• August 6, 2020

Is 2020 the new Unlucky 13? Or, the uncanny value of improvisation and the ability to adapt

Is 2020 the new Unlucky 13? Or, the uncanny value of improvisation and the ability to adapt


Does luck really exist?

And if it does, is it necessarily good or bad?

Isn’t life more about what you make of it? Improvising, adapting to circumstances, knowing how to dance around misfortune, rising to the occasion or sitting still? After all, isn’t good or bad luck something viewed through a personal prism?

The number 13 has always been considered an unlucky number: some people say it began with the Code of Hammurabi, the world’s oldest legal document that omitted a 13th rule; others say the Sumerians believed that 12 was such a perfect number that 13 could be nothing other than completely imperfect.

In western lore, superstition around the number started in biblical times with Judas who was the 13th apostle to sit down at the Last Supper.

And then of course, there’s Friday, which, for hundreds of years has been considered an unlucky day, at least according to Chaucer, who, in his ‘Canterbury Tales,’ says “and on a Friday fell all this mischance.”

So, when you put Friday and the 13th together…well that’s a serious bout of bad luck, such as befell the Knights Templar who were burned at the stake on Friday the 13th in the year 1307.

Needless to say, even today, 13 is looked upon with narrowed eye. Some buildings don’t have a 13th floor; airlines don’t have a 13th row…etc etc.

Then of course, there’s 666…the number associated with the Beast of Revelation in Chapter 13, Verse 18 of the Book of Revelation, commonly known as the number of the Devil.

This whole preamble brings us to another number.


Frankly, I would like to propose that 2020 will always be remembered as one of the strangest years in living memory. But is it unlucky? It depends on how you view it.

The optimist in me says it marks the beginning of a new decade that will make ultimately prove to be the greatest in the 21st century and that what we are going through are teething pains before the emergence of a brand new world and a brand new order.

But after the recent, massive explosions in Beirut, I cannot help but think that it really is just an unlucky year…for everyone, all 6 billion of us.

The year began with the onset of a pandemic that no one could figure out, despite all the scientific advances and technologies we have at our fingertips; and whilst for us here in New York, the pandemic seems to have receded, it rages madly, roaring through other parts of the United States and the world.

But the pandemic is more than just a health crisis: the fallout from it in political, social and economic terms is incomprehensible.

It has brought America, the most powerful country in the world, to its knees in more ways than one: at the beginning of this crisis, we all watched as the Italians started burying people in unfathomable numbers…that would never happen in the US, we all said, very cockily. And then it came to New York and people dropped like flies. And all the world watched our response, hoping for some sense of leadership that never came.

Now…months later, America lies stripped of its prominence, harshly criticized worldwide for its’ laughable response, and Americans have been banned…yes, banned from Europe.

So, what does this all teach us?

Everyone will of course have their own take away…but here is mine:

As a wine director / sommelier in a prominent New York City restaurant, I suddenly found myself out of work from one day to the next when the city shut down on March 15th. Actually, the decision to do so was made on Friday the 13th. Hmmm.

Well, that was just great. Now what? I had no savings to speak of. Whilst on paper, I have a list of impressive accomplishments: Journalist, flamenco dancer, entrepreneur, a writer with six books under my belt, and an intimate knowledge of Burgundy, it doesn’t necessarily translate into dollars in the bank.

First things first, was to get myself on the unemployment line so as to at least pay some bills, and at least put food on the table. Well, that wasn’t as easy as it sounds. Overnight, as millions lost their jobs, the system crashed.

It was weeks of investigating how to get on, calling incessantly…until finally one day, I got up at the crack of down and was at my laptop at 7:30, when the site opened and I slipped into the system.

Next, of course, what to do? I’ve always been a worker, a doer, not a sit-arounder waiting for things to happen.

What could I possibly do with my writing and / or my wine knowledge?

The best I could have done was to literally “go with the flow.”

And when I stopped trying to control the uncontrollable, things started to change.

A book of mine, a caper/whodunnit that I had let lie because I’d been too busy to pay it much thought, was published. And my wine knowledge could be put to use at a wine shop,  considered an essential business and therefore allowed to stay open.

My life is no longer what it was, but there is a new one . Who knows where the new one will take me, but I can use the tools I have to try and make it work.

All this to say that life ebbs and flows and takes us down all kinds of meandering paths. Often, if you’re stuck, you’ve got to improvise instead of just standing there looking around you. But always keep going, moving, forward, sometimes backward to go forward again.

It really is like the waves on a beach. The water rolls in and rolls back and comes back renewed, refreshed.

Improvisation and the ability to adapt are probably the two best qualities one can have to navigate life’s crises, no matter how big or small.

As a final example: I was in Madrid, promoting a book and a friend of mine really wanted to eat Lebanese food, myLebanese food! It was a Sunday and most gourmet shops were closed and none of the ingredients were available. Well, never mind, I thought…I’ll replace this with this and that with that and we ended up with one of the most memorable meals we have ever had together…and that is what it’s all about.