Although we laugh about it now, New Year's Eve 1999 found millions around the world anxious about what would happen to computer systems if their internal clocks failed to roll over to 2000. People withdrew cash from their banks in case ATM's wouldn't work. People were concerned about public utilities failing. People feared communications networks would break down. Most of us didn't really understand what the issues were, but everything sounded pretty serious if it actually happened. I imagine that the change from the year 999 to the year 1000 also brought its own apocalyptic fears.
At any rate, my husband and I were far away from home and family on that fateful New Year's Eve. Yes, if any catastrophes had occurred, our children were on their own! My husband and I were in Italy, as a matter of fact, doing some preliminary reconnaissance for the spring academic quarter when we would be leading a group of students for two months around Italy.
New Year's Eve found us in the compact and wonderful hill town of Todi.
As the evening rolled on, and the new year arrived in Japan and Australia and India, it became obvious that the world's infrastructure had made the leap into 2000. Everyone relaxed and began to enjoy the festivities.
My husband and I first dined in a subterranean restaurant near the town's main square. A memorable, set dinner, boasting several delicious courses and the type of Italian table wine that makes you want to have wine with every single meal.
After eating, we walked back up to the main piazza and mingled with the crowd. The weather was crisp but not Chicago-cold, so walking and mingling was popular. As we meandered around the piazza, city workers passed through the crowd and passed out plastic flutes of champagne! (Perhaps it was Prosecco, but equally lovely.) I personally considered this the nicest touch of the whole evening. Sipping and strolling, we absorbed the magical atmosphere in Todi as the clock approached midnight.
At one end of the piazza, a stage had been erected, and the tech crew were putting the finishing touches on the band's equipment. Soon the minutes had dwindled down to five. More champagne/Prosecco circulated through the crowd. More folks gathered in the piazza. Finally, the countdown! Midnight arrived, kisses were shared, greetings were spoken, and the fireworks began!
Todi is really a very small Italian hill town. It's quite vertical, so the main piazza truly is the focus of the public life of the town. That night, it seemed that the entire population had gathered in the piazza, yet the feeling was open and festive rather than jam-packed and claustrophobic. Once the fireworks finished, the band began to play, and everyone just danced around in their own free-spirited way whilst sipping on their drinks. Suddenly it struck me that this was a town party, in the very best way. No concerns about crowd violence or other threats. Just friends and neighbors and a scattering of tourists, laughing, dancing, drinking, and celebrating together.
New Year's Eve 1999 remains my ideal of a good public celebration. We could never have something like that here, but it cheers me every year to think that the budget for the town of Todi includes free Prosecco in the piazza at the New Year. Buon anno! Auguri!