April 17, 2014

Letter From Paris: Seasonal Signs in the City of Light … and Beyond

The Champs-Elysees in Paris with Christmas lights (file photo.)

The Champs-Elysees in Paris with Christmas lights (file photo.)

France is very festive at this pre-Christmas time. I just returned from a short visit to the village of Sanary Sur Mer on the Mediterranean. The grandiose gold and silver decorations contrasted with the bright colored “pointus” (small fishing boats) tossing about in the port.

Our next stop was Aix-en-Provence, which was also getting ready for the holiday season. It is a pleasure to look for shops wandering through the pedestrian streets of the old town and discover the 17th century architecture with its elegant courtyards and stairs. Rows of prefabricated chalets selling glühwein and regional pastries lined the Cours Mirabeau (the heart of the city) ending in an illuminated fountain. A hot chocolate in the old fashioned terrace of the Grillon cafe was a must.

If Paris ever deserves its name of the “City of Light,” it is at Christmas time. Each arrondissement has its own style of illuminations. They range from the elegant avenue Montaigne where trees and lights match the costly look of the main fashion houses to the more popular Bastille (where I live), which turn into an amusement park offering a stomach -curdling ride in the highest contraption of Europe.

The sight of the Champs Elysees is spectacular. This year the decorations consist of blue lights circling the trees. The computerized lighting of the Grande Roue (ferris wheel) overlooking the Place de la Concorde makes it look as if it is exploding in the sky. For many years, it has offered the best view over the city.  The Eiffel Tower stands aloof and sparkles for a few minutes every hour on the hour.

The Eiffel Tower decorated for Christmas.

The Eiffel Tower decorated for Christmas.

Borrowing a tradition which used to be more common in Germany and Central Europe, Christmas markets are now found every where in Paris. Their alpine look make up for the absence of snow. The esplanade of the Hotel de Ville attracts visitors with free skating ring and merry-go-round.

And, of course, there is the Christmas shopping, including the most popular toy of the year: the clone. I thought it was a good time for me to discover the latest and largest shopping mall in downtown Paris. The modernistic glass facade of Beaugrenelle is part of the group of skyscrapers built in the 15th arrondissement by the Seine river. As a sign of times, the budget of many families been has been reduced to 300 euros per person. As a result, shopping online and the use of newly-created second-hand supermarkets have exploded.

Oysters, foie gras and a good bottle of champagne are still the favorite with the French for their reveillon (meaning ‘the eve.’) On the 25th itself, the celebratory meal will be planned around a goose and end up with a bûche de Noel (Christmas log.)

HeadshotAbout the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She will write a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also will cover a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.