My previous New Year’s experience in Paris back in 2005 involved wandering aimlessly along the Champs Elysees with one of my best mates and a previously unknown bunch of Canadians, receiving a rather unpleasant insult from a group of banlieusards, and culminated in extreme disappointment that the French authorities somehow forgot to set off any fireworks. It was a fun night… but very much a tourist’s experience of bringing in le nouvel an.
After living in Paris for a year now, this New Year’s eve promised to be a more genuine French experience… and it didn’t disappoint. My first New Year’s Eve spent speaking the beautiful French language and appreciating the finer points of French culture is a memory that will not fade quickly.
A little weary after arriving only the night before from Sydney (a rather tiring flight), I put on a brave face & ventured forth with the Froggy to the local Carrefour, a very large & busy supermarket that only the courageous dare to confront on any given Saturday, let alone New Year’s Eve. As expected, it was absolutely packed with Frenchies getting themselves stocked up for the réveillon. As was not expected, some barely-dressed Brazilian dancers were swanning around the shopping centre providing entertainment… perhaps a clever attempt by the supermarket to keep women’s frustration levels to a minimum by keeping their men-folk entertained outside???
A couple of hours and a couple of Euros later, our packed trolley was wheeled away. What followed was a lovely time of preparation, the Froggy and I working wonderfully together and independently in the kitchen to create our feast. I was responsible for the entree and dessert, he for the apero and main. Our timing was nothing short of perfect, and our guests arrived just as we were putting the finishing touches to our preparations.
It was an evening of fun & merriment. Everything went off without a hitch… our guests were well watered & very well fed. I love how the French come together around food and wine, they are the centre-piece of the social life here. Forget moving on to the pub after dinner, a good meal amongst friends consumes an entire evening. Wine is not for getting drunk, it is for being discussed and enjoyed. The odd bout of tipsyness is but a mere side-effect. Food is not created to sustain life, rather it is life itself. Conversation at a French dinner party resembles the trajectory of long boomerang throwing session, regularly coming back to which bottle of wine to open with the next course, the favours of the food, the method of cooking… the list could go on forever.
In proper French fashion, eating started at 8pm and finished around 1am. The meal unfolded something like this…
An apero of herbed cream cheese filled smoked salmon & foie gras…
Followed by an entree of aubergine, pepper, rocket & feta tart…
Then the piece de resistance – a delicious main prepared entirely by the Froggy – roast veal with comte & bacon, oven baked fish with tomato & herbs, roast potatoes & steamed asparagus…
Unfortunately the evening was punctuated by an event that made me feel sick in the stomach. Towards the end of the main, we heard an explosion and felt a slight tremor in the building. Initially we thought someone had let off a random firework in too close to the building. Subsequent rubber-necking over the balcony revealed that we were partly right. It was a firework that had been let off… in conjunction with a molotov cocktail… in a beautiful Mercedes in the parking lot downstairs from my apartment. Fortunately our guests brand new car was parked 2 cars away and escaped any damage.
The boys had a lot of fun playing heros, racing downstairs to move the car to safety. For them the evening had it all… good food, good wine… and a dose of entertainment! As for me, I was left scratching my head. What kind of person could cause this sort of senseless destruction? Nobody benefits from an act like this. But apparently it is common in the suburbs of France every New Year’s Eve. The media is now banned from reporting the figures of cars set alight in the different cities as the police found out there was actually an inter-city competition running. Sickening & frightening.
The evening was soon back on track and although we missed the official kick off of the New Year due to a case of poor timing, we put on a replay of the Sydney fireworks and counted in the New Year Aussie style. I must admit to a feeling of pride showing off Sydneytown at it’s best to a room full of Frenchies!
And then what better way to usher in le nouvel an style than with a good helping of cheese? Roquefort, marouilles, brie & comté, a good political debate… and the evening was declared a complete success. But with that quantity of cheese in front of me, it goes without saying that my first New Year’s Resolution was declared dead by half past midnight! Ah, the joys (perils) of living in France!
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