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 occasional light rain, but the city was all dressed up for the holidays, and full of people from every corner of the world. The streets of Paris always remind me of the time I worked in the United Nations – all languages represented.
In Paris there are tourists year round, but I noticed newcomers to the scene: Chinese, Russians and Eastern Europeans, who until recently could not travel, due to political restrictions in their countries. They caught up quickly, and more and more Paris is the place they choose to visit first.
In spite of the cold, the holiday season is always a great time to be in Paris. Right on my first night I rushed to Theatre des Champs-Elysées to see a ballet I had heard a lot about: the Sara Baras Ballet Flamenco, a Spanish company performing in Paris for a short and sold-out season. Their flamenco is modern, visually and aesthetically exciting, quite different from traditoinal flamenco. After the show I had dinner with a friend across the street at Café du Theatre, where by chance the dancers were eating. When I asked when they were going to New York the reply was “December 2008”.
On the magazines covers around town I saw Sarkozy and his new girlfriend Carla Bruni, an Italian ex-model well known in France. She looked much younger than the recently divorced Sarkozy, but this being France no one seems to care. As for Cecilia, the president’s ex-wife, no news and no magazine covers, which is 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 I could always find a table anywhere. The most popular places required advanced reservations, for sure, but I didn’t need to have dinner in a 3-star Michelin restaurant so my options were many. This is actually something I love about Paris: I can have a very good meal without spending a fortune, like I do in New York or London for comparable food. Even with the Euro at $1.4 US dollar, the cost of a good dinner was still reasonable.
Shopping was another deal. With the Euro so high, it was more expensive to buy anything, if you carried US dollars. As usual, I get good quality for less by avoiding the big stores full of tourists and going instead to the charming small boutiques around Rue du Cherche-Midi specialized in one-of-a-kind clothes. Or to Rue de Passy for everything else. I also like to remind myself that it is taste that makes Parisian goods exceptional, not price.
On the same token, it is the Parisians’ priorities in life that bring me back for more every year. No matter what people may think of the French, no one can deny that they have their own way of doing things. A good example was the fact that in December of 2007 a number of famous chefs in the city had decided not to apply for the rigid star system of the Michelin guide – that rates restaurants in France. They were choosing instead to cater to the younger and less affluent crowd with creative and less expensive menus, without sacrificing the quality of the food. A refreshing new trend, for sure, and it just had to start in Paris.