This time of year my solar plexus is usually bubbling with excitement like a toddler waiting for Santa. Instead there’s an unfestive ache. Decorating our place felt like performing a musical in an empty theater. This is the first year I won’t be getting together with anyone from my birth family, in a long long time.
Homesick, searching for holiday spirit:
Can’t go where I’d usually go, no museums, cafés, restaurants or concerts. Bright side: retracing steps from previous winters, got some cool surprises. Walking across the Marais with take-out cappuccino from Carette Place des Vosges, I saw dark storefronts, but a renovated Musée Carnavalet will reopen in the Spring with restored gardens and a chronological path across Paris history as seen through art. People queueing for falafel and pastries rue des Rosiers reminded me it’s Hanukkah week with its miracles of light. A secret passageway I never saw before, opened through three courtyards between the Place des émeutes de Stonewall (didn’t know this existed)
and the cheerful, spacious BHV department store with six floors of abundance and enough shoppers to feel lively but not crowded. Cosier than the Forum des Halles, just as upbeat as Galeries Lafayette Haussman and Bon Marché, but less pretentious and pure heaven after sedentary internet browsing. No identity ordeal to set up your millionth online account with your millionth password. Added incentive: picking out gifts and ornaments in person has a new dimension this year, potentially saving the French economy.
Outside the main entrance, in front of the Hôtel de Ville on the Seine, no skating rink for 2020, but two free merry-go-rounds and a series of wooden cabins with big display windows full of nature scenes for the little ones, skies are mostly gray, but lots of lights and carols playing.
It took ages to get home. No more spontaneous zigzagging across the city! Getting around is a slog unless you’re on foot. (City biking is not my thing) Option one: crawl through traffic by bus or taxi on technocrat-reorganized street grids blocked by ubiquitous construction. Option two: brave the metro, risky and time-consuming because I hop off and wait for the next one when it’s too crowded to social distance.
Bright side: I love my neighborhood more than ever with it’s sparkling garlands overhead, variety of merchandise, florists, book shops, food vendors… Most items on my 2020 gift list come from local small businesses.
No big French family dinner with 20 relatives around the table at midnight on the 24th, sniff. Bright side: won’t get home at 3am and be bleary for our US-style Christmas morning the next day.
No long-distance travel this year, sniff. Bright side: no packing, no jet lag.
No family visitors, sniff. Bright side: don’t have to clean guest room and guest bath twice, before and after. (Would jump at the chance, if only.)
Thankful I didn’t Marie-Kondo my home before COVID so have stuff to sort through, rediscover and repurpose, like the mason jar of “pumpkin butter” found in my pantry, a ghost from holidays past. Contrary to its name, it doesn’t contain butter, just pumpkin, sweeteners and spices. With some eggs and evaporated milk, this transformed into a gorgeous pie for decadent cold snacks right out of the fridge that take me back to feasting on leftovers as a kid.
Work is slow, time on my hands, can volunteer more: mentoring opportunities in scouting community, Sandwich Ministry food distribution for the needy at the American Cathedral.
Private, low key holidays might also leave thought space to prioritize neglected projects on my I-hope-someday list?
Maybe I’ll do something really radical, like cooking up edible presents for friends?
Most of all, processing two major events:
-My mom has moved from a large assisted living facility on a busy city street, luxurious but sometimes impersonal, to a small family-run elder care home in the countryside near my US relatives. After being isolated for nine long months, she’s in intimate surroundings with dogs, cats, greenery and warm human contact. Hats off to my heroic sister and brother-in-law and to my mom for her endurance. A weight has lifted from heart.
-Our teenage son just completed a four-week full-time internship among adults in a professional kitchen as part of his lycée culinary program. Coincidentally this was also in a retirement home (where food preparation doesn’t shut down even during a pandemic). He didn’t catch COVID and neither did we, his chef was very pleased with his skills and wants to help him make contacts for after-COVID. Good omen. Hats off to him for making it through and to us for getting him there every morning in spotless chef’s jacket and apron (a story in itself).
Nearing the winter solstice and 2021, reasons to celebrate: we’re well and vaccines are on the way. Sit back, relive happy memories and imagine a future together again.
Let there be music! Let there be color! Rejoice and stay safe!