Last week snow was falling, snow on snow, in Paris. The international press (when it hits the Toronto papers you know it is Major News) even reported that the Eiffel Tower was temporarily closed because of it. Unimaginable! Well, actually, not really. Think of all those images of Paris in the snow by painters such as Alfred Sisley, Maurice Utrillo, and Gustave Caillebotte. Quiet streets covered in white. Snow on the bridges and barges along the Seine.
Our all-time favourite image of Paris sous la neige is the print by Henri Rivière, part of his 36 Views of the Eiffel Tower (1902), created in a Japanese style and inspired by 36 views of Mount Fuji.
Paris doesn’t have ice and snow every year, but it happens. The Seine even freezes up on occasion. Here’s an image from 1830 of people happily skating on the river.
So snow is hardly news. We were once caught in a snow flurry in Paris in December, which cut short a planned walk in Montmartre. We beat a hasty retreat to a café where we indulged in a winter favourite – vin chaud. This is the French version of mulled wine, available in most cafés and bistros in winter.
Here’s a recipe for French vin chaud. It will keep you warm inside when it’s cold outside.
1 bottle of red wine (a fruity type, preferably)
1/3 cup of cognac
1/3 cup of brown sugar (or more…experiment)
Zest of one entire orange
4 whole cloves
3 or 4 cinnamon sticks
Put the wine and cognac into a pan and heat. Once it is good and warm, and if you are feeling particularly brave, hold a match to it and let the cognac flame off. Or leave it be and enjoy the extra warmth. Lower the heat and add the sugar, orange zest, cloves, and cinnamon. Let it heat through for another ten minutes. Strain and taste. If it is a bit overpowering, water it down a bit. Serve it in glass mugs if you have them.
We’ve enjoyed it with lunch, or as a before-dinner warm-up, or an after-dinner wind-down. It goes well with a croque Monsieur, or some savoury appetizers, or dessert (such as gingerbread). Bon appetit!
Meanwhile, the snow has stopped in Paris. We arrived yesterday, and today the sun is shining. We have a flat overlooking the Boulevard de Port Royal, which for some reason functions as 2 two-way streets side by side (that is, there are east and west lanes on the north side of the street and yet more east and west lanes on the south side of the street). We have already seen several close shaves as pedestrians, bicyclists and motorists negotiate the intersection below the windows. Hours of entertainment to be had just watching the scene unfolding.
We shall have more to say about this neighbourhood as we discover it, but for now, we would like to wish a very merry Christmas to all our readers and subscribers. Joyeux Noel! Meilleurs voeux! And for those of you who know about and understand Norman’s fascination with large black birds, here is a special image from our Paris photographs for the holidays.
Text by Philippa Campsie, original photography by Norman Ball.