I was in Paris for the 2007 Reveillon, as the French call New Year’s eve. The weather was typical winter in Paris: cold and grey with an occasional light rain, but the city was beautifully dressed up for the holidays and full of people from every corner of the world.
If you visit Paris occasionally you are used to tourists, no matter what time of year. But this time there were newcomers to the scene: Chinese, Russians and Eastern Europeans, people who could not travel when I first started going to Paris, many years ago. Now on one single block we hear more languages than anywhere else. Paris is even more now the place the world meets to celebrate.
Right after arriving I went to Theatre des Champs-Elysees to get tickets for a show I had heard a lot about while still in New York: Sara Baras Ballet Flamenco, a Spanish dance company performing in Paris for a short and sold-out season. I was lucky and got one of the last remaining seats. Sara Baras flamenco is modern, different from the traditional flamenco I had seen in the past – a young, energetic and passionate dance group, visually exciting. After the show I had dinner across the street at Cafe du Theatre, where by chance the dancers were eating as well. I asked one of them when the group would come to NY. ‘December 2008’, was the reply. I can’t wait to see them again.
On the magazines stands around town many publications brought covers with president Sarkozy and his new girlfriend, Carla Bruni, an Italian ex-model well known in France. She seems to be much younger than the recently divorced Sarkozy, but this being France no one seems to care. As for Cecilia Sarkozy, the president’s ex-wife, no news and no magazine cover, which is 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 full, but with a little patience we could always find a table anywhere. The most acclaimed places require advanced reservations, but unless you really have to dine in a 3-star Michelin restaurant, the options were many. This is something I love about Paris – I don’t have to spend a fortune to eat well, like in New York or London. Even with the Euro at $1.4 a good meal can still come at a reasonable price.
Shopping was another deal – it was more expensive to buy anything, but I kept my rule of getting good quality for less by avoiding the big stores full of eager tourists. In Paris, I love the charm of small boutiques with one-of-a-kind items, everything else I find easily in New York or anywhere else. I also like to remind myself that it is taste that makes Paris what it is, not money. On the same token, it is the Parisians’ priorities in life that brings me back every year.
And they do have their own way! A Parisian friend told me that many of the city’s top chefs were refusing to submit to the rigid criteria of the Michelin guide, traditionally the publication that rates restaurants in France. For the Michelin, three stars are the equivalent of perfection, a ‘grand table’. But many chefs were choosing to be more creative with less expensive menus, keeping in mind younger and less affluent clients, without sacrificing the quality. I find this trend very useful as we enter 2008. And it had to start in Paris, where else?