Ferris wheels, flu shots, un paquet cadeau, meat pastries, & the Tuileries Christmas Market
Everywhere I nest, from Knoxville to Miami, New York City to San Francisco, a few times a year I find myself carrying brownies to a party on an unwieldy plate, wrapped poorly in aluminum foil. Paris is no exception. This is Champs Elysees, all lit up for the holidays, and here are the brownies — “homemade” from the Ghirardelli mix. They don’t sell Ghirardelli brownie mix in Paris, so we have it shipped from Walmart. Fancy! When you are domestically challenged, it doesn’t matter how many French cooking classes you take from the brilliant and talented Veronique — you’ll still have to resort to brownies when “something from home” is called for.
Of course, there are beautiful confections in all the shop windows. Paris pastries are always a dream, but the patisseries really bring out the magic at Christmas. There are lots of little cakes shaped like logs and beds, and pinecones everywhere.
It’s not just the patisseries that doll things up for the holidays, though. This shop on Avenue Wagram sells lots of pretty things that look like pastries, but they’re actually all stuffed with meat products. I’ll pass!
The little joy of un paquet cadeau: I did some last-minute Christmas shopping this year at my second favorite bookstore in Paris, Galignani, on Rue de Rivoli. (My favorite? Red Wheelbarrow — but with the transit strikes, Red Wheelbarrow is an hour and a half on foot each way). Galignani has an impressive English-language section. Best of all, they do what all nice Parisian retailers do: they ask if you would like un paquet cadeau. That just means do you want it gift wrapped. If you say oui, they’ll whip out the tissue and the store sticker and wrap it up for you on the spot, free of charge, like so:
Of course, book shopping makes me want to drink coffee, which is how I ended up at Kitsune, drinking coffee, eating Christmas cake, and watching the world go by.
The gloriously garish Christmas market: Where can you find kitschy Santas, funnel cakes, slabs of nougat, the calorie bomb comfort food known as tartiflette, and a terrifying spinning wheel that whips riders high above Paris at an alarming speed, all within steps of the Louvre? The Tueileries Christmas Market, of course!
Holiday listening: the wonderful audiobook I Miss You When I Blink, by Mary Laura Philpott. This smart, delightful, poignant memoir about parenting, love, and living a creative life will have you nodding your head (“Wouldn’t it be great to have all of the baby-ness and none of the boredom?”) and getting our your pen, paintbrushes, camera, or whatever your creative medium to start making things again. Listen on Audible or get it from your favor independent bookstore on Libro.fm.
The other La Duree: There are a few La Duree shops around Paris. If you’re in town, definitely skip the one on Champs Elysees and instead head to this one at Madeleine. You might get a nice spot by the window, a beautiful hot chocolate, and a cake to go with your macarons..because…if you’re going to sit down anyway…
How the French do the Flu Shot: Winter means it’s flue shot time! So you buy the flu shot from the pharmacy and when you ask the pharmacist if she can inject it she tells you to do it yourself. You start giving her, “I can’t be hearing you correctly looks,” and pulling out the high school French: “Repetez s’il vous plait?” at which point she smiles sweetly and mimes injecting herself.
Right. You manage to ask in your wretchedly limited French if there is any other way, and she tells you to make an appointment with a doctor if you can’t do it yourself, although it is clear she thinks you’re a total wimp if you can’t do it yourself. Then she tells you to keep it cool. You ask if it’s supposed to go in the frigo, or — not knowing the word for freezer, you engage in a spirited mime — and she laughs at you, because who would put the flu shot in the freezer? So you take it home and put it in the fridge, in the butter drawer, where it sits to this day.
Transit strike reality: Paris functions well, except when it doesn’t. The transit strikes have made daily life a bit raucous and unpredictable. We just tell our son that one day, he’ll get to tell his kids that he walked two miles each way through the freezing rain to school. Actually, one way. My husband has been driving him to school in the morning, which takes them round L’Etoile, the greatest Parisian mystery of them all. How do you get a few hundred cars around a 7-lane roundabout with 12 entries and zero marked lanes? Nobody seems to know. It just happens.
Christmas trees in Paris: We bought a little tree from the Franprix and carried it home. (Okay, Young Reluctant P. carried it home). I always love a Charlie Brown tree, and this one is no exception. Fortunately, there are beautiful Christmas trees all over Paris if we want to look at something a little more elegant.
Of course, when Paris just seems too much, and when you have walked as far as you think you can possibly walk to find just the right cake and a real cup of coffee and a video game to put under the tree, she will delight you. Like so:
Avoir & joyeux noel!