This past year has had its ups and downs for me, but truth to tell while the ups have been lovely, they were few and mostly far between, while the downs have been pretty low. There are years like that in one’s life. I don’t really blame my bad moments of this past year on the number thirteen, but I have to admit it crossed my mind. Several times.
I am not among them, but there are serious triskaidekaphobics in the world. I met one once at a dinner party in a beautiful house on a hilltop in that paradise called The Chianti. Around the table were twelve people enjoying the beauty of the food, the wine, the setting. The guests were friends of my hosts and members of a rarified social circle of old Tuscan families. Between the main course and dessert, a grandson of the hosts dropped in to say hello. His grandfather and I moved apart and made room for the young man to pull up a chair and join in. As soon as he, the thirteenth person, sat at the table, a local doyenne at the other end popped up, and holding her white linen napkin to her breast, made a face as if she had been threatened with a lightning bolt. She refused to be among thirteen people sitting at a table.
This variety of thirteen superstition is based on the Last Supper. It is an insult to seat thirteen around the table because it implies that one of them will turnout to be a traitor. There is also the fear that one will soon die. I say "Poppycock," but evidently the lady with the napkin thought differently. The host had no choice but to banish the beautiful young man to a corner of the room.
Other superstitions about thirteen predate the birth of Christ. There was a myth about the code of Hammurabi (1780 BC), that the thirteenth law had to do with the death of the seller before a sale was consummated. Oh,oh! The number thirteen is associated with death.
In ancient Persia, they thought that the constellations of their twelve-month Zodiac would each rule the planet for a thousand years, and then in the thirteenth millennia the world as we know it would collapse into chaos, which, I suppose may yet happen, but there isn't much time for that in what remains of 2013.
Then there are old Norse myths in which the thirteenth god, Loki, arranges the death of Balder, the son of Odin. And the brother's Grimm made it the thirteenth fairy who wickedly cursed Sleeping Beauty at her baptism ceremony.
At the end of the Nineteenth Century, high level Americans, beginning with a group of New Yorkers, decided to fight the superstition, especially as it surrounded the fear of Friday, the 13th. Soon there were Thirteen Clubs throughout North America, where thirteen members met on every Friday the thirteenth in room thirteen of a hotel at 8:13 PM. Five US Presidents beginning with Chester A. Arthur up until Teddy Roosevelt were members. They didn't make much headway. “Thirteen” still sounds like bad luck. For instance, there are still many buildings--offices and apartments-- all over the US that skip the number 13 when numbering floors. Does it occur to people who live or work on the 14th floor that they are really on the thirteenth?
I myself, do not blame any of my difficulties of the past year on the number thirteen. I am however looking forward to 2014. Fourteen seems to me so much nicer a number, optimist that I am.
We have a new community tradition in New York. I am writing this on New York's Seventh Annual Good Riddance Day. We celebrate it by going to Times Square, taking along bad memories of the year, represented by pieces of paper--CAT scans, Dear John letters, foreclosure notices. There is a shredder in the square where we can consign the bad news to oblivion. What a great way to symbolically jettison the past and look to the coming year with hope.
So my wishes are for all of us. If your 2013 was like mine, not one of your favorites, I wish for much better days ahead for us both. Even if it was a banner year for you, I hope 2014 will be twice, three times, ten times as good.
Annamaria - the LAST Monday of 2013