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Il Capodanno

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Written New Years Day, Shire Reckoning 1421

 

Dearest Sam,

Please pardon my shaky handwriting, but I do want to send my greetings for a happy and prosperous new year to you and Mistress Rose.

Today I've learned about a most intriguing new year's custom that is practiced in Umbar. As usual, at first glance it seemed ridiculous as many Big People's customs do, but perhaps there is some sense in it.

Faramir and I were sitting in our kitchen this morning though it was closer to afternoon than morning if I am being completely accurate. I could say a few unpleasant things about how Faramir sounds, looks and smells after a night of celebration which involves quite a lot of drinking, but perhaps I should not for I suspect I might just have been smelling my own self. Never let it be said that a Man is able to best a Hobbit in drinking that marvelously fizzy sweet wine the people of Umbar produce in great quantities. Though it's best if I not concentrate on that at the moment or I shall have to visit the privy again.

So there we were in the kitchen—bedraggled, definitely the worse for drink, unwashed, even unfed.

"Hair of the dog, you think?" Faramir whispered after we'd sat at the table for several long silent minutes. Silent, that is, except for the occasional loud, gurgling, noisome belch.

"Faramir, please do not shout," I whispered back. "I think perhaps some water would be better."

"Yes, of course, much better." With that, Faramir subsided back into silence except for the aforementioned belches. And honesty compels me to admit that the belches were erupting from both of us at regular intervals.

We sat there in our mutual misery until Lilias arrived somewhere near noon (as best I can remember).

"Well, aren't you a pair?" she said as she entered the kitchen making what I firmly believed at the time was the greatest clatter a Big Person ever made coming into a room, and frankly, that's saying a lot.

Faramir groaned, but I was able to control myself far better; I only squinted at her a bit.

She was wearing a huge grin, but fortunately she remembered herself and soon brought us an absolutely enormous pitcher (usually reserved for when we have at least a dozen guests) of blessed cool water.

While Faramir and I drank cup after cup, gulping the first few to relieve our urgent and well-earned thirst, Lilias bustled around the room, making (what seemed to me) unnecessary comments.

"And who were your guests last night?"

Faramir grunted, "No one."

"Goodness!" It was a little difficult to hear exactly what followed due to the clatter of bottles crashing against each other, but I believe it amounted to this: "Don't tell me you two managed to put away this much wine all on your own!"

The "hmph" that was our mutual response grumbled in perfect harmony.

"Tsk, tsk. And here I thought you two were of an abstemious nature. Well, live and learn I always say," she said as she lined up the bottles and I must confess in hindsight that there were a rather stunning number of them. Like many things, it had seemed a good idea at the time to open bottle after bottle while we sat on the terrace and reminisced.

"And I suppose there are more of these outside?" Lilias asked.

"Possibly," I said.

"And what did you throw out?"

"Huh?" That was another combined response from Faramir and me though this time we managed to turn and look at each other a bit sheepishly.

I was the one who gave her a proper answer, a bit primly if I am to be completely truthful and of course I must be honest for am I not a hobbit? "Yes, Lilias," I said. "If you must know, both Captain Faramir and I have vomited from our overindulgence. Several times to be specific. Thank you for the water."

Normally I consider our housekeeper to have a delightful laugh, full and rich and joyous, but it was most aggravating to hear this time, though it did make Faramir and me sit up straight and glare at her for it went on and on. Lilias laughed so hard she ended up having to hold on to the edge of the kitchen table to steady herself.

When she managed to regain control of her merry emotion (yes, I am being sarcastic and why not), she wiped her eyes with the corner of her apron. It was a good thing she did, for the tears had been streaming down her face. How delightful it is to afford someone such a good laugh!

"Oh, Master Frodo," she said finally. "That's not what I meant, though I'm surprised the two of you managed to get out of bed after all you drank last night. Though, now that I think on it some more, did you even manage to find your bed?"

"Hmph."

She coughed and straightened, picking up another bottle from the table. She shook it. "Ah, here's one you didn't finish. Would you like to ..." She held it out.

"No!" we both said in great alarm.

"Perhaps you should throw it out."

"Well, of course we should," I said a little indignantly. "Surely the fizz has gone out of it."

"I see I must explain more clearly," Lilias said and set down the bottle, leaning over so that she placed it carefully between Faramir and me. "It seems you are unfamiliar with my people's custom at the new year."

"Custom?" That made both Faramir and me prick up our ears, for one of the things that most delights us is to learn of and participate in the customs of Umbar.

"Yes, indeed! When I asked you what you'd thrown out, I'd assumed you were familiar with our custom of choosing something to throw out the window on new year's eve."

I laughed at that; it hurt my head to do so. "But why ever would you do such a thing? Does everyone do it?"

"Of course! You shall have to take a walk into the city later and you shall see quite a sight. Though you must do it today for the city trash collectors will be very busy early tomorrow morning and all will be cleaned up."

I found that most intriguing. "So Faramir and I should have thrown out something last night?"

"Yes, it is the proper way to say goodbye to the old year and make way for the new."

Faramir and I eyed the bottle. "I suppose, though," Faramir said, reaching out a shaky hand and grasping the bottle, "we are too late to participate in this most intriguing custom?"

"Strictly speaking yes, but seeing as you are new to Umbar and all ... and of course the trash collection will not occur until tomorrow ... I believe you might be allowed ..."

Sam, it was great fun! And it was a good thing Lilias was there with her good sense, for at first we thought to toss the bottle (emptied first of course into the slop bucket for we did not wish to make too much of a mess) from our terrace. Lilias gently pointed out that the trash collectors were not likely to come into our back garden in search of new year's refuse, so in the end Faramir and I padded (very well, we lurched and staggered, squinting in the sunlight) to our front gate.

We both held onto the bottle and chanted a bit. "Out with the old ... in with the new ... out with the old ..." There was a very satisfying crash when the bottled landed on the road and cracked in two.

We stood there, staring at it, and then turned round to look at our new year's guide. "And we just leave it there?" I asked. It still seemed outrageous, not to mention very untidy.

She's very wise, is our Lilias. "Yes, just leave it and walk away from it. There's no need to keep hold of everything, is there? Though of course you must choose wisely what to throw out and what to keep."

With that, she turned on her heel and walked back into the house. Faramir and I stood in the sun a few minutes more, letting the warm sun soak into our bones (though I fear we kept our eyes closed for the most part), then we followed Lilias inside. And here I am writing to you of this interesting custom.

I will end now, my dearest Sam, with best wishes for the coming new year and for every year that lies before you. I am certain there will be many for you and your dear family.

Frodo