Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Rummy 500 and the New Year


Each activity has its own rhythm, that sense of building on itself until the player hits some stride where things flow more effortlessly and more fully. Traveling is no exception. In my third week now and in that traveler’s bliss when one lowers expectations about what will happen and opens wide to the surprise and serendipity of whatever does.

And so having arrived in the small town— population 700— of Ollantaytambo, Peru to spend New Year’s Eve with my wife and daughter, my daughter's American and her Argentine friend, we had vague hopes of finding some stirring festival in the plaza as the clock ticked toward midnight. We finished a satisfying meal in a lovely restaurant and headed to the town square at 11:15 pm. And there we found— well, not much. A bunch of random kids setting off firecrackers accompanied by the tinny electronic recording of the crèche next to the green plastic bottle Christmas tree. The word was that the real party was tomorrow.

So we went back to the hotel room and played some Rummy 500 cards while listening to Helen Merrill singing Cole Porter on my computer. The game ended five minutes before midnight, Moon River came on the i-Tunes list, fireworks starting exploding out the window and voila!, 2013 had officially begun. Though not in San Francisco, where it was only 9:00 pm. And it had long passed in Madrid, Bangkok, Beijing and a host of other places where distant friends were celebrating. New Year is not a moment, but a work in progress.

The card game and familiar songs proved to be as good a way to mark the occasion as participating in ancient Peruvian rituals. And why not? Part of travel's delight is to check in on your old familiar world with new appreciation. It was delicious to hear some good jazz and just fun to play games with friends.

Especially Rummy 500. I had forgotten how much I liked this superior version of Gin Rummy. It’s a game where you start building in one direction— a straight here, three of a kind there, but when you make those hard choices and discard, breaking up some of your plans, it turns out that nothing is irrevocable. The card you may have needed in the future is still on the table available for you to take back. It’s the ultimate in flexibility. You do have to choose, but you can backtrack and move forward as needed, leaving that little window open that allows the perpetual presence of possibility. I like that.

It also is satisfying that the person who goes out first has a small advantage as the others must subtract the points from their remaining cards left in their hands. But they still can earn points, sometimes even more than the person who finishes the hand first. So everyone has the sense of adding to their score each hand, taking that small (or large) step of progress forward that gives us encouragement.

And so may the year be its own version of Rummy 500, choosing one path over another as we always must, but with the flexibility to retrieve your discards, to head down new paths, to stay the course, as the occasion demands. And I suggest that as you make your list of intentions for the year, you start this first day of 2013 with a rollicking game of Rummy 500 with friends and family.

While listening to Peruvian music.



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