Téléphone maison

For me Christmas is about being with family. Like ET, I want to phone home. But when half (in our case, the bigger half) of your family is on the other side of the Atlantic, you have to make choices. I’ve posted before about feeling pulled in different directions when it comes to the year-end celebrations.

“What if we just forgot about Christmas and instead went somewhere warm by the sea?”

The idea came up when visiting Toronto last year. For once, how about we just forget the turkey and the tinsel and pack a suitcase instead? We have to pack anyway, and spend several hours on a plane, so why not indeed?

This year we are heading to Curaçao, along with several members of my Canadian family. It is a bit of a one-off. Never before have I been so close to South America. Never before have I spent Christmas in a sunny destination. I am curious as to whether I’ll miss the snow (but I rather think not…) but I am sure of one thing: it will be memorable. And the older I get, the more I realize that life is all about making memories.

I am saddened that we could not get everyone in my family to come but heartened that my Dad, who recently celebrated his 85th, will be joining us. House and home in France along with our ménagerie of bulldogs and cats will be cared for by our reliable service of travelling seniors who come to stay while we’re away (a wonderful concept for anyone here who needs a pet-sitter by the way — if you’re interested, ask me for details).

Wishing you all a wonderful end to 2017, wherever you are, filled with love and joy, and a bright start to the new year. Looking forward to catching up again in 2018!

Holiday hugs and grosses bises à tous mes blogging buddies!

 

Dans la joie et la bonne humeur

Foie gras - don't tell my daughter!
Foie gras – don’t tell my daughter!

Something strange happened when I hit the supermarché last week. The store was busy with shoppers but they seemed oddly unhurried. By the entrance the homeless fellow selling his ‘Sans Abri’ newspaper seemed rather upbeat. I may have glimpsed smiles on people’s lips as they flitted about the aisles, loading bottles and nibbles into their baskets. Une animatrice talked a joyful patter while selling off seafood at half-price as shoppers milled about. I believe I even heard Bing Crosby crooning out a seasonal melody over the sound system.

Qu’est-ce qui se passe? I wondered, filling up my cart as usual (after all these years I’ve never lost my North American habit of stocking up). Christmas is past and the sales haven’t started so what is everyone so happy about?

Then the cashier wished me a ‘bon réveillon’, leaving me scrambling to reply in kind. That was it! New Year’s Eve, the one day of the year you can be sure the French will be smiling.

As I posted way back when I first started this blog, I’ve never quite understood why the French are quite so enamoured with New Year’s. Beyond the big blowout on the 31st, there is real sentiment in France around the fresh start in January, and a feeling that our good wishes must be shared with all those we love.

Having neither party nor family to attend to that evening, we booked a table at a restaurant in town – our go-to solution for le réveillon. The few restaurants that are open on New Year’s Eve near us all offer un menu spécial – a fixed price, multiple-course affair with a glass of bubbly to start. After all the cooking and fussing over Christmas, I was happy to ring out the old year with someone else doing the service.

Death becomes her
Ghost of New Year’s past
New year's dinner 2016
Who can resist such artful presentation?

Out of respect for our feathered friends, and our daughter, who is studying to become a vet and has become rather militant about cruelty to animals, we had decided to henceforth abstain from eating foie gras. But when the restaurant had already gone to so much trouble to prepare such a lovely plate (shown in feature photo above), graced with truffle and onion compote, it seemed too cruel not to do it justice.

There followed a dish of white fish floating in a lovely sauce, then medallions of beef filet with a few veg for good measure and two desserts. By the time we got to the end I was feeling silly and playing with the table decorations.

Baubles from the table

How’s that for a bit of bling?

It was a fitting conclusion to a month of over-indulgence. The smiles are still on the faces of the people I pass on the street, probably at least until the end of this week. After a few more wishes of good health, and a slice of galette des rois, quite possibly accompanied by a few more glasses of champagne, it will be time enough to get back to normal.

‘Dans la joie et la bonne humeur’ is an expression that means, quite literally, ‘with joy and good humour’. I’ve often heard it used with a degree of sarcasm, however, referring to the need to pick up the plough and carry on with a smile. New year’s oblige.

Bonne année à tous!

Boules de Noël

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It’s almost Christmas and around here that means a bit of sparkle. Here in France, our sapin takes pride of place by the window, hung with lights and garlands and boules de Noël.

One of the mysteries of the French language is why decorations are always called ‘boules’. Christmas balls is a decidedly unfortunate English translation of what we would simply call decorations, rather like the little lamb’s balls from this post of blog years past.

Not having much of a mind for history, I was nonetheless consumed by seasonal curiosity to wonder about the origins of ‘boules de Noël’. Wikipedia reveals that the tradition goes back to the 16th century when the first Christmas trees were decked out in natural bounty like fruit and nuts. One day an inventive glass-blower from Germany had the idea to create balls of glass to hang on the tree. When drought brought a shortage of apples one year, the tradition of ‘les boules’ came to France via the northeast region of Les Vosges.

Our balls are duly (and not dully, as a French colleague of mine used to write), dusted off and hanging in all their shiny splendour from the tree. They are not just pretty but provide a reminder of how fragile are such celebrations. They hang upon a thread of close-knit families, traditions and good health. They depend upon good will towards one’s fellow man and a bit of bounty to share with one another.

I love Christmas but struggle with what we put around it. The gifts, the decorations, the feasting. The squandering of time and money, the stress to get the right things and over-indulge.

And yet there is a core idea of purity around Noël that I cling to from childhood: a fresh field of snow, a star in the sky. A carol sung with joy, familiar faces at the door. A warm fire with a drink waiting inside. A full heart when a fond wish is granted.

I’m off in search of that holiday magic for a couple of weeks. May your days be merry and bright until we meet again next year!

 

La crève

La creveJ’ai chopé la crève.

Caught a nasty cold. None of your average, run-of-the-mill sniffles for me. I do things with gusto.

Interestingly, this French slang word for ‘rhume’ finds its roots in the verb ‘crever’, meaning to pop or burst (as in a flat tire) as well as to pop one’s clogs or kick the can.

It started on Christmas Eve. A low-grade flame in the chest, nothing more. I was fine for the first couple of days, amped by holiday spirit and frequent doses of champagne and single malt. But by Monday last week I was flat out. Coughing up a storm and a head so injected with fluids I had to breathe through my mouth while applying multiple tissues to my nose. It felt like I was drowning.

I hadn’t had a cold like that in years. What the heck happened? Random bad luck or the year-end flushing out of various demons? A few days before I had been to a concert in a church, a place where I would normally never set foot unless to sightsee. I am a sucker for Christmas music, though, and was also scouting out a choir to join in the new year, one of my resolutions to do more things that bring me joy.

Next to me in the crowded church sat a woman who was snorting and hacking away, clearly in the throes of a miserable cold but oblivious to the fact that she was spreading germs while ruining the concert for others with her coughing. It is not done in France to avoid people with colds but after half an hour I couldn’t take it any more, so I got up and moved to the back. The damage was done, however, as 48 hours later I came down with the same symptoms.

The French don’t suffer sickness in silence. They run to the doctor at the first symptoms for a prescription and then to the pharmacy for a boat-load of drugs. Unfortunately they also don’t keep their cold germs to themselves. People go to work and social events with full-blown symptoms which they’d be better off hiding under a blanket for a few days.

I didn’t go to the doctor, nor take any drugs beyond a bit of paracetemol. I am no martyr but I don’t believe in miracles. La crève requires bed rest and plenty of fluids, which is what I gave it (mostly without alcohol). A week later it is almost gone.

So I am starting out the new year with renewed health, and a determination to stay that way. A couple of dry weeks, plenty of garlic and ginger, early to bed and lots of exercise. And if any of you have colds, please stay the hell away.

How’s your health this season? Please share your tricks and tips for keeping the cold germs at bay!

Noël chez nous

Christmas treeThis Christmas we are staying home for the holidays. Seems like every year at this time I get all dewy-eyed about home and what it means to me. So here goes…

Over the years of living in France, Christmas is the one holiday that I have been militant about celebrating the same way as we do in Canada. This is purely cultural: we are not churchgoers or believers in anything other than Santa Claus.

I cannot speak for all French people, and there are strong regional differences especially in the Alsace, but the ones I know do not make the big deal of Noël that we do. As soon as December rolls around, I find myself compelled to decorate the house, bake cookies and listen to Bing Crosby. Within the family we exchange lists and buy gifts for each other, wrap them and put them under the tree on Christmas Eve. We hang stockings and fill them with so much stuff they inevitably fall down. The next day the house is filled with mess and chaos and over-indulgence. Personally, I would not have it any other way.

Here in France the traditional celebration takes place on the 24th. The children receive their gifts at the end of a long ‘repas du reveillon’, during which Père Noël is supposed to have mysteriously done his magic. When my kids were small I refused to do it this way partly because it seemed like torture to keep little ones up so late, only to crank up the excitement with gifts just before they were sent to bed. Also because I am the biggest kid in our family and could not have managed to calmly sit down and enjoy a fancy dinner with presents in the offing!

My beaux-parents never made a big deal about Christmas. They were happy to come to our house and follow the Canadian tradition. And yet every year we went through the same charade of me having to explain to them what would happen when, and they were inevitably lost when we went to bed early on the 24th in anticipation of the big day.

It’s been three years since we moved into our ‘new’ house and it’s only just beginning to not feel new anymore. The stairs are nicked and the walls are scuffed a little, the dogs have peed on the floor enough times to remove any illusion of pristine newness. Perhaps most importantly, we have made enough memories in this house for it to begin to feel like home.

This feels like the first real Christmas here in our new home. The first year was still very unsettled as we had only moved in October and barely had time to unpack our decorations; the second was consumed by the tragedy of my Belle-mère’s untimely passing just a few days before Christmas. Last year we travelled to Canada to visit family in Toronto. Now, finally, we are home for the holidays together here in France.

It is looking like it will be a green Christmas this year. We had a bit of white a few weeks ago but for now the temperatures are mild. No matter. We will light the fire and nibble on shortbread, sip champagne and listen to holiday favourites like this one.

Et vous? Will you be home or away this Christmas? How will you celebrate?