I arrived back in Phoenix for the holidays, blinking like a vampire blinded by all that sunshine! It all comes back to me. Wearing shorts, giggling at comments about the chilly mid-60’s weather. Get out the parkas! Driving a car for the first time since last summer, having to drive forty minutes to get anywhere, and then not being able to have a beer since I have to drive back. Driving on the five-lane freeway with the grill of a monster truck filling my rear-view mirror. News broadcasts detailing the usual local shootings, ongoing discussions about arming teachers. (Really.) But hiking up an actual mountain! And meeting someone on the trail who went to school in the Netherlands years ago wanting to try out his Dutch again. Santa hats and Christmas ornaments perched whimsically on large cacti, and gorgeous, vividly surrealistic sunsets. Okay, largely due to the wintertime pollution inversion layer, but pretty spectacular nonetheless! Holiday reunions with family and friends, visiting former colleagues, and feeling very missed. Basking in the warmth of the old and familiar, in a very new city of over five million people from all over the US. Not much has changed. Except me, perhaps.
Three airports, two train stations, and one soggy walk through the rain, suitcase clattering over the cobblestone, and I am back home in Utrecht. Dragging my bag into my 400-year-old house in the city center, exhausted with jet lag torpor but unlikely to sleep anytime soon, I go to my completely modern kitchen, look in the fridge and ponder whether I should go to Albert Heine for some groceries. After all, it’s just a walk up the street and open late. Checking my email, I find one of my meet up groups is having a get together right up the street as well. Unpacking can wait. I walk down the narrow street amidst the cheerful chatter of bundled-up pedestrians and cyclists, their breath in the chill air forming vaporous cartoon dialogue bubbles, and go into a gezellig, warm café. I have a beer (after all, it’s a short walk back home!) with new friends with all sorts of accents and varying degrees of English and Dutch proficiency, and even a fellow ‘Merican from Colorado. All are basking in the crowded warmth of new beginnings in a very old city of 300,000 people, with students and expats from all over the world. Groceries, too, can wait, after all there is plenty of time and everything is so close! Yes, George Bailey, it is, indeed, a Wonderful Life! I am happy to be back.
In the Netherlands, Oud en Nieuw, “Old and New,” is celebrated with fireworks and sparklers. In Phoenix, as in many places in the US, New Year’s Eve is celebrated by gunshots fired in the air. And so my old year in the New World ends with a bang, and my new year in the Old World begins with a sparkling display of hope for the future. Out with the new, in with the old, we'll take a cup o' kindness yet!