I was in Paris for the 2007 Réveillon, as the French call New Year’s eve. It was a typical winter in Paris – cold and grey, with an occasional light rain – but the city looked beautiful, all dressed up for the holidays and full of tourists. The streets of Paris always remind me of the time I worked at the United Nations – all languages represented.
Paris has visitors no matter when you go, but this time I noticed newcomers to the scene: Chinese, Russians and Eastern Europeans, people from Communist countries who could not travel abroad due to political restrictions. They caught up quickly, though, and Paris seems to be the number one place for them to visit.
Despite the cold, I find the holiday season a great time to be in Paris. So much to do! Right on my first night there I rushed to Theatre des Champs-Elysées, to see a ballet company I had heard a lot about: the Sara Baras Ballet Flamenco, a Spanish dance group performing in Paris for a short and sold-out season. I loved how modern and visually exciting their flamenco was. After the show I had dinner with a friend at Café du Theatre, across the street, where by chance the dancers were dining, too. When I asked when they were going to New York, the reply was “December 2008”.
Around town, most magazines covers had president Nicholas Sarkozy and his new girlfriend, Carla Bruni, on the covers. An Italian ex-model well-known in France, she is much younger than the recently divorced Sarkozy, but, this being France, no one seemed to care. As for Cecilia, the president’s ex-wife, no news and no magazine covers, which was probably just the way she likes it – she is said to be too private for the kind of attention a first-lady of France attracts.
The restaurants, bistros and bars in Paris were all crowded, but with a little patience it was not hard to get a table. The most popular places required advanced reservations, true, but I didn’t need a 3-star Michelin restaurant to eat well – in Paris I can have a good meal without spending a fortune, like in New York or London. Even with the Euro at $1.4 US dollar, the cost of a good dinner was still reasonable.
Shopping was something else. With the Euro high, it was more expensive to shop with US dollars, but if you know where to go, it’s possible to find quality for less. As a rule, I avoid the big Parisian department stores full of tourists, and head instead to the charming boutiques on Rue du Cherche-Midi, where I always find that unique piece that will freshen up my wardrobe. For everything else, I like Rue de Passy – great variety and prices. In any case, for me it’s style that makes Parisian fashion unique, not high prices.
On the same token, it’s the Parisians’ priorities in life that bring me back to the city every year. No matter what people think of the French, no one can deny that they have their own way of doing things. A good example: in December of 2007, a number of famous chefs in the city’s best restaurants decided to forgo applying for the rigid star system of the Michelin guide, the publication that rates restaurants in France. The ‘rebel’ chefs chose instead to focus on a younger and less affluent crowd, creating less expensive menus without sacrificing the food quality. A refreshing new trend, for sure. And – as so many others – it just had to start in Paris.
On the evening of New Year, the taxis decided to go on strike, so a fried and I took the Metro (subway) to go to a highly recommended Italian restaurant near the Eiffel Tower – La Taverna. It was a small place in the middle of a quiet residential block, but the food was as delicious as we were told it would be. After dinner, we walked slowly to the Eiffel Tower, pacing our speed to be there at midnight. It was bitter cold, but the atmosphere around was festive and romantic. When the clock turned 12 – the Eiffel Tower surrounded by a huge crowd – an amazing show of fireworks and colorful lights lit the sky. People hugged and kissed, and we heard ‘happy new year’ in many languages. It was a moment I will never forget.
We watched the fireworks for a good 10 minutes, standing in front of the Tower with a sea of other people, until the lights were off and the crowd started to disperse. The Metro going home was packed again, but I didn’t mind it. For me, just being in Paris for the New Year was a very good start of 2008.