Tuesday, November 3, 2009

As the leaf turns

Autumn in Paris has always been a treat for me. I love the changing colors of the chestnut trees; I love the crisp, envigorating air; I love the spicy smells of autumnal things like chimney smoke and wet leaves; I love quiet Sunday strolls through fragrant woods. I also love the soulful melancholy that accompanies all of it. November, a time of transition between the burnished richness of autumn and the first soft chimes of Christmas bells, is indeed upon us and in no time at all I will be humming Handel airs beneath my breath while crunching through the leaves on my way to work.

Last weekend was Halloween, a sad little holiday that came and went nearly unnoticed in Paris this year. I’ve never seen the French get overly excited about October 31; it seems to be an American export that never really found a serious following among the Gauls, who class it alongside Valentine’s Day as a commercial (read: American) holiday for the unsophisticated masses. This year, however, was even more of a non-event than usual. Blame la crise économique if you will, but I didn’t see so much as ONE tiny little nod to Halloween in the Parisian streets. Not a single jack o’ lantern, rubber spider or orange and black motif to be found. No, this time around the French seem to have skipped right over Halloween and gone straight to Christmas. Bizarre to enter the neighborhood Monoprix supermarket in the middle of last week and find it bedecked with over-sized decorative gift boxes, the ceiling strung with Christmas ornaments in fuchsia and black (I believe they’re reusing last year’s color scheme, incidentally. No doubt further fall-out from la crise).

When I was a child, Halloween was first runner-up in the Best Annual Event category (first place naturally belonging to Christmas). It wasn’t dressing up that I looked forward to so much as the gleeful saccharine orgy that accompanied said dressing up. I should specify here that our mother raised my brother and me on a strictly no-sugar policy, knowing full well that sugar (alias “white death”) leads to cavities, hyperactivity and all manner of other evils. Thus, all throughout our childhood we were given a regimen of fantastically healthy food that had little in common with what the normal neighborhood children were eating. While they happily sucked away on Tootsie Pops, we had to content ourselves with a bizarre sugar-free variety, whose surprisingly chemical lemon flavor I can still conjure up if I try (*shudder*); instead of fruit roll-ups, we got relatively tasteless 100% fruit leather (“fruithide would have been a more accurate name); in place of chocolate chip cookies, we munched on carob raisin bars, and so on and so forth.

Yet be that as it may, Halloween was always the one time of year when my mother would put aside the tofu and allow us to take part in a ritual that went entirely against her naturopathic instincts. I reveled in the spoils of Halloween until I had reached an age when dressing up and begging for candy started to feel weird, at which point I abandoned it to the same “I’m too old for this now, but I wish I werent” domain as pet mice and 25¢ slime. Since then I may have donned a costume once or twice for the occasional eccentric (very French) party, but just between us I cannot dress up without feeling perfectly ridiculous, even after a few glasses of wine. Maybe I have unresolved issues with Halloween.

This year I turned 30, an event that many face with anxiety, loathing, or even mild depression. Not me. I have found my entry into a new decade to be liberating. For one, it has granted me a sudden sense of legitimacy as a real adult person. And as an adult person, I decided this year that it was time to celebrate Halloween differently. I thus devoted the entire evening to a more elegant form of decadence than heaps of candy or barrels of chardonnay. Instead, I popped over to the nearest Pierre Hermé boutique, a veritable temple to the sugar gods, where I bought six perfect miniature French macarons, a specialty for which this particular pastry chef is known throughout France (and undoubtedly beyond). Upon returning home, I ran myself a lovely hot bubble bath, artistically arranged my macarons on a little plate, put on some background music and cracked open the half bottle of chilled champagne that I had been saving since July. It was, as the French would say, awesome.

Conclusion: I may have found a way to re-market Halloween to 30-somethings. But if not, at least I can find comfort in knowing that I have created a new personal tradition that will provide me with an excellent reason to cherish October 31 once more.

1 comment:

  1. Well written, very entertaining. Yes, I do miss the old days of candy and as you put "saccharine orgy." LOL. I'll keep reading, you keep writing!