Two days into December, and this city is ready for the holidays. The air is crisp, the Christmas markets have sprung up in streets all over Paris. The vin chaude is hot and delicious in the jardin des Tuileries, and since the first of the month, Christmas lights have been lit up all over the city.
The department store windows are full of stuffed bears and toy trains and Christmas stockings and presents, and the patinoire (ice skating rink) is busily freezing in front of Hôtel de Ville (open for business beginning on Tuesday).
Windows of boulangeries are filled with bûches de Noël, and the entirety of rue de la Paix is lined with fake white Christmas trees on pedestals.
Oh yes, Paris is ready for Christmas. So am I.
Last night R and I went to a really fun bar in the 11ème arondissement, before meeting a group of friends at a jazz club near her apartment. We were tipped off by her brother, who spent the year before last living in Paris, that there exists a bar near metro Ménilmontant where the purchase of a drink guarantees you a table and a free dinner.
Feeling a little skeptical, we decided to check it out. The bar (Tais) is a laid-back and funky café, filled with twenty-somethings eating and drinking to a soundtrack of Toots and the Maytals. We found ourselves a piece of bar to lean on and drink our bières blanches while we waited for a table to open up. After maybe ten minutes of sipping, we were directed to our table where we continued to sip our beers and wonder if R’s brother had been pulling our legs.
To our delight and surprise though, after maybe twenty minutes of chilling at our table, we were given plates, knives and napkins, without having seen a menu or ordering anything. The guy who brought our plates disappeared into the back and returned with a steaming platter of couscous, a meat dish to eat with it and a bowl of stew to pour over the entire meal. Not only was the food delicious, but our bill was only 6 euro – the cost of the two girl beers.
We left Tais feeling satisfied and thrilled with our new favorite bar, but somewhat confused. What kind of business can survive giving everyone free dinner every night? I guess some parts of Paris will always be kind of mysterious and magical. Don’t question it – just enjoy the couscous.
These are going to be an odd few weeks in Europe as my apartment becomes home base for everyone whose program is ending. Anyone who’s not staying the entire year is getting ready to go home sometime in the next two weeks. The UW’s Comparative Literature Paris program ended yesterday and Amelia’s host mother couldn’t keep her for the few extra days until she flies home, so she’ll be bunking with me for a few days, with the possible addition of her cousin for one or two of them.
Next week I’ll host Christina for a night before she heads off to Switzerland, and I’m keeping her luggage for the week until she returns to Paris to fly home out of Charles de Gaulle. People I know in London are packing and getting ready for regular life again, and even my friends back in Seattle are hustling to finish their work before the quarter ends.
I feel like I’m some kind of rock in the middle of all the chaos. Things are changing and ending all around me, and I’m just here. I’m turning 21 in a week, but it’s not of any consequence in Europe – besides, I’ll have such a ridiculous amount of work that I probably won’t even bother celebrating. Two of my best friends are heading back to their normal lives this month, with me as their jumping off point, but nothing’s changing for me. Work as usual – my semester isn’t even over until Valentine’s Day. And it’s about to be 2007, for Pete’s sake. Funny how my home base for all of this has shifted to somewhere in the deuxième arondissement of Paris.
So much chaos, and none of it is mine. I think I’ll just keep living on, listening to my Christmas music, enjoying the lights that decorate the city and eating my free couscous.