CHRISTMAS TIME, FAMILY TIME
Christmas is my favorite time of the year, not only because of magical lights, fabulous food, hot chocolate with marshmallows, glamorous parties, and presents. It is my favorite because it is also my birthday. One of the most fun birthdays I ever had was spending Christmas in Paris. The opportunity presented itself when my good friend Ana asked me if I wanted to go to Paris with her and her two younger brothers, Peter and Nicholas, to visit their friend who invited them to spend holidays in France. Oliver, who went to boarding school with Ana’s brothers in the south of France, came from a very wealthy family. They owned a beautiful estate outside of Paris that looked like it came from a fairy tale. Remember when Carrie Bradshaw from Sex and The Citywent to live in Paris with her boyfriend Alexander Petrovsky (Mikhail Barishnikov)? The gorgeous clothes, the super luxury hotel suits, the food, wine, and being in love. This was how I imagined my Christmas birthday, so I packed lots of beautiful clothes and began my adventure. We were picked up at Charles de Gaulle airport by Oliver and the family chauffer in a vintage Rolls Royce, which was not a bad start to what seemed like a dream vacation. We drove through the snowy roads. Ana’s brothers catching up in French with Oliver, Ana constantly checking her make up in a hand mirror, and me looking wide eyed at the winter’s wonderland until we reached the estate. It truly was something out of a movie. Oliver’s family, their two dogs together with the butler and the housekeeper came outside to greet us. I felt as if I stepped into 18th century France; the chandeliers, the tapestries, the paintings, the furniture were beautiful. The housekeeper showed us to our rooms, Ana and I shared one, and informed us that the dinner would be served at 7:00 sharp proper attire was required. “Wow, I will really have an amazing Christmas/birthday, maybe even meet my prince charming.” I thought. Our room was huge with beautiful antique bed, the largest I have ever seen, a wood-burning fireplace that made the room glow with warmth and a golden light. We both felt like princesses getting dressed for dinner, giggling at our fortune, and making plans for shopping trip in the days to come. It was time for dinner so we came down the grand staircase. Beautiful French music softly filled the mansion (a touch of technology), fragrance of roses flowed from fresh cut flowers in perfect arrangements, Christmas decorations that seemed as if they were in the family for generations. Everything was perfect or at least I thought so.
Peter, Nicholas, Oliver and his family were having a lively discussion accompanied by aperitifs. Oliver’s family; parents, grandparents, brother and his girlfriend, two cousins, aunt and uncle didn’t speak English and Ana and I didn’t speak French so we smiled a lot and asked Oliver to translate. Dinner was fabulous non-stop wine and food, and than desert…. OMG who could resist the best desert in the world followed with after dinner drinks. Oliver’s father got up and said something in French.
“Family time.” Translated Oliver as he showed us out of the dining room and into velvet draped theater. “It is family time. We have after dinner drinks, tiny deserts, and watch movies.” He explained to us.
“What a wonderful tradition.” I said as I took a seat next to Oliver’s grandparents. Desert and drinks served, the light began to dim, and a huge screen lit up. We were waiting for a holiday film to begin but to our dismay a French version of soft porn came on. “Je t’aime” Oliver’s uncle said with delight. Ana and I looked at each other catching stunned look on Ana’s brothers’ faces. We set through the movie drinking cognac as if it was going out of style until finally the movie ended. Four of us got up, said that we were very tired after a long flight, excused ourselves, and made our way to our rooms for the night. Once in the room we laughed at a strange family tradition but decided not judge and just enjoy our time. The housekeeper left a silver tray with two delicate glasses full of amber liqueur and a dish of chocolates. We sipped flower and orange tasting liqueur, chatted about which stores we would shop in the morning, and just enjoying the warmth of the fireplace. Warm and a little buzzed from delicious drink I finally went to bed and submerged into a deep sleep.
“Nina wakeup.” Ana was whispering in my ear and shaking my shoulder. Shocked out of the dream I wasn’t sure what was happening. “I think there is a rat in the room.” Ella was whispering through her teeth.
“What?” I yelled in the whisper as I pulled the blanket to my chin. Crazy thoughts raced in my head, like “Where there more than one rat? Will they bite us? Can we make a run for the door? Am I dreaming?” But no I was not dreaming and what came next was fast and crazy. Ana grabbed a high heel Chanel boot that was next to her side of the bed and screaming at the top of her lungs smashed it on the rat.
“Putain UHHHH” man screamed somewhere very close to my ear, than the door flew open and the light flooded the room.
“Papa” I heard Oliver yell and than to my terror I saw Oliver’s father dressed in pajamas seating on our bed and bleeding from his forehead. Than waving of hands, screaming in French, Ana and I sitting on our pillows, Ana’s brothers trying to cover up Ana with their shirts, all family members talking at the same time. What was happening?
“Stop!” I finally screamed as loud as I could. “Find me a hotel room please. Are you coming with me?” I asked Ana.
“Yes of course I am going with you.”
It was after midnight, a few days before Christmas, and impossible to find a hotel room available but Oliver feeling kind off bad was calling all the places in the Paris Yellow Pages. I say he felt “kind off” because he truly could not understand why we were so upset. Finally after an hour and a half of calls he found one room with two beds for four of us. “It looks like a quaint hotel off Champs-Elysees. Are you sure you want to leave? We have so many things planned.” Oliver tried his last plea but it didn’t work, our bags were packed and we were ready to go.
Vintage Rolls Royce drove us through the dimly lit snowy streets of Paris making me feel as if we were the only people in the city. Finally the car stopped in front of pension style hotel and although it was three in the morning there was some activity going on. Two scantly dressed ladies were standing by the front desk giving us curious looks.
“Oliver what kind of hotel is this?” I couldn’t believe that he brought us to a hotel that seemed to specialize in hourly rate.
“It’s couples hotel, and this was the only room available. It is Christmas and New Years.”
We had no choice it was either hotel with the ladies of the night or a mansion with sex obsessed family. We chose the hotel. Oliver left after making plans with Ana’s brothers to meet up the next day and we finally fell asleep in our two beds in a tiny room.
I didn’t meet my prince charming that Christmas, but Carrie Bradshaw would have been proud. I walked through Paris in my beautiful outfits, ate the most delicious food, seen centuries of art, and danced. But the best of all around the corner from our little hotel there was a bakery that sold the best croissants, brioches, jam and coffee. I was in Paris and I loved every second.