A very special New Year’s Eve

When I look back to that New Year’s Eve of thirty five years ago I cannot help thinking it was the best of my life. Because it closed my year of “living dangerously”, a year when I mostly did what I pleased without any attachments or obligations; a year when I felt free, wild, independent; because it was spent in the best place to spend that very special night when you go from one year to another – Madeira; and finally, because of the promises the New Year held, even if at the time I was not completely aware of it – maybe only sensing that my dream of finding my knight in shining armour was about to come true.

I arrived on the 26th and even immediately after Christmas one could feel the excitement about New Year’s Eve rising. We girls talked of little else besides where we would be spending midnight and the place where we would watch the fireworks, which party we would go to afterwards, what we would be wearing, who would be coming with us…as we walked the streets of downtown Funchal we were invaded by the glittering lights of the beautiful Christmas decorations on every street; and the sound of Christmas songs coming out of loudspeakers on every corner. We looked in wonder at the huge Nativity scene on one of the main streets, with all the traditional figures and many others from the Madeira folklore, such as the little typical houses of Santana, bananas, passion fruit and the thousands of colourful flowers that grow so abundantly on the island…walking on the streets we’d meet friends and talk to them and inevitably New Year’s Eve would be mentioned. It was as if we were all heading together in one single direction: that most brilliant, exciting, fun, extraordinary of all nights, the last night of the old year and also the first of the new one, when the past, present and future get together in only one night. And we were there to enjoy it, anxiously looking forward to it.

I met you on one of the evenings before the great night – we were having dinner with a huge group and as we arrived at the meeting place, a café below the glittering Christmas lights, I noticed you sitting in a corner, dark and handsome with a blasé look – and you noticed me too. We were properly introduced, and later, after dinner we began to talk and found we we had so many things to tell each other that the evening should never have ended. We simply felt we had to meet again, and when I asked you which New Year’s party you’d be going to, I was happy to find out we’d be at the same one (much later you told me you had been uncertain about going, but then had decided at the last minute after knowing I would be there).

31st of December was a long day; it seemed the evening would never come. We had dinner at my friend Luisa’s, where I was staying and we were a merry group – her parents, always cheerful, her brother and sister and some friends who were staying over like me. Then we went up the mountain to watch the fireworks from the house of a friend who had kindly invited us. We were greeted very warmly, in particular by her father, who was in high spirits and looked at me and exclaimed “Wow, you look like a movie star!”. I was of course flattered – I must have looked glittering, all dressed up and with a golden ribbon around my forehead, something very fashionable then. A golden coloured blouse, perfect make up and huge earrings did contribute for a striking effect. I felt beautiful, irresistible, and never more than when I met you at the party later on and saw your admiring look.

It was a great party. The band was simply the best on the island and they played all the great songs, and we danced and danced. We all put on the little multicoloured party hats and blew the little horns and whistles! And danced, and sang, and danced again. There was a feeling of happiness in the air, everyone smiled at each other, even at total strangers. From time to time you would go and get some drinks, and you’d always very chivalrously bring me one, and after some time I could see some mischievous smiles on our friends faces but what did I care, I was too happy, too carefree, thoroughly enjoying the moment. And when they played the slow songs and you invited me to dance and  held me in your arms it felt so natural, as if I belonged there.

The party ended around seven but the evening was far from over. There was a tradition to be met, to go up the mountain again to watch the first sunrise of the year. This time you gave me a ride in your car, and when the several cars stopped at the top of the mountain it was still dark, but we all came out and sang and launched a few small fireworks which lit up the cold dawn of the first day of the New Year. And then we watched, in wonder, how the sun went up and the sky went on from a dark blue to the most amazing shades of pink, orange and finally light blue.

I felt a chill and went back to your car, only to find you there. You were listening to a beautiful song, one with a very special message, and you dedicated it to me. And suddenly, deep in my heart but without really realising it, I knew you would be someone very special in my life. I looked at you and we just stayed there, listening to the song and sensing that something momentous was about to happen in our lives.

The magical moment was over, and down the mountain we all came to a very special café that, tradition also had it, was open every year on that special dawn and made the most delicious typical meat sandwiches I had ever tasted. We realised we were famished as we sat down and heartily ate our first meal of the New Year.

And then we had to admit that most special night of all nights was over. Around ten you left us at home and Luisa and I took off our shoes and slowly walked up the steps to her bedroom, falling into the deep slumber of contented souls.

No need to tell you  about what happened next, as you know it as well as I do; I believe you’ll still have some memories, even after all these years. Now that another year is ending, at this particular time when I inevitably think of that very special night and of all that happened back then and in the months and years that followed, I raise my glass and I toast to you, the very special main character of that wonderful New Year’s Eve play of so many years ago.

The hotel

Sunday morning

Going on sixty