We had planned to spend the Christmas weekend in Paris, but for various reasons, not least amongst them the fear that the government might ‘cancel’ Christmas at the last minute, we changed our plans and spent last weekend there instead. This turned out to be a good move. It was cold but dry and sunny, and there was a festive atmosphere, with Christmas markets everywhere. Despite the cold, bar terraces were crowded – customers making the most of the overhead terrace heaters, which are scheduled to be banned after this winter, although the hospitality industry, already suffering from the effects of Covid, may appeal for an extension to this period.
While in Paris, we went to the Musée d’Orsay, which I last visited about thirty years ago. Then, I had to queue for about half an hour despite having a reserved ticket. This time, we walked straight in and were able to stroll around almost-empty galleries – a real treat.
It’s still a wonderful place to visit, but so many Impressionist images have now been commercialised that it sometimes seems as if you are looking at an exhibition of table mats and screensavers.
We also visited Victor Hugo’s house in Place des Vosges, finally reopened after being closed for nearly three years. It’s a fine place to pass an hour, it’s free, and once again it was noticeably quiet when we visited.
There are seven rooms decorated with Hugo’s furniture and artwork as well as paintings and sculptures depicting scenes from his work. In one room, whichever way I looked, Quasimodo seemed to be staring at me. When I pointed this out to Madame, she said she often felt like that at home. The Scottish sense of humour is still something of a mystery to me.
Quasi : “The bells! The bells!”
The rest of the weekend was spent, as they nearly always are, happily mooching around the streets of the Marais, the Île Saint-Louis, and Saint-Germain. Much as we love Poitiers, if we were ever to win the lottery, I think we’d buy a large first-floor appartement here, ideally somewhere along the Quai des Grands-Augustins, with a view of Notre Dame. Actually there’s a three-bedroom one for sale there, right now, a snip at €3.7 million. I shall buy an extra lottery ticket this weekend.
The view from what will ‘almost certainly’ be our new appartement
Actually, if I wait a little while, I might save myself a euro or two. Property prices are dropping in Paris, not by very much, but it’s the first fall in many years, the reason being that the recent rise in teleworking has led many Parisians to seek a change in lifestyle. They have been selling up in order to go and settle elsewhere: on the coast, in the countryside, or in cities where the air is cleaner.
Not that it was required, but this has given the rest of France yet another reason for loathing Parisians. Since the start of the health crisis, wealthy Île-de-France residents have been criticised for taking advantage of their gargantuan purchasing power to buy or rent in the provinces, sometimes without even bothering to visit the property. This drives up prices and prevents locals from finding affordable accommodation. The Seloger.com website recently published a study on the rise in prices in destinations popular with Parisians. In Saint-Malo, for example, they have shot up by 39 per cent in three years. In Biarritz and Bayonne, where they’ve risen 35 per cent, banners have been appearing at roundabouts: ‘Parisians, go home, you are the virus of the Basque Country.’ Not very Christmassy, I grant you, but you can see their point.
So, Christmas will be spent quietly at home here in Poitiers. A wise choice, as it turns out, even if it was more luck than judgement. I feel very sorry for those whose plans involved people travelling between France and the UK, as this is now only possible for ‘essential’ reasons. Sadly, these do not include wanting to pull Christmas crackers while eating your own weight in Quality Street.
In France the big festive meal is eaten tomorrow evening, Christmas Eve. Madame and I have taken the easy route and ordered ours from L’Essentiel, a local restaurant. Normally I would grumble about having a takeaway for Christmas, but we’ve had several meals from them before, and they’ve never let us down. Here’s the menu:
There will be fizzy stuff and red wine. There may well be digestifs. Midnight Mass remains an option but will probably be avoided on social distancing grounds.
The rest of the holiday period will be spent trying to get through mountains of unread books and magazines, and watching things on TV, preferably British, in black and white, and featuring Alec Guinness, Terry-Thomas, or Alastair Sim (ideally, all three). There may be walks before lunch; there will definitely be naps afterwards.
It could be a lot worse.
What I’ve learnt this week:
Victor Hugo made detailed erotic drawings of all the women he slept with.
A human liver can grow back even after 75 per cent of it has been removed.
Locust swarms move so fast because each locust is trying to eat the one in front and avoid being eaten by the one behind.
A very merry Christmas to everyone. Hopefully, I will see you all next year.