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Xmas In July

photo: place vendome

Now for something a little different.

Alone with 23 Cézannes

Paris:– Bastille Day:– Wednesday, 14. July:– Watching the sky carefully doesn't make it any more blue, but maybe it keeps the gray wool from turning into rain. It is warmer than it's been, it's like July under a gray blanket. It is not perfect for fireworks on the Champ de Mars. I have seen it worse. Much worse.

Remembering some of those other times, I watch the clock carefully. Fitting on the Champ de Mars with 350,000 other fireworks fans won't be difficult, but getting onto a Métro train to get there might be. I leave early, and go down Gaïté past the sex–shops and theatres to the station at Edgar Quinet.

The Métro's line 6 is being renovated between Raspail at the Place d'Italie. This means the train I wait for has only picked up passengers at Raspail, to carry them west. When it arrives only standing room is left. After clearing Montparnasse, there is no standing room. After Pasteur, there is no room.

As is pretty usual, many of the riders are amateurs. It is not easy climbing over them and their elbows to leave to train at La Motte. They probably think they can ride all the way to Bir–Hakeim and then find a nice view on the bridge or beside the Tour Eiffel. People who do that successfully go four hours in advance, not 45 minutes.

All the café terraces at La Motte are as full as the Métro was. Armies are marching north on the sidewalks and at Suffren they're not waiting for the green man to cross. People thread through the parking lots and then spread out on the Champ.

Forty–five minutes early and the huge place is full, side to side and front to back. All sitting on the grass, thousands and thousands. Even the Place Joffre in front of the Ecole Militaire is full – usually only in nice weather and only after the show has started.

I do a tour to find a clear view for the camera but the best I can do is three lines of heads in front. Over to the south, where I first was, by the basketball courts there's a space between the trees with a lot of Tour Eiffel showing. I plant myself. There is lots of room. Looking over my shoulder it looks like armies are still arriving.

Forty minutes later I am one unit in a crowd thicker than on a Métro platform during rush–hour at Châtelet. There is a guy in a wheelchair in front who I hope won't stand up, but he is gradually submerged.

On the button, lights up! The Tour Eiffel quits glowing golden and becomes red, lit from the ground. Music begins, and photo: lafayette christmas tree the tower is illuminated with another color. Somewhere behind rockets pop in the lower sky. Only a few shoot really high. The tower's color changes, and so do the fireworks. The audience applauds. The colors change again, more rockets go off, and there's more applause, but less.

After 30 minutes it seems to be over. It wasn't a grand classic, but it was Bastille Day. Now to escape. At once, 25,000 break for the exit. I am following my own advice to get back to the Métro at La Motte as quickly as possible. The wide Avenue de la Motte Piquet is full from building front to building front.

Christmas in July – thank you Galeries Lafayette!

It hardly seems possible that the leaders are already on a train, not if they watched the whole show. At the entry gate there's a people–jam. It takes ten minutes to pass from the street to the stairs of the overhead Métro.

The train, when it ambles into the station, is not full. I must have made good time to beat those who would get on at Bir–Hakeim, and Dupleix. More, who have walked a bit further, climb aboard at Cambronne.

Later, unravelling the photos, I am amazed again that anything have been captured. Snagging fireworks isn't a sure thing, and getting jostled while doing it makes it doubly chancy.

I feel so good that I send one photo and a note to Alan Pavlik in Hollywood. This is what comes back:–

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Alone with 23 Cézannes

Zut alors! Forgive the spelling. This puts me in mind of the Bastille Day that Con and I spent in Paris five years ago. One of the very best days of my life.

In the afternoon of the 13th, we visited the new Opéra to see if there might be tickets for that evening's performance of Verdi's Don Carlo, and oui! – excellent seats were to be had for reasonable prices. We went back to our tiny hotel room on Ile Saint–Louis, gazed at the Seine and the hind end of Notre Dame from two corners of the room, took a quick rest, found a wonderful Algerian restaurant near by l'Opéra, ate well and lightly, and arrived early to watch the swells arrive in their swank clothes. The opera was wonderful – it featured two basses, and the production was magnificent, with a genius set and perfect acoustics.

When we came out, people were setting off firecrackers all over the Place, climbing onto the statuary, and cheerfully waving open bottles of wine at everyone. When we got back to the Ile, we stopped for yummy crêpes and chatted with a pretty young French couple from the suburbs who were delighted to practice their English on us. Then we wandered over to the bridge and mingled with the low–key latino–ish dancers at the Communist Party party – guys with beards and pipes, gals in long Indian print skirts. Across the river, another party was in full sway –disco lights and dancing photo: window, bon marche madness, not the least of which was to the Village People's 'YMCA.' We could hear it all throbbing in our hotel room. Things settled down about 3 or 4, except for the melancholy accordionist right below our window. He continued until dawn.

Oh! Ah! Delights at the Bon Marché

We got up early enough to get to the Musée d'Orsay in time to be among the first ten people on line – we couldn't get in the day before because the line was too long. We headed directly for the top floor where the Impressionists are hung. Well, their paintings are, actually. I spent about 45 minutes alone with 23 Cézannes. He's my favorite all time painter. Our time together was a peak experience.

Later we found out that the Parisians, and many other tourists, were over at the Champs–Elysées viewing the tanks roll by. Ours was, no doubt, the better day.

Before our visit, I had no favorite city. Now, like so many others, it's Paris. Paris. Ah, Paris.

Bonny in Boston

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Kids Ten Deep with Big Eyes

Perhaps from living in foothills of the Santa Monica Mountains out here in Los Angeles, between the Mojave and the Pacific, with the damned palm trees and everything, my wish is to resume, one day, my practice of doing my Christmas shopping in Paris in the first weeks of December. A few flakes of snow in the air on the Boulevard Saint–Germain in the early evening, a cognac at the Flore, dusty warm bookstores in the afternoon, the booths with Christmas junk at the outdoor foire near Les Halles – and Bonnie, just like when we were little kids in Pittsburgh, there they still have the animated Christmas displays in the department store windows just north of that amazing opera house – puppets and such and kids ten deep with big eyes. No malls.

My memories of Paris in the summer are of being too damned hot and hearing far too much Japanese spoken. Bastille Day is a fine time. December is when I miss Paris the most.

Alan Pavlik, Editor ofJust Above Sunsetand its companionSunset Blog

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Just Licking the Windows

This posting captivated me, of course. Absolutely transported me to a place of wonderful memories. I too have gone Christmas shopping in Paris – the last time was in 1999, I think. Somewhere around December 15.

To be honest, I was a little disappointed with the Christmas windows. I guess I'd heard so much and imagined so much that they were bound to be a let down – I honestly think Barney's photo: window, printemps does a better job here in Chicago. I did like the hot pink tinsel discs that Printemps hung from the trees, though, and the Arabian nights thing at Galeries Lafayette last year looked pretty interesting when I saw it in November. They also did something pretty cool with mother–of–pearl discs suspended from the trees.  

Printemps' window once upon a Christmas

We must both remember that the sun goes down about 16:00 in December. And it rained the entire time I was there. It was almost impossible to walk down the Grands Boulevards, because there were people and umbrellas jostling each other everywhere. Quelle bousculade!

I spent a lifetime buying a bottle of perfume for my mother in Galeries Lafayette, queuing at la caisse, queuing again to retrieve the perfume. BUT BUT BUT I mention all these things only to make the point that I loved every crowded, soggy, black minute of it.  

The Champs–Elysées at 3:00 a.m. – oddly quiet, little traffic, a light snowfall, and those wonderful lights in the trees. I was there to visit the préfecture de police – my purse had been stolen, and the insurance company insisted on a report. It was the only prefecture that was willing to take a report on a Saturday night.

My friends later teased me about taking them to 'le plus chic préfecture de tout Paris.' The mad frenzy in Dehellerin with people out buying fish knives and paté tins before the holiday. The wild game in the restaurants, and the wonderful mushroom dish the Petit Marguery always serves in the fall.

Cognac at the Flore, to be sure, but also their hot chocolate which is some of the best in town. The Couturiers de la Nature boutique on the Left Bank doing wonderful, surrealistic things with dried flowers and vegetables. Marron glacé ice cream with cognac at Berthillon. Pain d'épices. Cassoulet. The fantastic displays at Hédiard and Fauchon. All the creative funky little shops in the Marais selling their Christmas wares – it's a treat just licking the windows, as they say.  

Guignols. With the exception of some of the obvious places like Shakespeare and Co., I missed the dusty warm bookstores. Damn. I can't think of a more pleasant way to spend an afternoon. But have you ever been to the place on the Left Bank that sells only first editions of Jules Verne? What a city. I've been to Paris in both July and December, and I far prefer December, too.

Sally in Chicago

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A Kletzmer Band

I don't know the Jules Verne store.

And you're right about the windows. I guess I liked the amazed little kids more. Heck, one little guy grabbed my sleeve and kept pointing to the Printemps window – he was grabbing everyone's sleeve. He was all excited and just happy. It was good to see. I may be an old cynic, but it was good to see. His parents just shrugged and smiled.

December 20 or so in 2000 – just outside the Samaritaine front doors in that little triangular square – a half–Dixieland half–Kletzmer band at seven in the evening blowing up storm for the passing shoppers and all of us just grinning.

Yes, it is dark and gray and damp – and fine. In the Hemingway sense.

Alan

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Doing a Touristy Thing

On one of the three or four times I visited Paris – I forget how many. The one moment that most stands photo: champs elysees out in my memory was the most recent, in 1985, sitting at a table in a café at the head of Pont Neuf – is that right? 'New Bridge,' yet built back before the lizards ruled the planet?

I was watching the cathedral across the way while I had in front of me a plate of hard–boiled eggs and mayo – a cholesterol bad dream that still makes up two of my favorite food groups – and a nice bordeaux, a third. I knew I was a tourist, sitting in a tourist place, doing a touristy thing, but I've always known since that we are allowed to do that sort of thing in Paris, and without shame. I'm sitting in my kitchen now, getting that itch to visit again.

On the Champs–Elysées in December

The nicest thing I've heard about France in recent times is that the French are not nearly as aware of the famous animosity between our two countries as we are, or else they don't really care. To me, that says volumes in their favor, god bless 'em. Wisdom endures.

Rick – the News Guy in Atlanta, who does theCity Directory – Atlanta

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Looking a Bit Huffy

The Bastille Day thing above all not to be missed is the Communist Party party Bonnie mentioned, at which we saw numerous tall, gaunt pipe–smoking men box–stepping around with small women in longish dresses. This was at the end of the bridge onto Ile Saint–Louis, on which we were staying, and the evening air of Paris was blue with dialectic and dignified rhumbas. At the other end of the bridge, as Bonnie maybe said, we saw thousands of people flinging their arms in time to 'YMCA.' The plebs, no doubt. Notre Dame was looking a bit huffy, but then it always does.

Con, also in Boston

Speak French? Speak it Better!
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