With the stricter security measures in place, I left at 1:30 for a 5:20 flight on Wednesday, but it was smoother than ever to get through Washington National, I checked my just-under-the-weight-limit bag, and zipped through security in less than 12 minutes. So I had about 3 hours to spare, chatting on my cell for more than 2 minutes, wirelessly downloading books for my kindle, grabbing my last American meal for a few months at Five Guys, and eavesdropped on all the conversations in English, things I can't do in Paris.
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The flight was quick, I had a nice nap and a good conversation with the archeologist sitting next to me on her way to surprise her French boyfriend for New Year's Eve. She was shocked that I even tasted the airline dessert, German chocolate cake, but it was the best thing on the tray. I read a few New Yorkers (thanks, Regina), and she confessed to being intimidated by my reading material, but she was deep into The Elegance of the Hedgehog, a book I have tried without moving past the first 20 pages.
I am embarrassed to admit this next part, but what the heck, as Jack would say. As I got off the plane, I hurried to immigration, to beat the rest of the passengers, but after a panicked check of my purse realized that I didn't have my passport. I ran back, sweating in my winter gear, begged the passengers in line to cut in front of them, and a French TSA agent retrieved it from the seat back pocket where it had fallen. I do always travel with a photocopy of it, but I really didn't want to spend the day sorting it out. I had managed to smuggle an entire bottle of Diet Coke with Lime, which DOES taste different from Coca-cola Lite with Lime. I have priorities.
The Girls at the Party
I dropped off my bags at my apartment, and met my landlord's friends who were taking advantage of my 6-week vacancy. It was nice to see the old place before I headed out for New Year's Eve with Rebecca, she was making bread for a party at the "favella" - the slum apartment where 6 or 10 culinary students live. The accommodations might be dicey - mattresses on the floor, tiny spiral staircases and ceilings so low that even I bumped my head coming out of the bathroom - but the food was spectacular. New England clam chowder was the best starter and the main course was beef and mashed potatoes loaded with huge chunks of truffles. The two pieces of meat were cooked slowly for hours, making them almost melt in my mouth, and when I asked what they were, the answer was beef cheeks and tongue. The tongue was a little mushy for my palate, but I liked the flavor. If you see beef or veal cheeks on a menu, order them -- if cooked correctly, they taste better than filet mignon.
Rebecca and I had planned to leave the party for the congregation at the Eiffel Tower, but we didn't finish dinner until almost 11, and then when the hosts showed us the view from the roof, we decided we couldn't possibly improve it by leaving. At 12:59, we counted down the last minute of 2009, in Spanish, of all languages, it was the mother tongue of most of the guests. As we got to dos, uno, then Bonne Annee (back to French), the bells of Notre Dame chimed, the Eiffel Tower sparkled, fireworks popped from all angles, and I could see Sacre Couer shining up on the hill. We added our own special effects: photo flashes, champagne corks popping and yelling Happy New Year in any language. The rooftops were deserted, it seemed as we were the only Parisians celebrating last night.
French Gingerbread Cookies - I decorated the green tree
After we climbed back through the window, happy to be safe from the cold and the sloping 6th story roof, we had dessert - Tiramisu and tequila shots! After decorating christmas cookies, a Charlie's Angels photo shoot, some salsa or meringue dancing and an 80's hairband power ballad sing-a-long, Rebecca and I headed to the metro around 4 am, which although free earlier in the night, was now closed with a long line of revelers waiting in vain for taxis. Just as we were trudging back to the party to call a cab, Rebecca tried one more cab at a stop light. He agreed to take us home for 20 euros, about double the usual fare, but we were happy to pay, and at another red light, a girl banged on the window for him to take her home as well - reminiscent of a zombie movie. We found out later that the metro had been closed because of too much traffic from the Eiffel Tower and Champs Elysees areas and the police set off tear gas to clear the crowds.
A good sleep later, and breakfast made by Rebecca - scrambled eggs with bacon and onions with bacon studded brioche, I finally made it back to my own neighborhood around 6 pm, passing the happiest-looking homeless man in my metro - snuggled in his blankets, smoking, and finishing off the last of his bottle of champagne. Only in Paris.
Here are my pathetic provisions from the corner store, almost nothing is open for the next few days.