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Christmas Version II | Jack Siler
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A Christmas Story

Version II

After Sarasota’s growth to a major city, I moved to Paris where Thanksgiving was unknown and few Americans lived there then. It still usually snowed before Christmas and there was the magic again. The holidays were filled with parties, friends and major dinners centered around fabulous cuisine – not a turkey in sight! In fact, turkeys back then were hardly known and no one knew what I was talking about when I said cranberries. I once went to THE gourmet food store, Fauchon where they were famous and had all sorts of exotica from around the globe and found a can of Ocean Spray cranberry sauce.

The French colonial wars had just ended and until 1968 France was still the “Old World” and the world’s center of art and artists. It was magic every day and the Christmas-New Year period was still one of warmth, families and friendship. I had great new friends who invited me into their family for the holiday feasting and, yes, during a fantastic dinner the French really do discuss food seriously, starting with the one they’re eating and then others of the past and the ones to come.

I’d received my visa to enter France in Denver and struck up a friendship with the young French woman at the consulate. Her sister, Collette, a Sorbonne student, was there on a visit and was the only person I knew when I got to Paris on December 21. Collette was the first of many people I met for whom death and WWII were still very fresh in their lives for it had only ended 15 years before. Both of her parents had died in the concentration camps. Her life was in the student quarters designed by Corbusier in a far suburb, Antony. She invited me for a simple Christmas with some other students who had no family and nowhere to go. Delighted as I was to be in Paris and with her, I only remember it as simple and tough.

The following year, though, was very different. I was thoroughly integrated into Paris and its life in the Latin Quarter. I knew many people, had lots of friends and had met Patrick Betaudier, a painter from Trinidad who would be like a brother for the next 46 years. He knew many of the painters in the Quarter and I knew those he didn’t. My recollection of my first independent holiday season was not the Christmas dinner. It was New Years Eve and we were walking through the Tuilerie Gardens with the garden’s old, stylish street lights on and lots of Christmas twinkled and blinking from the streets. It snowed and the large flakes reflected it all. A hush descended on everything; sound had been stilled by the falling snow.

I had walked into a fairy tale. We approached where the party was, in an apartment above the arcades of the rue de Rivoli. We could see people dressed almost formally, talking and dancing not only where we were headed, but in other apartments in that fabulous row of buildings, unspoilt by the centuries. There were no cars on the street and it was my first experience of feeling that I had walked through the mirror into another century. Something magic had happened and the New Year came and went, but something had changed forever.