In an exercise to exorcise my inner introvert, I accepted an invitation to spend New Year’s Eve with ten strangers in Sydney. One degree separated me from my host, Pauline, who is the sister of the mom at the farm I stayed at in Wingham a few weeks ago.
With representatives from Italy, Switzerland, Lebanon and, of course, Canada and Australia, we shared stories of how we celebrated in our countries and compared notes on life in this southern hemisphere nation – traditions, customs, language, prices…you name it. Being a mix of native Aussies, immigrants and expats, the perspectives and insights were fascinating. And, those who know me, will not be surprised that I was giddy to be able to practice my Arabic with Tony, who left Lebanon when he was ten and has the full Aussie accent, but remains fluent in his mother tongue.
Having visited both Lausanne, Switzerland and Lake Como, Italy in 2008, I was familiar with Clement’s and Elisabetta’s beautiful home towns and we reminisced of familiar landmarks. And, as is often the case almost anywhere I go in Australia, a mere mention of “Anne of Green Gables” evokes a smile and a sigh.
“Is it really as beautiful as it appears in the movie?” they ask.
“Yes, yes it is,” I confirm with pride, taking out my iPhone to show pictures and video of sand dunes, red cliffs and green rolling hills peppered with round golden bales of straw in the evening twilight.
We feasted on steak, chicken, salads and the Australian national desert, Pavlova, to the 9:00 p.m. fireworks banging in the distance before we walked down to observe the full midnight display with the iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge in the distance.
Over 1.6 million revelers were in the Central Business District, but it was orderly with the Lord Mayor reporting the next morning that there were only 97 arrests, many of those at the Bondi Beach after-party. City workers removed sixty-six tons of rubbish from the streets and parks.
The fireworks were wonderful, but the highlight of the evening was sharing it with this group of diverse folk. Back home, I would never go to a party where I didn’t know anyone, but this is the trip of saying ‘yes’ to everything….or na’am as one would say in Arabic.
A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for – John A. Shedd