I was in Paris for the 2007 Reveillon, as the French call New Year’s eve. It was a typical winter in Paris, cold and grey with an 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 at the United Nations in New York – all languages represented, no matter where you go.
In Paris we get used to tourists at any time of year. But this time I noticed newcomers to the scene: Chinese, Russians and Eastern Europeans, people who until recently could not travel, due to political restrictions in their countries. They are catching up quickly, for sure, and more and more Paris is the place the whole world meets to celebrate.
In spite of the ‘bad’ weather, the holiday season is a great time to be in Paris. Right on my first night there I rushed to Theatre des Champs-Elysees to get tickets for a show I had heard a lot about: the Sara Baras Ballet Flamenco, a Spanish 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 ballet is modern, different from the traditional flamenco I had seen in the past, an energetic and passionate group, visually and aesthetically exciting. After the show I had dinner with a friend across the street, at Cafe du Theatre, where by chance the dancers were also eating. I asked when the group would come to NYC. ‘December 2008’, was the reply.
On the magazines stands around town 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 popular places required advanced reservations, but unless one really has to dine in a 3-star Michelin restaurant, the options were many and good. 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 US dollar the cost of a good meal is still reasonable.
Shopping was another deal – with the Euro so high it was more expensive to buy anything. As usual, I get good quality for less by avoiding the big stores full of eager tourists. I go instead to the charming small boutiques around Rue du Cherche-Midi specialized in one-of-a-kind items, or Rue de Passy for everything else. I also like to remind myself that it is taste that makes Parisian things look good, not expensive things. On the same token, it is the Parisians’ priorities that brings me back to their city every year.
No matter what one thinks of the French, no one can deny they 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 famous chefs were choosing to be more creative with less expensive menus, keeping in mind younger and less affluent clients, without sacrificing the quality of the food. A refreshing new trend, for sure, and it just had to start in Paris.