A Tale of Two Christmases (updated 12/26/17)

IMG_0927Rockefeller Center, of course 🙂

As Josephine Baker said, “J’ai deux amours, mon pays et Paris” (“I have two loves, my country and Paris”) That’s totally me! Both Christmas styles are genius, if very different…

It’s taken longer than I expected to synthesize my pictures and thoughts, due to jetlag and holiday socializing, but, here goes..

I had to go to the Washington D.C. area in early December for a family funeral in Arlington. It was very solemn but heart-warming, bringing family together to commemorate a life well lived.DSC03934a

It was amazing to return to the area where I grew up and then take the Amtrak train north from Union Station, like when I was in college.

 

Seeing NYC from afar over northern NJ  marshes reminded me of the first time I saw it rising on the horizon like the Emerald City when I was a teenager.

 

This time I was on my way to see beloved younger family members who are building careers in the theater and IT worlds. Not having been in NYC at Christmas time for several years, I had to make every moment count: a long taxi ride Uptown from Penn station with a very chatty cabdriver:  DSC03945

A walk across Central park for an afternoon at the Met:

 

Midtown Christmas windows:

 

Rockefeller Center:

 

Bryant Park Winter village:

 

Visiting in Washington Heights (near GW bridge) and Queens:

 

Theater outings (The New School, The Public, Japan Society):

 

Thai “smashed” ice cream on MacDougall Street:

 

Shopping and pilgrimage to the Stonewall Inn in the Village:

 

A gorgeous fluffy snow storm:

 

Singing along with Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas” at the top of our lungs with the crowd at a cool tequila and mezcal bar called The Ghost Donkey downtown, then Uber home on the FDR:DSC03983.JPGhttps://www.atabula.com/2017/10/31/images-panorama-de-11-buches-de-chefs-patissiers-stars/

Hours on steep subway stairways and deafening dirty platforms enlivened with occasional mozaics: DSC03954

Pounding the broken pavement between stations with a capella groups singing on street corners:DSC03978.jpg

And before I can blink, time to fly back to Paris: DSC03998

First adjustment: Paris is much farther north, so it gets darker earlier here and even a bright day is muted compared to NYC. Also Christmas lights seem to be more of a public than a private thing here. The shopkeeper in charge of ordering the display over our street has retired and no one has taken over. Local cafés, bakeries, chocolate and cheese stores did their best to cheer things up:

 

Our own little family invested in a very tall tree for indoors and a floor-to-roof outdoor string of LEDs for our balcony:

 

Driving around the city, I noticed posher neighborhoods all lit up with specially designed garlands, welcoming visitors and shoppers, but there’s less self-expression by private individuals here. It seems to be catching on slowly and the occasional bright balcony takes your breath away. A welcome relief: hopping on public transportation to shop is a breeze in Paris, quiet, clean and easy to navigate:

 

But another adjustment: most of the good Christmas playlists are in English. Maybe because everything in France is still less commercial, holiday music is mainly religious with a few notable exceptions, including francophone Canadian, African and West Indian imports.

For me, the epitome of French Christmas spirit is the Bûche de Noël or Yule Log cake, a form of edible folk art reaching new levels of refinement every year. Star pastry chefs are now vying to create more extravagant versions in every shape and color, from electric guitars to Santa hats to playing cards, at astronomical prices.

https://www.atabula.com/2017/10/31/images-panorama-de-11-buches-de-chefs-patissiers-stars/

The less expensive ones in our humble local establishments are good enough for me: rolls of sponge cake and butter cream icing or slabs of mousse and ice cream with fruit glazes and every possible variation of tiny plastic forest scenes, wrapped gifts, Santas and snowmen.

 

Of course Paris is the uncontested world capital of food and can’t be beat for the availability of fresh ingredients for home cooking along with gourmet restaurants at affordable prices. Chef Philou’s foie gras and smoked salmon:Philou_boutiquehttp://www.facebook.com/Philourestaurant/

Lunch at Yam Tcha, Michelin-starred Franco-Chinese fusion:

 

http://www.yamtcha.com/reservations.html

And on the 24th, our French relatives hosted a traditional Christmas Eve dinner for 18 of us with almost that many nationalities represented around the table:DSC04041

In former days, everyone would have attended midnight mass. Now we open presents at about that time and stagger home in the wee hours to recover.

Our American background calls for stocking presents the morning of the 25th, then another round of gifts in front of a virtual fire, under the watchful eyes of our kitty, who got a new scratching box with catnip and lots of her favorite–ham:

 

This was followed by a late afternoon skype with the US family in their sparkling White Christmas landscape, whereas ours was dreary and Wet. They were spending the day in the kitchen, we were still full so didn’t have to…

So… New York definitely wins the contest in terms of music, personalized lights, and great music. Paris wins in terms of deliciousness, cozy internationalness, and human-friendly transportation. New York has the big tree at 30 Rock (see above) but Paris has the world’s biggest artificial tree, the Eiffel TowerDSC01934

… Feeling privileged to spend time with loved ones in both places and enjoy both atmospheres…

Merry Christmas! Joyeux Noël! On to 2018! xxxxx Aliss