How to make Christmas last forever (or at least until the end of January…)

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As a native of more southerly latitudes, I had to learn to ignore Parisian weather to survive. If I had known before I moved here that my birthplace near Washington, DC, is comparable to Madrid and Rome in terms of sunlight, whereas Paris is comparable to Montreal, that lack of sunshine depresses the immune system and dampens the spirits… I may not have come. Then one day I was ranting about the gray skies to a French friend who said, “Il y a d’autres soleils à Paris” (There are other suns in Paris) and that was a turning point. I learned to love rain even when it falls every day for months as it has this winter, the darkest in 30 years:

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/jan/19/aint-no-sunshine-winter-darkest-europe?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other

Living in Paris has made me think that Christmas and Hanukkah lights are Northern Hemisphere responses to winter sun deprivation, and this year they are more vital than ever. So here are my strategies to make Christmas last forever, or at least until the end of January and the gradual approach of Spring…

  • Virtual fireplace on flat screen TV (DVD’s available and now streaming on Netflix!)
  • Epiphany galettes (King cakes) still on sale in the bakeries (collect prizes, wear crowns!)
  • New Year’s cards can be sent until at least the end of the month (and received!)
  • New Year’s resolutions boost energy and project us into the future, especially if updated and tracked  http://www.nytimes.com/guides/smarterliving/resolution-ideas
  • Skype faraway friends and family to open presents they sent by mail
  • Sort pictures, print some to send with New Year’s greetings
  • Play with presents: make a list of who gave you what and what you will do with each one in the new year, include thank you’s in New Year’s cards
  • Keep a log of good times over the holidays, in your appointment calendar, and relive them by journaling: funny things people said, conversations, realisations, issues to clear up?
  • Food memories: recipes new and heirloom, to share in New Year’s messages
  • Food continued: bake cookies and send to older and younger loved ones
  • Keep the tree and decorations up even as the tree folds inward like a shriveled umbrella and begins to look like a biological equivalent of Miss Havisham’s wedding cake (in Great Expectations)
  • Make un-decorating part of the holiday, set aside lots of time, enjoy treasured ornaments, as mementos and promises of future holiday celebrations
  • Keep the music playing: all the oldies you didn’t listen to when it was really Christmas, laugh at Bob Dylan and Elvis holiday albums, discover Yuletide gems by Lynerd Skynerd, Louis Armstrong and the never-obsolete Frank Sinatra. If that’s too much, fall back on instrumental “Winter Solstice” and “Celtic Christmas” collections from Windham Hill and others…
  • Recycle your tree in any of Paris’s parks until January 28th (and beyond), knowing it will become fragrant mulch for gorgeous spring landscaping…
  • Hibernate without guilt, perhaps with the help of a carefully selected winter virus, just severe enough to keep you on the couch in front of the “fire” with herb teas and soups,  but not requiring antibiotics or ER trips…
  • Continue your creative and professional work when the fog clears
  • Start thinking about Valentine’s day…

To be continued, love xxxx Aliss

 

 

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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

 

Happy Everything!

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These rolled sponge cake and butter cream Yule Log Bûches are a French holiday tradition and a form of folk art, decorated with toy saws, holly leaves, chalets, deer, tiny presents, birds, evergreens, skiing Santas and more, each pâtisserie with its own special touches, flavors and colors…in this display alone, I see coconut, lemon, strawberry and raspberry versions, other shops offer chocolate, moka, vanilla…

Happy Christmas Eve and Hanukkah from Paris, everyone!

Let the light be reborn in all of us and the world…

xxxxx Aliss

Stillness and Dancing…

Is it possible to keep an open mind and heart?DSC03113.JPG

“I said to my soul, be still and wait without hope, for hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love, for love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith, but the faith and the love are all in the waiting. Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought: So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.”

T.S. Elliot, Four Quartets

Thank you Marion Woodman for introducing me to these lines in your lecture, “Rolling Away the Stone.”

Seize the Joy

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Taking a moment to immerse myself in Joy… Time to “store” up light for 2017, we’ll need it!

This is the Galeries Lafayette Haussmann Christmas tree. Go to the second floor for more information about uploading a magic app, or use the tablets on site to view the world in a holiday glow (no spoilers!) More coming xxxxxx Aliss

Dreaming on the Sky

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Looking up, projecting inner visions on the sky, our infinite screen, opens imagination.  What do we want to take with us into the New Year?  What do we want to leave behind?  What bridges do we want to cross?  What do we love so much that we can’t not do it?  When we put our hearts fully into a dream, it changes us and our “reality.” Most people hate the word commitment, but here’s another way to look at it:

“As long as we are not committed, doubt reigns, the ability to withdraw remains and inefficiency always prevails. Concerning all acts of initiative and creativity, there is an elementary truth,the ignorance of which has countless consequences and aborts splendid projects. At the moment we fully commit, Providence also goes into motion. To help us, all sorts of things take shape, which wouldn’t have happened otherwise. An entire chain of events, of situations and decisions create in our favor all manner of unplanned incidents, meetings, and material support that we would never have dreamed of encountering on our path…Everything you can do or dream of doing, you can venture. Audacity contains genius, power, and magic.”  Goethe, The Power of Commitment

Let’s throw our big dreams for ourselves and the world into the sky: health, happiness, creativity, abundance. No dream too big to come true.

Happy New Year! xxxx Aliss