I was in Paris for the 2007 Réveillon, as the French call New Year’s Eve. It was a typical winter in Paris – cold and grey, with occasional light rain, but the city was all dressed-up for the holidays, and full of people from every corner of the world. The streets of Paris always remind me of the time I worked in the United Nations in New York – all languages represented.
Paris has visitors no matter when you go, but this time I noticed newcomers to the scene: Chinese, Russians and Eastern Europeans, people from Communist countries who could not travel abroad due to political restrictions. They caught up quickly, though, and Paris seems to be the number one place for them to visit.
Despite the cold, I find the holiday season a great time to be in Paris. So much to do! Right on my first night there I rushed to Theatre des Champs-Elysées, to see a ballet company I had heard a lot about: the Sara Baras Ballet Flamenco, a Spanish dance group performing in Paris for a short and sold-out season. I loved how modern and visually exciting their flamenco was. After the show I had dinner with a friend at Café du Theatre, across the street, where by chance the dancers were dining, too. When I asked when they were going to New York, the reply was “December 2008”.
The magazine covers around town displayed president Nicholas Sarkozy and his new girlfriend, Carla Bruni. She is an Italian ex-model well-known in France, and looked much younger than the recently divorced Sarkozy, This being France, no one seemed to care. As for Cecilia, the president’s ex-wife, no news and no magazine covers, which was probably just the way she likes it – she is said to be too private for the kind of attention a first-lady of France attracts.
The restaurants, bistros and bars in Paris were all crowded, but with a little patience I could find a table anywhere. The most popular places required reservations in advance, for sure, but I didn’t need to eat in a 3-star Michelin restaurant, so the options were many. This is something I love about Paris: I can have a very good meal without spending a fortune, like I would in New York or London, for comparable food. Even with the Euro at $1.4 to the US dollar, the cost of a good dinner was still reasonable.
Shopping was something else. With the Euro high, it was more expensive to shop with US dollars, but if you know where to go, it’s possible to find quality for less. As a rule, I avoid the big Parisian department stores full of tourists, and head instead to the charming boutiques around Rue du Cherche-Midi, where I always find that unique piece that will freshen up my wardrobe. For everything else, I like Rue de Passy – great variety and prices. I like to remind myself that it’s style that makes Parisian fashion unique, not high prices.
On the same token, it is the Parisians’ priorities in life that bring me back for more, every year. No matter what people may think of the French – and God knows that opinions on the subject vary – no one can deny that they have their own way of doing things. A good example of their ‘thinking outside the box’ was the fact that in December of 2007 a number of famous chefs in the city decided not to conform to the rigid star system of the Michelin guide, the bible of restaurants in France. The ‘rebel’ chefs were choosing instead to cater to the younger and less affluent crowd, offering creative and less expensive menus without sacrificing food quality. A refreshing new trend, for sure – it just had to start in Paris.
On New Year’s eve, taxis decided to go on strike, so my friend John and I took the Metro (subway) to go to a highly recommended Italian restaurant near the Eiffel Tower – La Taverna. It was a small place in the middle of a quiet residential block, but the food was delicious. After dinner, we walked slowly to the Eiffel Tower, pacing our speed to be there at midnight. It was bitter cold, but the atmosphere of the night was festive and romantic. When the clock turned 12 – the Eiffel Tower surrounded by a huge crowd – an amazing show of fireworks and lights lit the sky. People hugged and kissed, and we heard ‘happy new year’ in many languages. It was a moment I will never forget.
We watched the fireworks for a good 10 minutes, standing in front of the Tower with a sea of other people, until the lights were off and the crowd started to disperse. The Metro going home was packed again, but I didn’t mind it. Just being in Paris for the New Year was a very good start of 2008.