Paris for New Year’s Eve. Et pourquoi pas? This was our incentive and reward for sticking with the French courses we’d signed up for in September. So, on 31st December we arrived in Paris early afternoon and booked into our modest 2 star hotel for a 3 night break. I’m not a huge fan of New Year’s Eve and in recent years we’ve tended to stay in, listen to music, drink a bit of fizz and catch a few midnight fireworks from the living room window. As our Paris trip approached I did a little research into the 9th arrondissement, where our hotel was located, but we decided as far as the Big Night was concerned, we’d play it by ear.
We had time once we’d checked into the hotel to walk up to le Musée de la Vie Romantique and check out our quartier on the way. Apparently the 9th is the new Left Bank and a hot destinations for bobos. The charmingly named Museum of Romantic Life is more accurately concerned with the 19th century Romantic movement. It’s housed in an 1830s villa, set back off the street, with a pretty courtyard garden that must be even more attractive and welcoming in the summer. The ground floor displays memorabilia, documents and portraits relating to George Sand, who was a frequent visitor to Friday evening salons held at the villa. There’s a cast of her right forearm and hand, next to a cast of Chopin’s left hand. Display cases of rings, pen nibs, postcards; a locket with a few strands of her daughter’s hair, another with a lock of Sand’s silver grey hair. In another room, a series of imaginary landscapes painted by Sand using her dendrite technique. Upstairs there are paintings by the house’s original owner, Ary Scheffer, and others of that circle. I’m not familiar with George Sand’s work or most of the other artists featured, but still found the displays fascinating and at times poignant. Being in a space where other people have lived, debated, created work; treading creaky floorboards and peering at tiny nineteenth century handwriting; there is something special about this experience.
As night started to fall we explored the neighbourhood a little more, noting the long queues outside the pâtisseries on rue des Martyrs, and more worryingly, how many bars and cafés were either closed or starting to close up. Café M on Place Kossuth was still open, so we ventured in for an apéritif or two and Nick picked up a new French phrase: un baron for a 50cl draught beer (we’re talking English style apéritifs here). Night fell, and so did the rain, and crowding in came those external-yet-internalised pressures to have a Fantastic Time, an Amazing New Year. Je ne suis pas stressée, I repeated to myself. On our way back to the hotel for a sensible rest we bought some sensible baguette and sliced cheese in a supermarché, and ate our improvised sandwich au fromage watching Sir Simon Rattle conduct the Berliner Philharmoniker on the ARTE channel. Thus calmed and refreshed, we headed out again. The rain had ceased. The streets were quiet. We walked as far as the Canal Saint-Martin, which when we visited in July had been buzzing and packed. Now the quais were deserted. The bars we’d frequented shut. Atmospheric, but perhaps a little eerie for even a low-key new year. We tracked back into the 9th. Where were the bobos? All partying at home, it seemed. Up the happening rue des Martyrs, which was not happening on Saint-Sylvestre. At last we came across a bistro that was open, neither empty nor rammed, and whose friendly staff were not phased by two parched vegetarians pitching up at a quarter to eleven. Merci, Auberge du Clou. We shared a chicory, walnut and blue cheese salad and the dessert cheese plate, washed down with un baron for Nick and une coupe de champagne for me. I made no resolutions but we discussed the year ahead, what we have to look forward to, what to focus on, steps we can take to stay fit and healthy (touch wood), and how to reduce stress levels and sleep better, which probably means doing less, going out less (a hard goal in London). As midnight quietly crept up, the barman furnished us with deux coupes de champagne. We heard some cheers from customers upstairs, a few toots and horn blasts outside, and the waiters and le patron wished us bonne année. Cheers, Paris, and bienvenue à 2014.