Ten thing in Paris that have gone all festive

Yep, like most major cities, Paris has figured out that Christmas is definitely a time to go over the top on: tourists love it, shop owners love it, electricity companies love it (well, they love charging for all of those Christmas lights!). Maybe it’s meant to be an antidote to all of the info boards warning about pollution (young and elderly people should stay inside and not do sports), faulty boilers (watch out for that carbon monoxide!)  and rapidly dropping temperatures (Suspect you have bronchitis? Phone for an ambulance!)…

10. There are Christmas markets. Everywhere. Seriously, you go to get a train, and they’re there, hanging around outside the station. You go to church (either actually to Mass, or just for a touristy gawp: I ended up wandering in on a tour of Saint-Sulpice, aka Da Vinci Code church at the weekend, and the guide was telling a story of being asked “Which chapel did Jesus and Mary Magdalene get married in, then?”, to which the priest, when asked how he ought to have replied, said “Next time, just point out any of the chapels”… Not sure what was funnier: the idea of Jesus hanging around in 17th century France, or the bemused look on the guide’s face at the thought that anyone could believe any of this), and they’re there, loitering outside. You go to take a shot of the Eiffel Tower, wander down the Champs-Elysées, do a ‘Hunchback’ impression in front of Notre-Dame (yes, I’ve seen it… Incidentally, the original French version of the book was just called ‘Notre-Dame de Paris’: it’s us English that got a bit obsessed by the Hunchback bit: not exactly very PC…), and they’re just there. It’s as though they’re trying to beat you into submission: you do want some churros and a mug of mulled wine, you do.

9. So, I understand Christmas window displays, I appreciate that they’re quite fun. What I’ve never seen before is loudspeakers attached to the window, so your designer-sunglasses-wearing bears (do people even buy sunglasses in December? Or is this the kind of clientèle that’ll be spending Christmas Day on a Caribbean island, so may well need them?) can sing and dance along to actual music. Or the funny little ramp-platform things so that children can get a better view. Well, get ’em young and indoctrinate them in cold-blooded capitalism, that’s what I always say…

8. Speaking of shopping, they must hate Christmas in the Marais. Not for historical reasons, being the Jewish quarter and all, but because their big attraction has always been being one of the few places in Paris where the shops are open on a Sunday. Except in December, when no-one else wants to miss out on capturing potential shoppers. It does make me laugh that this is always advertised as though they were doing everyone who comes to spend vast amounts of money in their shop a massive favour: a sort of ‘exceptionally open, just this once, especially for you, on a Sunday’.

7. There are rather a lot of Christmas trees everywhere. The bizarre grandstand in front of Notre-Dame has gone (what was actually the point in that? Was it purely somewhere to sit and take photos? Because if so, even for a multi-million visitor tourist attraction, that’s pretty vain…), replaced by a tree with drapy strings of lights. There is a tree hanging from the ceiling of the Galeries Lafayette (although I was disappointed to find that it’s also standing on a block, so no chance of the roof caving in and it suddenly crashing into hundreds of euros worth of perfume…).

6. There are also Christmas trees hanging from the lights on my street. The oddest part was when they were setting the whole thing up, and there were just trees strung between buildings, still wrapped up in the netting that you get them in from the tree place. Then they un-netted them and added a few strings of twinkly lights, and the whole thing looks a bit better, but I’m still not sure if it tops the little bicycles and tandems in Oxford. That said, the streets that have ‘Joyeux Noël from rue X’ are quite handy if you think you’re a bit lost, and don’t want to be as obvious as looking for the little blue street signs…

5. There is a hotel on the rue de Rivoli who blocked off half of the street one day to set up their Christmas decorations. What were they doing? Only sticking Christmas tree branches to their pillars, turning it into some kind of festive forest type thing. I admire their dedication: maybe the reason they always have two doormen stood outside is to enact immediate emergency repair jobs. After all, it’d look pretty naff if there was a bald patch!

4. My favourite view of Paris has been messed up. Completely. OK, so it’s not quite as bad as that, but it does strike me as a little bizarre that you take a city with a perfect line of monuments, little Arc du Carrousel, obelisk on the place de la Concorde, big Arc de Triomphe up the Champs-Elysées, and you stick a big wheel in the way. If you squint really hard from the top steps of the Tuileries, you can kind of make out the Arc through the big white flashing disc that’s in the way, but it’s a tiny fraction as stunning as when you get the full view, complete with enormous tricolour flag billowing away there.

3. There appears to be some kind of inter-church crib competition going on. And I’ve got to say, most of them are missing a key point: it’s all very well not putting Jesus in until Christmas Day, but no-one else should be there yet either. I mean, were Mary and Jesus hanging around in the stable for weeks? No. What are the shepherds doing lurking around, since the angels can’t yet have come and told them that the Saviour is born, since he isn’t? As for the wise men, have they even set off yet? (You can see that five years of Catholic school wasn’t wasted on me!) Bonus points for the cathedral at Metz, which has an ‘evolving crib’, so they’re still on the visitation.

2. Boulangeries are suddenly full of Yule logs. I suppose I had kind of wondered what the French eat on Christmas Day (apparently turkey, but stuffed with chestnuts), since they don’t have mince pies, they don’t have Christmas pudding, they don’t (gasp! shock horror!) have trifle… But you can now place your orders for the good old Yule log, available in a variety of flavours and serving sizes. But it must be gone so quickly! Our family Lithuanian/ Delia Smith Christmas cake lasts for aaaaages (and no, that’s not a bad thing: it got me through fifth week of Hilary last year!) Unless, of course, you shop at Marks & Spencer’s, in which case I suppose you can have an English Christmas cake with marzipan (yum yum) and Royal icing (bleurgh…).

1. The number of people selling roasted chestnuts increases exponentially by the day, so I calculate that by the 25th, there will be more of them than potential customers. Perhaps this is why marrons glacés are so expensive: all of the marrons are snaffled by these blokes with their shopping trolleys and oil drums… (Proof that selling things wrapped in newspaper is universal: not only is it the traditional way to eat your fish and chips, ignoring the weird inky blotches that rub off on your batter, but it seems to be the only way to get your roasted chestnuts). The question is a) is there a dignified way of eating them that doesn’t involve getting bits of skin between your teeth and b) what are you meant to do with the skin? Is throwing it on the floor acceptable, or does it have to go back in the cone..? Ah the dilemmas of modern life…

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