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Matisse, France, Travel, Creativity, Adventure, Expatriates, Dreams, Reinvention


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Matisse, France, Travel, Creativity, Adventure, Expatriates, Dreams, Reinvention

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January 2, 2003

Presents and Parties

"Georges gave me a ravishing black velvet dress, my two childhood cakes which had arrived from Lorient just in time, a box of splendiferous ecclesiastical purple writing paper, a pound of Jousset's delicious marzipan. I gave him, in addition to his shoe-presents, one thousand Camel cigarettes, three pairs of braces, a pound of marrons, a pound of pralines and-a liter of cod's liver oil! We laughed, smoked, and nibbled, and everyone was happy."
---Liane de Pougy, My Blue Notebooks
---December 25, 1920

Our first Christmas away from home, in Paris no less, wasn't feeling too Christmasy on the Eve itself. Our tradition is to have a delicious, spirited, and sparkling dinner with champagne, oysters, standing rib roast, Yorkshire pudding, asparagus, garlic mashed potatoes, and a luscious dessert of some sort. Some friends usually come for drinks, others stay for dinner. By the time, it's over and we've cleaned up, it's 2 A.M. The next morning we're tired and excited, happy to be opening our presents-which are many though not grand. Our good dog, Snapp, is the most thrilled of all. He loves his gifts and expects them with tremendous anticipation. He can't wait to open the various treats which almost always are food. I kept the surprises of Santa Claus up until a year or two ago and still and always will fill our stockings.

On this Christmas Eve, Blair, Bret, and I went to pick up our Buche de Noel and a few more items. They had a fight (not unusual-I think we fight every year on Christmas Eve-until our party). Jim got news that we had less money than he thought, and more bills had to be paid. (We thought our fabulous house would be sold long ago, and we wouldn't be paying for it anymore, that we wouldn't be paying for living in two places. We'd already waited too long when we left. Jim's book contract was pressing harder every day, pressure on every front-to stay and to go.) I didn't know what sent him reeling until a week later. I thought it was the income tax that had done him in.

I planned for us to go to one of the beautiful florists with their enchanting displays of flowers and make an arrangement for our Chirstmas tree. We could each choose our botanical desires. The place I had in mind had big branches of holly which I wanted as my part of our collage of a tree. The name of the shop was Art et Nature. We walked in, and the woman in charge didn't speak any English and didn't do anything but pout and roll her eyes and sigh loudly and with exasperation when we tried to speak French and explain the flowers we wanted. She had no Christmas spirit. Her boss/the owner/whoever he was walked in with his finely-chiseled face and an ensemble more stylish and better than the irritated woman's. He looked like he should've been dipped in gold and stuck on the hood of a car. He was a little nicer.

If I'd had any sense, we would've left, but I wanted that holly branch-only one, since they were $8 each. Blair chose an orchid and Bret a little pot of roses. I also took two pale pink peonies and some other orange and red smaller blooms. We had a bouquet of mistletoe at home. We stopped in at a wine shop for champagne and vin at great prices, though more than the $3 bottles from the grocery store, nicer vintages.

Blair and I ran another errand before we arrived back at Perche. As soon as she heard us, Bret called down the stairs, "We can't unlock the door." Jim had shoved the wrong key in the lock, and it wouldn't turn. I sent him off to the W3, where he needed to check on a fax, before he lost it. Bret pulled a bobbie pin out of her hair and jammed it into the lock and poked and squiggled it around.-for a long time. Then I put my key in, and it clicked. Thank God. We'd already called Ruben with the dilemma, and he was on his way over. I called him back and invited Patricia and him for Christmas dinner at 5 o'clock the next day instead.

I lost my credit card (which I found days later in the pocket of my coat-I'd looked there several times, I swear). We dressed up and rode the Metro to the Boulevard St. Germain where we had a reservation at Vagenende, which had been highly recommended, for dinner. We went the wrong way coming out from the Metro and arrived 40 minutes late, though the restaurant thought it more, since whoever answered the phone had failed to write down the change in the time of our reservation which I'd called in. They weren't happy with us either. The food was wonderful-briny oysters that tasted of the sea and perfectly cooked fishes. A tart tapenade with crusts of bread was set on the table to start. We woofed it down. We were going to attend a midnight mass at Notre Dame, but the police had captured what they thought was a bomber with bombs (turned out to be okay) there that afternoon, and we'd opted out. At home, we had our Buche de Noel and a glass of champagne after midnight, but we were already too full.

Jim and I had told Blair and Bret that there were no presents this year. Their gift from us was the trip to Paris (though I'd bought them a few things when we'd been out shopping), and our gift from them was their coming (though Blair's cute boyfriend, Josh, had thoughtfully sent us a bottle of Jack Daniels for the holiday). We could all sleep late and not be rushed.

So that's what we did. There were no presents, no anticipation, no event. It seemed sad and pathetic, which is what I told my mother when I called later in the day. I think that pleased her--in the sense that yes, we did indeed miss being with our family-and sadly, the whole commercial event. (Though my argument is it's not the commercialism but choosing happy surprises for people you love, that will please them no end.)

Jim and I went out into the world to pick up our order at La Fougasse and from the Rotisserie Man. I loved that they were open Christmas Day. The French want their food nice and freshly cooked. Nothing much else happened except getting dressed and getting the table ready for dinner. Jim drew and painted decorations for our little tree which made us all happy and added a lot.

Patricia and Ruben arrived, and we popped some champagne. Over the next four or five hours, we laughed and talked and ate and decorated our tree, which became quite festive as did we. It became Christmas after all, and the lesson to us is that yes, we want to have presents no matter what they are, and yes, we have to have a Christmas party. It's not Christmas until we do.

Our Menu

Tray of cheeses: Comte, a Chevre Pyramid, and Camembert soaked in Calvados
Sausage de Canard (Duck)
Slices of Baguette

Roasted Capon with Mushroom Stuffing
Roasted Quail
Haricots Vert
Sliced Tomatoes with Basilic (Basil)

Raspberry Tart
Citron Vert (Lime) with Basilic Ice Cream

Liane's couldn't have been better.

posted by Beth on January 2, 2003 | View All Diary Entries

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