2021 was supposed to be the new year/fresh start we all hoped for, but so far it’s pretty shit. Here we are with the coronavirus still lingering (but a vaccine, yay!); still working from home; I just received pretty bad personal news (more on that when I’m ready to share it); and then what happened at the U.S. Capitol last week.
As I watched in disgust, panic, and horror Trump extremists storming Congress, waving American flags, some waving fucking Confederate flags, I thought back to my years as a Washington DC reporter, when I would often work from the U.S. Capitol (especially when I worked for a publication that was then called Congressional Quarterly). Walking along the worn marble floors under domes and past sculptures and gilded oil paintings felt sacred. And not only because security to get in involved showing a badge, screening of all my possessions, going through a metal detector. I couldn’t believe that these hooligans got in so easily. Sure, they greatly outnumbered the Capitol police, but it seems there should have been some plan in place, particularly in light of the shoulder-to-shoulder full riot gear stance police forces took on the Capitol steps during the Black Lives Matter protests in the spring. But then again, I also know that in some places in the world, governments open fire on crowds like this and that wouldn’t happen in America. But it is NOT okay and not an expression of the First Amendment to storm America’s legislative body and make members of Congress, staff, and reporters put on gas hoods and cower in fear. I just kept thinking “How is this America. How is this America?” (For an alternative take from a Black writer who is like “Yep, this is America” read this excellent piece in Vulture. It made me consider things a little differently). But then damned if the same day, the first Black senator from a former Confederate state is appointed to Congress. The duality of the United States hurts to watch sometimes.
Yikes, and it’s just January 12! So yeah, an intense start to the year. Was 2020 intense? Sort of. But it also was so quiet and slow at times, which one doesn’t usually equate with intensity. While I might have to urge to ball up the calendar pages from 2020 and just move on, it was a year of my life in which things did happen. And although I feel like not much progress was made (which is funny because I called 2019 “a year of languish”) I’ll still document it here: With a series of bests from the worst year.
A little recap on the blogging front: I’ve kept this blog going for eight years now, ever since I was but a 20-something newlywed in Yemen embarking on the great adventure that is the Foreign Service. I’m not making money off The Next Dinner Party, so what more can I base its success on than that I keep on blogging, and that more and more people read this blog each year? Despite not being terribly prolific in posting this year, and falling short of last year’s goal to publish three posts a month, unique visitors to The Next Dinner Party reached nearly 18,000 in 2020 which I feel good about. Great Hikes Around Madrid remains a favorite, six years after I published it. A Glimpse into Jerusalem’s Ultra Orthodox Neighborhoods from 2018 also did quite well (thanks Unorthodox and Shtisel, both of which are very good and you should watch). As did the 2019 post That Time I Didn’t Notice My Husband Stopped Wearing his Ring, I think because people love to read about light marital drama. From 2020, my most read blog post is How to Host a Cocktail Contest Party, which is a little hard to believe because who was hosting a cocktail party in 2020? Even we had to skip a year of the The Annual Holiday Spirit Cocktail Contest Party. (We’re thinking of doing a Fourth of July version of our annual party to make up for it, because please, in the name of all that is holy, coronavirus needs to be eradicated seven months from now).
We began the year with a weekend trip to Tunisia, Algeria’s neighbor to the east. We were with our travel buddy Sarah, who lives in Paris, and we spent a lot of the time walking around ruins, eating burrata and other Italian treats, and talking about other trips we’d take together that year, lol. In February I revisited Madrid for a wonderful birthday celebration of my English friend from my time living in Madrid and I ate so many croquettas, a good deal of sizzling garlic shrimp, and and Ribera del Duoro wine. From Madrid I flew to Rabat and a few days later drove to a village outside of Marrakech for a three-day yoga retreat at the idyllic Bab Zouina yoga and nature retreat center. It was a few weeks after this that Adam and I were driving to the airport for another trip to Spain when we got a call telling us to turn around. That day marked the official coronatimes for us here in Algiers. But even with a global pandemic and travel restrictions, we planned a rather impromptu trip in August to Greece where we island-hopped for almost three weeks and it was a perfect trip: Active, relaxing, and yummy and it totally takes the cake for the best trip of the year, and it still would have even if had been a year filled with lots and lots of travel.
I’d like to highlight one awesome dinner party (as I did in 2019 with the Desert Party from a Magazine Spread) but there’s nothing on that scale to pull from. (Will there ever be again?) We hosted a few dining room dinner parties in January and February with our diplomat friends, and later we had a few outdoor dinner parties, including an especially nice one for Adam’s 38th birthday in October, so that one will have to take the tiramisu, as it were, because that’s what I made for dessert. Dinner was eggplant parm and pesto pasta and a nice big salad. Another highlight: Going to the chic and arty apartment of our friend Imen who had organized a literary salon and dinner in honor of an Algerian novelist. This kind of thing is totally my jam and the food was excellent as well. There was a slight problem of me not really speaking French….
Maybe the third or fourth thing I’ll remember 2020 for is it was the year I became a pescatarian. After dipping my toe into the fishy waters by eating shrimp and the occasional scallop in 2019, I decided in late 2020 that yes, I would eat fish. The lunch of truth was at Le Dauphin in Tipaza, a seaside town outside of Algiers, and it included three different types of whole grilled fish caught fresh from the Mediterranean and they were all very good. On our recent trip back to the U.S., I ate some very good seafood and fish including at Adam’s mom’s house where she kept the fridge stocked with shrimp cocktail, and at my parents’ house where I finally got to try Frank’s Famous Smoked Fish Dip. (Dad catches and smokes it; mom makes the dip). Everything I ate in in Greece was wonderful, especially our anniversary dinner at the beachside Omega 3 on the island of Sifnos where we ate scallops and drank white wine hours after being lost on one of Adam and Emily’s classic never-ending hikes. There were a few coronatimes cooking successes: This is the year I mastered the Spanish tortilla and it’s become a weeknight staple. And back in April, Adam decided to cook an elaborate meal for me from start to finish (something he hadn’t done maybe ever) and it was quite a fun and delicious adventure. But like everyone else, I’ve gotten a little sick of cooking and we order from Taj Mahal often. I ain’t complaining because it is dee-lish.
One accomplishment for 2020 is that I made our Algiers home a place we both really love. It’s homey yet stylish, and it’s a reflection of our personalities. 2020 projects have included our Handsome Dark Green Study; an Algerian Kitchen Makeover; Beachy Textured Master Bedroom, and Coral and Navy Guest Bedroom. But I’m perhaps most proud of the massive black-and-white gallery wall I recently completed in our dining room. I look at it often at it still strikes me as interesting and energizing. I’m a little disappointed that there’s not more left to design in our house. But, dum da dum, I am planning on starting a home design from a distance business real soon. Stay tuned.
In 2020, I improved my French, and that’s not nothing, although I feel I’m still a ways from being able to confidently say “I speak French.” I can understand people speaking French (both here in Algeria and to a lesser degree on the French TV shows I watch). I can ask for things and have simple conversations. I can read in French, if forced. It’s something. Also: I started a job at the U.S. Embassy back in March, and although we stopped going to work in person many months ago, I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished in this job, especially launching a weekly YouTube live show that highlights American culture, for which we once hosted Peter Sagal of “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me” for a great talk on satire in America. This Embassy here in Algiers is my favorite out of any where we’ve worked – it’s just filled with really nice and smart people and I’m happy to be part of it. So I’ve got French and I’ve got work, but what we don’t have is any progress on the creative writing front. The book I spent years writing is basically just sitting in a desk drawer (the virtual kind).
And there you have it: A 2020 retrospective. The year that was… well it was.