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2004-01-01 - 9:18 p.m.

Look out 2004, here we come.

Welcome, welcome, welcome, 2004. And what a wonderful beginning it has had. I spent the evening with some of my most favorite and uncomplicated friends in Jena. K, A, and I went to a small dinner party at a friend's house on the top of Friedensberg.

We feasted on wonderful food, drank excellent alcohol, and stood outdoors on the hill for an excellent view of the fireworks. This surprisingly was my first Silvester in Germany and so I was a little unprepared for the unbridled noise and display from all directions. EVERYONE in Jena bought their own form of explosive and sent it into the air, and from our excellent position on the hill, we could see everything. It went on for almost an hour.

I have to admit that I was startled by the lack of concern over fire safety, especially given that this is Germany. I grew up with a serious respect for all major and minor explosives, ever since a firecracker went off in my left hand and nearly blew my thumb off when I was about 5 years old. I still enjoy them, but was a bit concerned as kids were shooting them off right over the car park, full of automobiles with tanks full of petrol.....I seemed to be the only person concerned however, apart from Rik, who commented on the large number of hazardous trace metals that were being admitted into our immediate environs by the fountains of color from overhead...

After enjoying the show, we went inside and continued playing silly games such as "who am I?" and "I never" - imagine a room full of scientists with stickers on the head, sporting names such as "Martin Luther," "Princess Diana," "Nemo the fish," Simone du Bouvoir," "Tom Cruise," "Frodo Baggins," "Popeye," and "Pele."

These games kept the evening fueled with laughter until about 5:30am. It was actually the longest that I have ever stayed at a New Years party, and, for that matter, it is the only New Year when I have had someone to kiss at the strike of twelve. It's undeniably a great way to start the year.

And so now I am beginning to think about the year ahead: putting together lectures, and scrambling to get my proposals submitted, and overall adjusting to a new old country - a former immigration nation that now views all foreigners as potential terrorist threats, a country that stares so deeply at its own navel that it fails to see that it is part of a larger society known as the world. I am scared - but I am coming home to VOTE (gore once *more* in 2004?). Yes, the job of a good citizen is to keep her mouth open.

But I think the way for me to go into the new year is on a positive, determined and hopeful note - without traditional resolutions that I'll wind up breaking anyway, but rather with a simple toast:

"To love, happiness, kindness, and riches, and the time and good health to enjoy them."

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