That sister’s friends, a tipsy American girl and a blonde Austrian girl who both worked as au pairs in the city, met us on our way to the Coliseum. Finally, a petite American guy who was also studying abroad with the aforementioned middle sister joined us. I don’t remember his name, but I recall his combed hair, fitted leather jacket, and purple scarf. He raved to me about the gourmet dining opportunities in Barcelona, where I was working. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that none of my young foreign friends would spend the money to join me for a sit-down restaurant experience in the economic crisis-stricken city, although they somehow had the cash for club entrance fees and alcohol.
That night I wore a gold T-shirt dress, black tights, and heeled boots. But it didn’t matter, because as with the rest of the 22 days I spent in Italy, I never took off my long brown parka. We carried champagne bottles as we slowly shoved through the masses to near the Centro Historico. We hung onto each other like old friends so not to get lost in the chaos. We'd missed the rock concerts and found no sign of the colorful showers of fireworks we'd expected.
At the stroke of midnight no giant crystal ball dropped, but champagne spewed and ornery spectators shouted and set off renegade firecrackers. The champagne sprayed in my eyes and soaked my hair. The firecrackers shot off like dangerously erratic bullets. Then within minutes the plaza emptied, with gold lights glistening on the wet, litter-strewn streets. I walked home sticky and half deaf and limping after two straight weeks of exploring urban landscapes and steep Tuscan villages on foot.
The two exchange students led us on a circuitous route back to the hostel. After traversing back and forth the city for a week I grumbled that I knew my way around better than these students who lived there. I wasn’t surprised because in my experience studying abroad with an American program tends to foster a routine of afternoons piled in dorm bunks watching DVDs, evenings drinking at the same bar down the street, and weekends jet setting to another European city via RyanAir.
So my New Year’s Eve in Italy wasn’t the night of a lifetime, but I’d still rather be spending the evening stumbling around Rome in the cold instead of sleeping in Hurricane, West Virginia like I did this year. But even if 2009 didn’t go out with a bang, I came up with some highlights worth listing:
1. Exploring sunny Andalusia during my last weeks in Spain, particularly Granada where I wandered through silent Sacromonte, a gypsy cave quarter, and ate Lebanese tapas in Little Morocco with two lovely friends. I won’t forget feeling like a lost outsider during Seville’s world famous Semana Santa, a week-long, raucous street party in celebration of Easter, either. Or hiking down into a 400-foot deep gorge and photographing the sort of countryside that makes you question your urban intentions in the Spanish mountain town of Ronda.
2. Running a 15-mile race (with a significant uphill component to boot!) in a respectable time. My thighs still burn when I think about the overzealous hill training I did the week before.
3. Discovering New Mexico with my parents. We fell for the Southwestern state with its roasted chiles, turquoise jewelry, and adobe chapels. We still rave about the glorious golden views on the Aspen Vista Trail and our hike through the otherworldy Kasha Katuwe Tent Rock Canyon.
4. Getting over myself and baring the braces. In four short weeks I’ll be flashing a broad, well aligned smile for a lifetime.