'Being there' at the millennial moment
Ralph Costas is in a Y2K funk.Skip to next paragraph
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Weeks ago he narrowed his New Year's eve plans to three possibilities:
*A "personal growth experience" in the Peruvian Amazon (complete with nocturnal cleansing ceremony, $2,499).
*Hunting elephant, rhino, leopard, Cape buffalo, and lion in Africa ($10,995).
*A black-tie ball in the style of Russian czars, with a horse-drawn troika ride at Catherine's Palace, St. Petersburg, Russia ($3,999).
Now the excursions are a vanished dream. After a "democratic" family vote with wife and kids, Mr. Costas will be in his California home with friends and in-laws for a night of singing, cookies, and nog.
The choice reflects a common struggle: deciding how to mark an event that comes but once in 1,000 years.
"So many multithousand-dollar excursions to choose from, so few millennium eves," mourns Costas, a writer.
The same dilemma - to party hearty or to hug the hearth - may have faced revelers planning for Dec. 31, 999. How we answer the question today, say cultural observers, explains much about how the world has changed, the issues we face, and how we perceive the world as humanity passes a major milestone (at least on the calendar).
The 'I remember' impulse
"We have become so much a self-conscious culture of 'I remember when ...' that we are consuming all these pre-packaged experiences, not for the experiences themselves but to mark the event for posterity," says Robert Thompson, a cultural historian at Syracuse University in New York.
"It's the fear that if you say, 'I was taking a nap and scratching myself' as the clock struck 12, that you will never be a part of the great conversation," he adds. "We feel that if we don't give our kids a link for their memory, we may deprive them of social currency for the rest of their lives, like they won't marry well or get into good schools."
With the date fast approaching, the dynamic of decisionmaking is changing almost hourly. Because of early reports that many extravaganzas are short on business, slashed ticket prices are drawing new customers for everything from hikes up Ngorogoro Crater in Tanzania and prayer vigils at the Garden of Gethsemane to flotillas of tall ships off New Zealand.
Ron and Maralee Knowlen were all set to spend another New Year's Eve at a senior center, dancing with friends. Then they heard about a group tour to China - seven days, including air fare, food, and lodging for $880. Now they will be doing the samba on the Great Wall in the morning, a cha-cha in Ming Tombs at noon, and the rumba in Tiananmen Square beneath fireworks at midnight.
"For me, it just sounded like something really fun and different to do for a once-in-a-lifetime celebration," says Mrs. Knowlen, a retired school principal. "For Ron, it was the price."
Price was also a factor for Krishan Kumar, a sociologist at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, who was all set to be in Manhattan's Time Square to watch the new Waterford Crystal ball drop. Then he found a half-price fare to Rome ($800 round trip) and will now hang out by the Pantheon with his wife and son come midnight.