The Days of the Dead and the Sainted
Even though Halloween wasn’t actually until today, New York started the celebrations early taking advantage of Saturday night festivities. The line to enter Ricky’s New York City Costume Shop on Broadway was a mile long of aspiring masqueraders. The shop is like nothing Paris has ever seen…miles of aisles of costumes, wigs and accessories — anyone you want to be is achievable in New York City. Masked and costumed party-goers were already hitting the streets in force at dusk.
That evening, my daughter and I gathered a group of old friends, new friends and relatives to party with us at a French-Moroccan restaurant in Soho on Broome street called L’Orange Bleue. The owner, a Frenchman named Vincent, made it easy to organize a group with a fixed price menu including a mezze, a main course from a choice of five and chocolate cake they insist on serving with a sparkler on top. With a grand performance, they bring it to the table accompanied by a belly dancer, loud Moroccan music and quite a lot of fanfare.
The assortment of guests included a variety of Paris-related friends and colleagues, such as Elizabeth Reichert, author of the Writers Insider Guide to Paris who now lives in New York; James Grayson Trulove, publisher of dozens of architectural coffee table books as well as Paris island apartment owner/renter and one of our clients who recently purchased and is renovating an apartment on rue Saint Antoine overlooking the Saint Paul Métro, Eileen Walker.
It was a New York moment — the restaurant loud and boisterous, everyone seeming to already be acquaintanced with everyone else. Before we said our final goodbyes to leave for home, about a dozen French men wearing enormous and bulbous cow costumes entered L’Orange Bleue creating quite a “moo-ving” scene of “les vaches folles,” dancing to the music and passing beers and other inebriating substances among the party animals…and I wondered, was Paris as full of life this same night of All Hollow’s Eve?
It has only recently become a well celebrated holiday for the French — I’ve watched it grow in importance with each passing year, even though the roots of this ancient holiday are 2000 years of European-bred traditions, customs and rituals derived from an early Celtic holiday that took place at the beginning of the winter season on October 31. Spirits of the dead were believed to roam freely and on the day known as “The Day of the Dead,” living relatives would help their dead loved ones complete a safe journey to the afterlife. People would paint or carve scary faces on gourds and turnips and disguise themselves in outlandish costumes to scare away the evil spirits that were also thought to be wandering the earth that night. The Catholic Church, angered by these pagan practices, sought to eliminate them by declaring a new festival of religious observance called All Saint’s Day (“Toussaint”), a day in which every saint would be honored.
Tomorrow, on All Saints day, it is traditional to visit the cemeteries and lay flowers on the graves. It is sure to be the Père Lachaise’s most trafficked day of the year.
As I write, my flight to Charles de Gaulle is descending to a touch down in Paris. My last day in the Big Apple was bright, sunny and very warm — unseasonably for the end of October and the celebration of Halloween. I will remember fondly my five-day stay in the city that electrifies, but will be happy to be home in the City of Light.
A la prochaine…
Editor, Parler Paris
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