You probably know by now that I am too many nationalities to list and that I was “Born in Paris and Made in London.” I am a true Londoner now, a multi-cultural, multi-national mish-mash, and this city truly is where I belong. I’ve been a Londoner since 1988 (with a leave of absence in the New Forest, Los Angeles and in the Algarve) so sometimes my Parisian self seems to belong to the distant past. But on a side-trip to Paris last weekend to visit family, I was instantly whooshed back into a comfortable cocoon of nostalgia and suddenly wishing I had never left my city of lights.
So, oui, I may dream in English these days. I might prefer drinking gin to absinthe and tea to chocolat chaud. I do say sorry all the time, even when it’s not my fault, and I absolutely love Marmite spread on a hot buttered crumpet. But I am still a flâneuse through and through, I have a deep-rooted thing for staring at people in cafés, and don’t get me started on rude waiters – I know how to go in guns blazing into any Parisian restaurant. You see, je suis Parisienne after all.
And in an ode to the cities that I love so much, here is my Merry Christmas, mon Joyeux Noël to you all from me. A Tale of Two Cities – at Christmas.
See you on the other side of 2018.
Noël à Paris
Paris was looking moody this December. It might have had something to do with all the ‘Gilets Jaunes’ and the demonstrations. She did give us a good send-off though when a blue sky waved us off on our final day.
I was born in Paris during the riots of 1968, and we Parisians are used to demonstrations. But this one was different. The looters had done much to damage Christmas business across the city. Shop windows were smashed. The Champs Elysées was empty, and the Arc de Triomphe looking timid rather than triumphant with freshly-sprayed angry graffiti. Parisians were genuinely scared.
No Christmas in Paris is complete without a Bûche de Noël. The patisseries across town glow with the promise of something sweet, chestnutey and chocolatey. Délicieux!
Paris may be more traditional and a little more muted than London at Christmas time. But she also knows how to do bling. And when she does, she does it in style.
Even in the dead of winter, Parisians can’t help sitting outside and watch the world pass by. It’s one of my favourite pastimes when I am here. Cafe de Flore, home to the world’s most ridiculously-priced cup of café, also serves up a vin chaud – the equivalent of a mulled wine. I have consumed many of these over the years. And I couldn’t help having one here, once a local perch for Picasso, Yves Montand and Serge Gainsbourg.
Do I like going to Winter Wonderland in London? No I do not. I do it for the kids. which is why I found myself in the Jardin des Tuileries doing the same in Paris. This funfair is all about food: frites, crèpes, nougat, vin chaud, fromage, fromage and fromage. And of course, there is a bar à champagne. Santé.
Fancy stepping back in time? Just head over to Passage Jouffroy. It’s a Parisian time capsule, with the Museé Grevin and the Hotel Chopin shouldering the Gilbert Segas shop. If you’re looking for a last minute present, why not consider an unusual walking stick or a cane with an animal head? The Museé Grevin in case you are wondering, is the Madame Tussauds of Paris. The founder, Arthur Meyer, was a bit of a copycat, taking inspiration from his London counterpart.
No trip to Paris is complete without a visit to Le Grand Colbert. It features in the final moments of one of my favourite films, Something’s Gotta Give. Remember, Jack Nicholson surprises Diane Keaton and a soon-to-be-dumped Keanu Reeves here? The food isn’t the best in Paris, but the atmosphere is. Oh, and the waiters are quite pleasant (note, I say “quite.”) If you need somewhere to eat with your four-legged friend, this is the place.
You may think Oxford Street is the place for Christmas lights, but it’s not. Head over to St Christopher’s Place instead, just a stone’s throw away. Originally a slum, this pedestrianised area is now stuffed full of shops, cafés and restaurants, and it gets my vote for the top Christmas street hangout in London.
This small delicatessen in Marylebone stocks every kind of jam and condiment that Granny might like for Christmas. It’s a perfect pit stop for hot soup, ideal for warming your cockles on a winter’s day.
London also knows how to cling onto its past when it comes to Christmas. Ede and Ravenscroft was established in 1689, and is London’s oldest tailor. If you have a judge in the family who needs a wig, this company is it. And as far as I’m concerned, there is only one London emporium for Christmas – it’s Fortnum and Mason. It’s my go-to for marzipan, Turkish delight, tea, biscuits and Christmas crackers, and it has the best pate de fruit this side of Paris.
The Gingerbread City from the Museum of Architecture has become an annual Christmas fixture, and this year, the spicy metropolis showcase took place at the Victoria and Albert Museum. Sadly, nibbling is not allowed.
My Noël lunch stop in Paris might be Le Grand Colbert, but in London, it’s Balthazar. It’s the closest I can get to Paris for Christmas without actually being there.
Covent Garden has become a Christmas mecca, and it’s hard to navigate through the throng of tourists and locals alike who come to revel in all the Christmas festooning. I’m just surprised they haven’t managed to squeeze in an ice-skating rink in the piazza yet.
No one does Christmas in London like the Dickens Museum. It’s a time capsule of how Christmas once was, when Dickens celebrated the season of cheer and goodwill with his family. You can read all about it here.
Au revoir 2018
This post is dedicated to my mother, Shelley Roitman, who passed away in October. Born in Texas, she moved to Paris when she was in her 20s and lived there until the 1980s, after which she moved to Grasse in the south. She always stood out like a sore thumb, a six-foot blonde bombshell with a Texan drawl. She sent me to the British school in Paris, and kick-started my English love affair by packing me over me over to Britain every summer for six years. And she’s the reason I started this blog. Until we meet again, Shelley.
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