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Christmas in Paris

December 24, 2008 Leave a comment Go to comments

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Twenty-five years ago this minute we were flying to Paris on the Concorde for a memorable Christmas. (And a memorable flight too!) My sister married a Frenchman in August 1980 and lived with him in Clermont-Ferrand for three years. My niece Joëlle was born in October 1982. The family moved to Paris in August 1983. (I showed up in Paris right after they moved there, after attending a conference in Antwerp and spending a couple of days in Amsterdam to pass the time until they got settled.) A few months later, my father decided we may as well all go to see them, with the holidays serving as a convenient time to get away. So off we went.

Well, first I had to get to New York. It was my third year in Seattle, and I had just gotten to know Gail in the preceding months. She took me to the airport, we said goodbye, and I flew off to New York a few days before Christmas. On Christmas Eve, we headed to Paris, arriving around 11:00 PM local time. We headed into town and arrived at our hotel, which is the hotel my parents regularly used when they were in Paris, the Hotel Plaza Athénée. It’s a gorgeous hotel, on Avenue Montaigne between the Seine and the Champs-Elysées. And Christmas morning was beautiful.

My sister and her family were down in Nice to see her sister-in-law (Jacques’ sister) and her family, due to fly back to Paris around noon on Christmas. I had been given the task of heading over to their apartment early on Christmas morning to attend to the parakeet. Avenue Montaigne leads to the Pont de l’Alma, which happened to be the bridge over the Seine that itself led to my sister’s apartment, just a few blocks off the river on the other side. I didn’t sleep long, and by 6:00 AM on Christmas morning, I headed over. It was so peaceful. Fog. Almost no cars. Quiet. The walk over the bridge was dreamlike. And I got to do it six times, three in each direction, because something went wrong with the plan for getting into my sister’s apartment. I don’t remember the details. Presumably the concierge was supposed to let me into the building. Oh, I know. I had a code to punch in to get through the main door, but it wasn’t working, so I got there, tried and tried, then headed back to the hotel, and then repeated the process. On the third time, maybe it worked, or maybe the concierge did let me in. I must have had a key for the apartment once I was in the building. Maybe it was left with the hotel concierge. Anyway, I performed my bird duty, and as a bonus I had those wonderful walks over the Pont de l’Alma.

There are many stories to tell from the trip. But I’ll leave it at this, except to mention two other highlights, dinners at two famous Paris restaurants: La Tour d’Argent and Lucas Carton. The dinner at La Tour d’Argent was our major family holiday dinner. The Lucas Carton dinner was just for the four of us — my brother, sister, her husband, and me. And what I remember most about that was how tiny the portions were. It might have been the first time I had been at an elegant and expensive place that seemed to put as much emphasis on presentation as on food. I’m sure it was the first restaurant I went to where the food was brought out with fancy silver covers over the plates, and with the waitstaff dramatically lifting the covers all at once when the plates were all in place. I would have traded that in for a couple more lamb chops. Now, of course, I know better. Eating less is good. Presentation is good. But I couldn’t get over how little food there was, and how much empty space there was on the plate. (This reflects yet again my cultural illiteracy when in France, as described in one of my first blog posts.)

Time flies, if I may make an original observation. I can hardly believe this dinner was twenty-five years ago. Merry Christmas for those who celebrate. Happy Holidays for all.

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Categories: Family, Travel
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