jessica Harper
"I was vacationing in a land where you don't need a clock...well, maybe a day clock, just so you know it's Tuesday. Then all you need is a hammock—well that and an iPod—and hard times seem far away..."
Shortly before the arrival of 2010, I did a little research on how various cultures ring in the New Year.
It seems that in Colombia, if you have an urge to travel in the New Year (yes ma'am, I do), you walk around the house with a suitcase at midnight on the 31st.
In Denmark, if you have a particular wish for the New Year, you make it while jumping off a chair. (If you've had too much aquavit, or whatever it is Danes drink, this could get ugly.)
In Venezuela, you buy and wear new yellow underwear on New Year's Eve for good luck in the upcoming year.
Perhaps my favorite ritual is in Japan, where there's an Abusive Language Festival: you climb a hill to an ancient temple screaming profanities at whoever it is who has caused you trouble in the old year. (When you get to the temple you chill and get happy.) I think if I had to pick someone to curse at it might be my dog, Oliver, who made off with the turkey on Thanksgiving, leaving my guests to nibble on sweet potatoes and stuffing.
Not to be greedy, but this year, I was thinking it might greatly increase my chances of overall happiness in the New Year if I combined these rituals. I could put on yellow underpants and jump off a chair while holding a suitcase and cursing Oliver. The only risk was, of course, my family would commit me to a mental hospital so I'd be unable to reap the benefits of my actions.
The truth is, I was on an island in the Caribbean on New Year's Eve, in a vacation time warp, barely aware of what day it was. New Year's Eve sneaked up on us and midnight slipped right by. I found myself wishing I'd had one of those day clocks I heard about on the radio, a timepiece that only tells you what day it is.
I'd laughed when I heard about that clock: normally, when purchasing a clock, I look for one that has a few more bells and whistles, one that tells you what time it is, for example. But since doing time on the Caribbean island of Nevis, I totally get it about the day clock. There is a land (and a state of mind) where anything more than the name of the day is TMI.
We got to Nevis (in the West Indies) on the Sunday after Christmas. I was carrying three time-telling devices. Within hours, I shed my non-waterproof watch. By Monday, I'd shut down and stowed my laptop. By Tuesday, I was feeling hostile towards my iPhone: I clicked it off and threw it in my suitcase.
That was it. I was time-less, as was the rest of my sun-stunned family, only guessing the hour by the length of the shadows cast by our hammocks.
But the day clock would have come in handy on New Year's Eve. It was only when we noticed revelers singing "Auld Lang Syne" late that starry night that I realized I'd missed my chance to enhance the upcoming year with a few odd rituals. (I did, however, walk around the house with a suitcase, shortly after--if not precisely at-- midnight, because we had to pack to leave the next day.)
We're back in L.A. now, electronic devices up and running. But my watch is still set on Nevis time, and I think I'll just leave it like that, and put it away for a while. I'll get one of those day clocks, because, hey, that's all you really need, isn't it? Well, that and a hammock. Well, okay, maybe an iPod. That was one device I did not forsake in the land of blissful disconnectedness. But I have an excuse.
See, the main activity on an island such as Nevis is reading. There's swimming too, of course, and snorkeling, and walking and talking, but my family and I spent most or our time lazing on the beach with a good book. Or, in my case, a good audio version of one.
Many of you PXEers are in my boat, having trouble reading, if you can still read at all. As a once avid book reader, the world of audiobooks has become a lifesaver to me. The week before New Year's, I spent hours listening to "Hard Times" by Charles Dickens, and I was in heaven. I realized that, although I miss the feel of a book in my hands, this new mode of "reading" has an advantage: you can read and walk at the same time. My family, with their old-fashioned reading method, was restricted to hammocks and lounge chairs, while I walked for miles on a beautiful, pristine beach while absorbing the details of a much harder life in Dickensian England. Talk about excellent multi-tasking!
Back in L.A., I'm thinking I'll listen to "The Help" next, an audiobook that a friend highly recommends. Okay, so maybe I'm no longer on a beautiful beach in the Caribbean, but I'll listen while I walk the dog, or while I cook, or while I'm on the treadmill. It's not quite the same, but hey, it ain't hard times either.
P.S. If you want to get a day clock, you can find it on Amazon.com. If you want to download "Hard Times," go to iTunes or Audible.com. If you want to go to Nevis, go! (Even if you did not walk around the house with a suitcase on New Year's Eve.)