Once the outside of the house was done we put a tree (which we didn't buy at the florists because we were too cowardly), decorated it and the rest of the interior by hanging decorations and boughs from the raw beams, on the ragged brick fireplace and on the not yet plastered walls. Our windows have tiny panes in them and most are curtainless, so the golden glow within was easily observed from without, and the house looked like a fairy tale dwelling, standing out starkly from the shops and apartments around it, which were more modestly decorated. We knew it was appreciated because we saw cars slow down and necks crane, and more than one person came with a camera and stood out front clicking away.
I have always baked a variety of cookies for Christmas and being in France didn't change that, even with the wealth of bakeries at our fingertips. I am a firm believer in tradition - ours and others - and I didn't see how it would be Christmas without Christmas cookies. Joe and I took an afternoon to mix, roll and decorate. Then we filled several gaily decorated cellophane bags and delivered them to the florists, the cafe owners, the crew at Chez Clet, Brigitte from the gift shop, and the family who ran the real estate agency across the street, along with an explanation of their place in our Christmas tradition. I was taking Claude's suggestion seriously.
Two days before Christmas, while I was baking, Michael was working and Joe was playing in the chilly entryway, Joe ran to get me. "Mama, there's someone at the door, those two ladies," he said with his lisp. I went to the door, wiping my hands on my apron. Michael, in his studio, had heard Joe and he emerged as well. It was dark already, and I switched on the outdoor light and opened the door. There, framed by the light in our doorway, were the twin sisters, a huge bouquet in their hands. They didn't say anything and just stood there. I was stunned and unsure of what to do, so we had a stand off for a moment, then they handed me the bouquet.
I had tears in my eyes and they did too. Michael, standing back just a bit, was equally moved. We didn't say anything. Finally, I said, "Merci," and they said simply, "Bon Noel." They handed Joe a little gift, shook our hands and were gone. We stayed in the doorway looking after them.
I looked at Michael, who looked back at me. "The rolls and the cookies. They worked," he said, smiling. We all felt as if a miracle had occurred, a cultural breakthrough that would improve the quality of our daily lives. Our first Christmas on Rue Tatin could not have offered us more.
That Christmas was a watershed, and none of us has ever looked back. Over subsequent years we've developed a close relationship with the florists, and found them to be warm and loving neighbours. Year round they bring us bouquets of flowers that they can't sell but still have many days of life in them. I take them cookies, or cakes, or whatever I am baking when it's something really special. Their grandchildren come over occasionally to play with Joe and even nice to Jonquil, their German Shepherd, though in my heart of hearts I am sure she is going to attack me one day.
Ironically, last Christmas found us urging them to store their Christmas trees in our backyard, as their usual storage area was damaged. It's easier now, of course, since we all know and appreciate each other, but still I had a quiet laugh about it.
Monday, December 23, 2013
Christmas Quotes: Christmas on Rue Tatin
Today's quote comes from On Rue Tatin, which is a book about the author moving to a small town in France. It wasn't all smooth sailing, especially with some of the neighbours!