We’re now well into the New Year and it must be time for a report on our life in Paris during the festive season.
Spending Christmas away from our traditional homes (Britain or Australia) has shown us there is a significant difference in the ‘festive season’ here in Paris. It seems to us in Paris (and we’ve heard it’s similar throughout France) they don’t go to quite such extremes of commercialisation. An example being present-giving is not a major event, the exchange of hundreds of Christmas-themed cards is also low-key, and the costly focus on street decoration and major investment in fireworks is next to non-existent. We also didn’t miss the madness around Boxing Day sales.. there were none here in Paris.
However, it’s a bit different along the Champs Elysees where at all times it is extremely commercial .. at this time of year they add to each side of the avenue a mass of white plastic sheds all selling similar very non-French sweet sticky things, burgers, all the cliché tourist souvenirs .. it’s not really like Paris at all. But it certainly seems popular so I suppose, to someone, that’s what counts!
I’ve also spotted and love the rather irreverent regard for ‘Father Christmas’ (Père Noël) .. some of the big store shop windows have impressive displays (short-lived though, they didn’t appear until a few weeks before Christmas and were gone before New Year) in this case at one of my favourite places, BHV (pronounced phonetically Bayashvay) by the Hotel de Ville (town hall).
Here you could see the naughty children puppets sawing Father Christmas in half, while one pulls him by the hat and another cuts off his beard!
Another window around the Pletzel area (Jewish quarter) shows him looking very undignified but not seeming to care!
We had my mum to stay before the festivities started .. although we did well in that department with a little help from our boating neighbours. Mum agreed to make the traditional Cornish pasty, not the meat ones (as we didn’t the oven for that totally brilliant experience) but the apple ones.
None of our neighbours had experienced such a thing .. totally authentic except we didn’t have the Cornish cream to go with them as this was confiscated at the UK airport deemed to be a risk as it was more than the permitted 100ml… although I can’t see Cornish clotted cream being anything like a liquid (but I suppose it is a cream)!
We also had a special lunch with mum at the lovely Bofinger restaurant where we noticed our fellow-diner who was on his own eat what appeared to be totally excellent oysters washed down by a bottle of white wine. He was obviously watching us even more closely as he handed mum a sheet of paper. It was a caricature of her reading the menu with obvious delight at the expectation of what was to come – signed ‘Bon Appetite’ .. dated and his name which we haven’t yet deciphered. He then also drew one of Stewart (see his Facebook for details) watching mum .. quite a treat, now both framed and in our living room on the boat.
Talking of irreverence, as I was above, mum experienced some of this treatment when asking at a music shop if they had any traditional French music “you know, with the accordion”. The young assistant didn’t seem to have any idea what mum was talking about but led her to a section of ‘Retro’ music. Stewart and I waited outside while she browsed – it seems she was then led to the headphones to listen to one particular CD. When I looked into the shop to see how she was progressing, I couldn’t believe what I saw: mum a few inches away looking out at me, shaking her head to say “this isn’t what I wanted to hear”. They had put elk horns on the headphones!! Love the words beneath mum in the window: Rock .. Sole .. Rap – very apt for her I can tell you.
As a warm-up to Christmas itself we have our wedding anniversary.. and whilst we were delighted to have the pretty white snow for Christmas we did find it an interesting time, committed as we were to celebrating our special day out and not inside our cosy boat. It was snowing to the extent that we became coated like snowmen on our way there and back.. having to shake ourselves off before entering the warm restaurant. On that day we visited the Pure Cafe for a glass of Champagne pre-lunch, and just around the corner we dined at the Bistro Paul Bert. We like to keep these places quiet as they seem totally relaxed and bereft of tourists. The French couple next to us (on a previous visit) asked how we managed to find the Paul Bert .. we had to confess it was with the help of a small restaurant guide. They were worried, we think, it would become over-exposed.
For Christmas Day we considered a restaurant but the lovely small places we’d found were not into opening for Christmas Day or New Year’s Eve .. so my thinking that for the first time since our marriage (23 years ago) I wouldn’t be cooking was not going to be the case.
In the end, not through any deliberate plan, we decided on a plate of cheese and scrumptious crispy bread as our big feast (and it was) on board Endellion .. this went with the present to Stewart from me of a cheese book and a wine book (for our trip into the Burgundy and Champagne areas later in the year). So I did achieve that rare thing, no cooking on Christmas Day.. and we didn’t miss it. We had Brie de Melun (that’s the best Brie we have found anywhere.. made just up the River Seine from our current mooring in the town of Melun), the amazing red volcano-like Boullette d‘Avesner, Roquefort.. and a small Chevre. Mmmm.. and thanks to Daniel and Jo for leaving that gorgeous bottle of Chianti all the way from Italy!
There are so many original, low-cost and totally charming restaurants in our area.. within easy reach of our own power (so to speak), ie, chair and walking. For example on New Year’s eve we were joined by sister Tammy, brother-in-law Richard and a dear family friend from Switzerland, Margrit. We had booked the restaurant Le Train Bleu (http://www.le-train-bleu.com/uk) (we ate there back in our October blog) which is less than ten minutes walk away, at the Gare de Lyon (train station). Seems odd to use a train station .. from our table we looked out over platform A which periodically flowed with ant-like crowds.
From the restaurant on the first floor you feel like you’re in an Agatha Christie film: the ‘Simplon’ Orient Express era. Talk about opulence! And in fact it was perfect for us as it’s so spacious (many French restaurants are small and they pack people in to tiny tables all bunched up together.. very cosy, totally charming, but not so easy with a wheelchair). The menu was stunning (8 courses!!) and it included champagne all night (and a few bottles of red and white wine).
We arrived latish at around 8.30pm and didn’t leave until 1.00am. The service was brilliant and the musicians (a roaming Russian quartet) made all the difference and certainly had us focused on the mid-night hour .. although there was no rendition of Auld Lang Syne.
At this time (Christmas and New Year) once the snow melted the Seine flooded and was only a few inches from coming over the lock barriers into the marina. Just beside our boat, which is just inside the lock, there are plaques on the wall showing previous flood years and the depth .. a bit scary but in fact the waters have reduced and apart from watching some big commercial barges take great care passing under the bridge nearest to us (Pont de Sully) the concern is over (for now). We have a lovely Paris Postcard book which shows the river running through Rue de Lyon (just a block away) in 1910. About the time of Le Train Bleu’s heyday.
In that year the water level had risen 27 feet in the centre of the city and the Metro was out of action between January and April. Apparently Parisians moved about using temporary walkways to enable them to reach rowboats! All true.. but hopefully not something we will experience although at least we have the right abode if so.
(As we write this we feel terrible for the people in Queensland – we have no idea just how bad it must be for them during the horrendous floods. We sincerely hope the emergency services and all concerned are able to get things under control and no more lives are lost.)
We’ve continued our focus on visiting the fabulous museums around us, it was the Pompidou first, followed recently by the museum d’Orsay and on another day the Louvre. We’ll report more on this later but one of the reasons we so adore this city is that there’s so much to do and learn PLUS it’s very easy to reach the museums, entrance is free and we don’t have to be outside in the cold queuing as they wave us through. They have a special dispensation for people with a disability and their partners. Of course we go back again and again for more!
The weather is also slightly more friendly at present, no freezing nights and days are getting up to 10 degrees, luxury!
Signing off for now … we wish all our friends and family a beautiful happy new year and the best of health and prosperity for 2011.
Lesley and Stewart