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Merriment in Le Marais and Montmartre

Dear Parler Paris Reader,

Christmas can be a strange event in Paris as so many French leave the city to be with family in the countryside. Many Americans head Stateside and there are always those who take their holiday in a ski resort or some warmer climate.

Normally I stay here to welcome friends who don’t live year-round in Paris and make this their holiday destination. Thousands of North Americans use this vacation time to experience the wonders of Christmas in Paris and up until that magic moment when the city empties out, it’s sheer delight.

Saturday afternoon, the last real shopping day before Christmas, the streets were bustling with activity and the restaurants and cafés were elbow to elbow with cheery diners gulping down fresh oysters and champagne. By chance I bumped into a whole range of friends and acquaintances on route home from the morning’s Parler Parlor conversation group, including Monsieur le Mayor of the district, Pierre Aidenbaum, who is often on rue de Bretagne shaking hands with his constituents.

In front of the Mairie of the 3rd Arrondissement, a white horse-driven buggy was circling transporting a jolly Santa and kids from the “quartier” sporting big smiles. I wondered how they had gotten so lucky!…I wanted to hop on and give Santa my wish list.

Just after catching a few snapshots, a knock on the window of our neighborhood café, La Pierre du Marais, caught my attention from an American couple who will be attending this Friday’s Living and Investing in France Real Estate Seminar and who were checking email on their laptop, taking advantage of the free WiFi it offers. It was still filled with activity, but by Saturday evening, the city had started to quiet down. Many folks on the buses and Métro that day were toting luggage on route to the nearest train stations to head out to their families in other parts of the country.

In what must be the reverse order from the usual, rather than venturing out during the day on Christmas Eve, I didn’t emerge from my warm cocoon of an apartment until 7 p.m. to meet up with friends for a drink and dinner. The cold mist had settled in over the city blurring the lights and dampening the bones. There only a few souls on the streets, but they were all carrying lots of packages…gifts, I imagined. Almost every shop, café and restaurant was shutting down tight. You could see the chairs stacked high and settled in for a long rest. A few glimmers of light came from the “Arab” markets — the little markets mostly run by North Africans which are the Paris version of what we know as a “Seven-Eleven.”

The Eglise Saint-Paul Saint-Louis was the only center of activity to be found as I happened upon the very moment when the priests proceeded into the church carrying a huge cross. The family mass had started at 6 p.m. and all were invited to organ music to be played at 11 p.m. in advance of midnight mass. The soft light from the candles lit within the church were casting a warm glow on the misty air.

From Saint-Paul, the Métro was sparsely populated and on the normally busy street of Abbesses in Montmartre the last “traiteur” was closing, one café was still open and one restaurant (La Moscotte), each filled to the brim with lost souls such as myself. The streets of Montmartre were deserted, but we luckily found dinner at one tiny spot on rue Caulaincourt and for the first time ever, I was totally alone riding the large elevator from the street to the platform at Métro Lamarck.

Today, only an occasional car can be heard on the streets of Le Marais as I write this. I don’t expect much more when I venture out at noon to an unusual Christmas day…having my portrait painted by friend and artist, Kathy Burke, over paté, wine and chocolate truffles.

>Happy Holidays to all, regardless of your religion or faith — ’tis the season to be jolly, tra la la la la, la la, la la.

A la prochaine…

Adrian Leeds


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