Bonne année! After a much needed, though always too short, trip home to Colorado, I am back in Paris. It is raining per usual, and it was still dark today at 9:15 a.m. We are on day 47 of the national strike, thus day 47 without public transit. And, yet, even in the dark, wet winter months, I still love this city.
There’s nowhere I would rather spend the holidays than Colorado, and I can’t image a Christmas without snow or skiing, but January in Paris is not terrible. Remnants from holiday festivities are everywhere. The streets are still lined with twinkling Christmas lights, the Grand Palais museum is transformed into an indoor ice rink, l’esprit de noël (spirit of Christmas) tea is still available at my favorite tea shop, and delicious pastries abound.
Although the buche de noël, the classic French Christmas cake shaped like a fire log, has disappeared from homes and pastry shop shelves, it was replaced with the galette des rois, or king cake. A tradition in France since the 14th century, the cake is normally eaten on Epiphany, Jan. 6, but you can buy it all month in patisseries and boulangeries. Each cake is accompanied by a paper crown, and in every cake is a fève — traditionally a bean but now often a plastic figurine. Whoever gets the slice with the fève gets to be “king for the day” (or queen I must add).
In the north of France, galette de rois is normally a circular puff pastry cake filled with frangipane — an almond paste. In the south, it is more often a brioche topped with candied fruit. Nowadays, you can find many variations — with chocolate and praline and pears — though many people swear by the classics. It is common to bring a cake to work to share for a goûtée, or afternoon snack. Although galette des rois will keep in the refrigerator, there are usually never any leftovers. It’s tradition to cut the cake into as many slices as there are people, plus one. The extra slice is given to whoever comes in next and appears to need it.
So, Paris has many ways to continue the holiday celebrations even beyond Epiphany, but it is also a perfect place to recover from the holidays. The cloudy weather offers a great reason to cozy up on the couch and read any of the new books on your 2020 reading list or to go see a matinée movie at any of the city’s many theaters.
After partaking in both of the aforementioned activities this past week, I strongly recommend going to see Greta Gerwig’s “Little Women” and Ladj Ly’s “Les Misérables.”Ly’s film is not a new version of Victor Hugo’s famous play, but rather a fictional, though incredibly visceral, story about police brutality in Seine-Saint-Denis, a suburb of Paris. As far as book go, I finally read “The Bluest Eye”by Toni Morrison, and I’m working my way through “The Best American Short Stories of 2019,” edited by Anthony Doerr. I don’t know how I went so long without reading Toni Morrison, but I am certainly happy I finally started.
My roommate and I have a rotating library and a lot of reading material for 2020. Up next for me will be “Beloved”by Toni Morrison, “1Q84”by Haruki Murakami, and then whichever one of the 10 books I requested at the American Library in Paris comes in first. Those waitlists are long, and they often only have one copy of each book so sometimes it takes months. At least I have “Les Misérables”in French (the Victor Hugo one) to get me through. At least I finally finished “War & Peace”at the end of my Christmas break. It only took two years.
Aside from reading and watching movies (and going to work, of course), my favorite activity in Paris in January remains the same as every other month: walking. Even in the rain, there’s no other city that’s quite like Paris for walking. My first weekend back, I walked along the Seine for an hour and a half with my roommate and his family. The light from the streetlamps shimmered on the water, and we watched the Eiffel Tower light up and sparkle, as it does every hour. The best year-round lights display.