Christmas in Paris
December 21, 2005
Paris, with its illuminated monuments, buildings, and bridges, lives up to its “City of Light” billing on a daily basis. The kaleidoscope of shifting views down grand avenues and boulevards dazzles, astonishes and beguiles.During December, however, its visual splendors exceed all superlatives. It’s over the top. No place can outshine Paris at Christmas.Darkness comes early, but there is an enchanted hour just after sunset, when the hastening dusk triggers the streetlights, and the sky fills with rich color. The French call it l’heure bleu, the blue hour, “when the sky has lost its sun but has not yet found its stars.”This is not a time to remove your shoes in a hotel room for a pre-dinner rest. It’s time to join the flow of pedestrian traffic and gaze at the holiday decorations. It’s not a question of which way to look, but of which way to look first.The eye is drawn northwest up the Champs Elysées by tulip petals of lights draped over the trees along the promenade. The rows of trees curve up the long hill and converge at the Arc de Triomphe, itself illuminated. To the southwest, 20,000 lights on the Eiffel Tower sparkle for 10 minutes every hour from sunset to 1 a.m. The show stops both Parisians and visitors in their tracks. If you are enticed across the River Seine, a novel experience awaits you through the end of January: Ice skating 187 feet above ground on the Eiffel Tower’s level one, enclosed by the massive pillars.
Back in the shopping districts, specialty shops and food emporiums lure shoppers with creative displays and wafting scents of spices, chocolates and other delicacies. Bold red drums of tea fill the shelves at Hediard; salespeople carefully place spheres of chocolate into foil bags at Lenôtre and Fauchon. Even the smallest purchase is wrapped with care and respect. The major department stores compete with one another in lights and decorations, but together serve as a magnet to the Boulevard Haussmann.Galeries Lafayette boasts the world’s largest in-store tree, glowing red inside the central shopping dome. Men and women come and go, speaking of perfumes and gilt packaging on the lowest level, of soft sweaters and outrageously pointed stilettos on the balconied upper floors.Under a canopy of colored lanterns and tinsel along the sidewalk outdoors, children climb onto elevated ramps to press their noses close to the animated window displays of rival store Printemps. Their excitement is contagious, and puts smiles on the faces of nearby adults as well.The champagne fizz of the Parisian twilight will go to your head, empty your wallet and swell your heart. It’s a sensory delight not to be missed.Skating at the Eiffel Tower was a priority during Robin Smith’s business trip three weeks ago.