The French ring in the New Year with La Revéillon, or The Awakening, a huge feast that goes into a “nuit blanche,” – till sunrise. We decide it’s a tradition we’ll adopt, well, at least the feast part.
Early on the morning of December 31st, the four of us set out on foot, in the near zero temperatures with a flutter of snow, to shop. Destination: Marché President Wilson. While it’s not our closest market (that would be Batingnol near the Place de Clichy, the only 100 per cent organic market in Paris, and the only place you will find apples with spots on them). President Wilson, on the other hand, is the supermodel of food markets. Her roses are stacked high and perfectly, her seafood glistens, and her poultry comes with its elegant white head plumage intact.
In homage to the outgoing French socialist government, we decide that everyone can choose one course for the dinner to buy at the market. Charlotte decides on mashed potatoes, Emmanuelle, spinach, Murray picks a “chapon” (a castrated rooster) and I opt for a round of stinky cheese. To get to the market, we follow the elegant Avenue de Montaigne, past the beckoning window displays of Dior, Gucci, Chanel and the sine qua non of children’s boutiques, Bonpoint, where the mannequin children are flying on a Pegasus made of white feathers. We amble past the Plaza Athené hotel, with its red carpet and Philipe Starck-designed bar, and the Canadian Embassy, to emerge at Place d’Alma. It being foggy, we can’t see the Eiffel tower, but Murray often catches the sunrise through its elegant steel beams at the Wednesday morning markets. Today, Saturday, is the other market day, and the stalls stretch up to the Palais de Tokyo (one of our favourite contemporary art galleries and Monsieur Bleu restaurant). The market is a familiar scene: noisy, visceral, colourful. Unlike other more pedestrian markets, there are no vendors shouting out prices or discounting their chanterelles. Here, you must jockey for position, and some of the gentlemen farmers who preside over the stands are as famous as the Michelin starred chefs who shop at them. You can usually tell who the chefs are by the enormous quantities they buy, and how they pick through their purchases discarding anything that isn’t perfect before they are weighed. That and they fact that they do all this while talking on their cell phones. But today, everyone is shopping for their Réveillon, and the back-and-forth banter is jovial and spirited. Everyone wants to know what we are eating, how many guests, how many children. Even the guy at the potato stall needs to know what we will be using them for (pomme purée) and selects the perfect variety and weighs out 250 grams per person. Turns out he is exactly right. Murray picks out a smaller chapon, and the butchers offer to prepare it for us which involves de-feathering, blowtorching the skin, and stuffing it with a mixture of minced chicken, turkey, onions and apples. While we watch the spectacle, a fellow walks up and orders a whole hare, about the size of a large brown tabby cat, which is thrown onto a scale. He’ll take it as-is, he says, preferring to skin it himself at home. Another gentleman (on a cell phone) explains he is hosting 10 adults for duck a l’orange with dark chocolate. The butcher admits he’s never heard of the combination, but piles up 5 deeply burgundy duck breasts nonetheless, citing a 1-for-2 portion formula. Market bags overflowing with baquettes (“un trad” —traditional— I have learned to say to the baker like a local), white hyacynths and rounds of soft cheese, we head home. The butcher has instructed us to cook the chapon low and slow for 2 ½ hours, and Charlotte gets to work peeling her potatoes.
We sit down to eat at 7, when most Parisians are just contemplating their first coupe of Champagne. We start with raw oysters, using the tiny vintage silver oyster forks my mother sent Murray for Christmas and finish with strawberries and pear speared with escargot picks and dipped in a pot of chocolate fondue. Later, we play a spirited round of “real life” charades, where a popular scene is to act out Murray’s dramatic Christmastime rescue of a tiny lamb, whose head was caught in a fence and who had fallen into a ditch on Ibiza.
We caught the ball drop in Australia, and thankfully missed Mariah Carey’s abysmal lip synch fail at Times Square in favour of an early night. As tomorrow was not just a new day, but a new year, and there was chapon stock to make and ice skating to be done half way up the Eiffel tower.