Deep underground, at a stop somewhere along the line four of the metro, a busker strums a guitar and sings while a group of young men bounce along and run small laps around him. They make it a mission to get passersby to dance along. One passionately, drunkenly shouts on repeat, “Ça c’est Paris!”
This is Paris.
I like to imagine Paris in winter is the true Paris—the one after the vacationers have packed up and jetted off to the southern hemisphere. When life goes on as usual, if you can call anything about living and working in a place as beautiful and romantic as the City of Lights “usual.” Left beside the locals, you wander misty, poetic boulevards—scenes that have fueled so many bohemian dreams.
The beginning of December catches the holiday spirit in mid-swing. String lights and bulbs drip from café awnings. A giant wreath is cranked into place inside Notre Dame Cathedral. The windows of the Galeries Lafayette department store jingle and whir with mechanical puppets, capturing the gaze of the youngest shoppers. Christmas trees, bound up in plastic netting and teetering on log bottoms line the sidewalk, and Parisians carry their decorations down the street, making a beeline home. The trees are small by American standards, fitted for tiny apartments and to ease the journeys up so many elevator-free stories.
Châtelet villages pop up, most trading in kitschy trinkets and odds and ends, all selling traditional vin chaud. Everyone drinks the spiced wine, including the police officers grouped in a small circle. They hang their automatic rifles to their sides, sipping a steaming cup.
In a city that takes its customs seriously, it’s not uncommon to see baguettes sticking out of backpacks and purses, or a man riding a bicycle while puffing a pipe. There’s a warmth to their way of life, and Parisians still defy bone-chilling weather and sit outside sidewalk cafés with a glass of wine or beer.
To a visitor, touring Paris is like finding yourself on an endless theme park ride, where nothing is spontaneous and the narrative must reset for the next customer. Here’s the organ that happens to be playing in a 900-year-old church for an audience of five. Next up, the couple embracing in the middle of the sidewalk, unaware of the world’s existence. Don’t forget your pigeons, huddled around a croissant—a holiday feast! Finally, while sitting at a little table (eating a little foie gras), in a little restaurant, on a little street, it snows. It snows magical, giant, movie snow—and even the locals stop to watch.
Ça c’est Paris.