Christmas Eve began with a scenic run on a gorgeous day. From the moment I stepped out of doors, I was greeted with bright blue sky and cheery December sunshine. For whatever reason, I was feeling particularly fast. It’s possible that my extensive holiday to-do list had something to do with it. The sooner I returned, the sooner I could cross ‘go for a run’ off of my list.
The city was relatively quiet, with less traffic and fewer people milling about. It was nice. The predominant language on the streets was English and the overall vibe was decidedly un-French. I was surprised at how much freer I felt among my own people, as if I could belt out a Christmas carol or do something entirely non-conformist without anyone looking at me funny.
Despite the aforementioned sense of urgency, I decided it was high time I found the Eiffel Tower. Prior attempts had turned up nothing, though I’m fairly certain it was under my nose a number of times. I’d just run out of time and turned back too soon. As luck would have it, I had both speed and a sense of direction on my side and as I rounded one final corner, there it was in all it’s much-lauded splendor.
Back at the ranch, we cleaned our apartment like mad to prove to our cleaner that we were clean, in case she was spying on us for the owner. She never showed up. At least our place will be spic and span for Christmas.
We headed out for the afternoon to gather food for Christmas day. I was banking on a rumor that nothing is open in Paris on Christmas, and went into full-on gourmet survival mode, hunting and gathering enough delicious goodies to get us through the day. I brought along my Sherpa/husband and a pint-sized person who occasionally helps but mostly just complains.
Our first stop was my new favorite bakery, Secco. I discovered it last week, near the Eiffel tower, and it is very cool indeed. There are two sides: the patisserie, filled with irresistible baked goods and several daily lunch combos, such as salmon with ratatouille and haricots vert or roast chicken with chutney, potato beignets and asparagus. They don’t speak English and the lines are ridiculous, particularly at the adjoining boulangerie (bakery), where I’d gladly take one of everything. I especially adore their rye raisin bread and traditional baguettes.
Earlier in the week, I pre-ordered a buche de noel, but I needn’t have bothered. They had cleared out every bakery shelf in the shop to make room for row upon row of the traditional Christmas cakes with their rustic log shape and beguiling meringue champignons (mushrooms). I left with the cake, an hors d’oeuvres platter and a second sack, filled to the brim with baguettes, brioche, madeleines, pain au chocolat and chausson au pomme (apple turnovers) pastries. There would be no shortage of butter at our house, come Christmas.
Next stop, the infamous boucher where chickens don little blue jackets. I did not buy a chicken. I think the butcher thought I was a total bore when I ordered magrets des canard (duck breast) for Christmas. It’s pretty much everyday fare for the French.
I stocked up on chocolates for our stockings at Chapon and then we headed home, just in time to change our clothes and take the metro to church for the Christmas Eve service. But not before I oohed and ahhed over the impressive decorations at the corner seafood market.
The Christmas Eve service at The American Church in Paris was absolutely stunning and packed to the rafters. The program consisted of a retelling of the Christmas story with traditional carols and corresponding text from the Bible. It ended with a candlelit rendition of silent night, including one verse in French. There was a powerful feeling of solidarity as we united with fellow believers and shared our collective light for one brief moment.
I stood between my husband and daughter, grateful for my family and friends, life in Paris, our new church, and for all that Christmas means to me. My heart was full.
Afterward, we said hello to friends (the ones we met at the park in 2007) and snapped a few photos of Annabelle by the glowing tree. It dawned on me then, that she was finally over her illness. I couldn’t have asked for a better Christmas gift.
Every good story needs a happy ending and this one has two. After the service, we were headed to the legendary Allard, in what was sure to be a meal to remember.
Annabelle created quite a stir when she asked in perfect French if she might have a chair for her poupee (doll)… Our good-natured waiter obliged and announced in a booming voice that in his 21 years as a waiter, this was the first time he had ever been asked to provide a chair for a doll. The people around us smiled and some even clapped.
Escargots were had by all, as was sole meuniere, very good steak and to finish, tarte fine (crisp, delicate pastry lined with overlapping slices of caramelized apple, browned to perfection).
The people-watching at Allard is unparalleled. There was the loud, friendly American ex-pat couple with their well-behaved beagle, the Italian family with teenage sons wearing (ack!) matching turtlenecks, a canoodling couple with mismatched ages (him- 65, her- 27) and a smattering of quirky French folk. One portly Frenchman at a nearby table kept passing bits of foie gras to the beagle and the woman two tables down wore a pillbox hat and appeared as though she had just returned from a democratic convention, circa 1965.
We headed home with full bellies and the promise of a Christmas day filled with good food, fun presents, sweet family and lots of love.
We are blessed.