Letter from Paris: November 29, 2023 News Digest

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Letter from Paris: November 29, 2023 News Digest

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas around the French capital. Shopping streets are strung with lights, the avenue des Champs-Élysées is showing off its illuminations (actor Gilles Lellouche presided over this year’s inauguration event), Christmas markets are popping up, and the grands magasins — the historic department stores — have unveiled their magical animated shop windows. At Le Bon Marché, giant bears are getting gourmet at the “le cabaret des baguettes,” while Le BHV Marais has created a forested winter wonderland, and Galeries Lafayette Paris Haussmann teamed up with the Atelier Bournillat to “tell the tale of a little girl, her magic paintbrush and all the wonderful characters they meet in their adventures.” Don’t miss the Giant Christmas Tree, an annual tradition under the Art Deco dome, created by designer Charles de Vilmorin.

The spire is back! For those wandering in central Paris yesterday, it was a sight for sore eyes: the new spire has been affixed to Notre-Dame cathedral. Four years after the devastating fire, the reconstruction project is advancing at superhuman speed, and the silhouette of the beloved landmark is recognizable again. The cathedral is slated to reopen at the end of 2024.

The countdown is on to the Summer Olympics 2024, and Paris authorities are looking to set tougher restrictions on short-term vacation rentals. As reported by Barron’s/Agence France Presse, “The French capital hosts the Games between July 26 and August 11, and many locals expect to cash in by renting their apartments on online accommodation services such as Airbnb and Booking.com. Short-term rentals are already highly regulated in France. In Paris, only main residences can be freely rented as furnished tourist accommodation. The property has to be declared to the town hall and can only be let for a limit of 120 days per year. The rules are even tougher if the property is a second home. But authorities fear that Parisians will violate the legislation to profit from surging Olympics prices.”

Le Cordon Bleu at the Hôtel de la Marine

Did you know you can now take a cooking class at the Hôtel de la Marine? The Centre des monuments nationaux, which manages the glorious monument-museum on the Place de la Concorde, has teamed up with Le Cordon Bleu, the prestigious school of culinary arts and hotel management founded in 1895 to promote French gastronomic savoir-faire. Starting November 21, 2023, the chefs of Le Cordon Bleu Paris – including several Michelin-starred personalities – have been offering cooking, pastry and oenology workshops at the Hôtel de la Marine. If you’re visiting the monument, you can also take advantage of a new combined ticket that includes a culinary demo.

Cycling in Paris. (C) CC BY 2.0

Walking around Paris recently, you may have seen ads for a future referendum on sports utility vehicles (SUVs). The city government wants to deter them from the center of Paris by raising parking fees. A citizens’ vote on the proposal will take place in February. As reported by Reuters, “Since SUVs can be hard to distinguish from other models, City Hall wants to introduce higher parking fees for thermal engine cars weighing over 1.6 tonnes and for electric vehicles over two tonnes. To determine a car’s weight, scanners will read its license plate, which links to its model and weight… Under Mayor Anne Hidalgo, Paris has for years raised pressure on drivers by increasing parking costs and gradually banning diesel vehicles, while boosting the bicycle lane network in the congested capital.”

Ridley Scott’s long-anticipated Napoleon movie is now out in the movie theaters, though it’s getting panned by critics, who bemoan the historical inaccuracy (among other things). A New York Times article notes: “French critics considered Ridley Scott’s new biopic lazy, pointless, boring, migraine-inducing, too short and historically inaccurate. And that’s just to start.”

Meanwhile Agnès Poirier writes in The Guardian, “I took my seat expecting a masterful take on French history. Instead, we got an industrial-grade sex-and-battles disaster.” There have been dozens of Hollywood cinematic interpretations of France’s great heroes— from Joan of Arc to Napoleon— but there were particularly high hopes for this film. Alas. In Poirier’s words: “Ridley Scott meeting his Waterloo on the screen is not a pretty sight. His Napoleon inspires in the French viewer a festival of emotions in quick succession: sadness to witness such a colossal missed opportunity; excruciating pain to hear such inept dialogue; bewilderment upon realising that Scott doesn’t seem to have bothered to pick up one history book to check, well, historical facts; sleepiness right into the umpteenth battle scene; boredom listening to the chronological crash course of a script, which is so dire it lacks any semblance of a storyline; and gratitude when Napoleon blows out the candles, kindly sparing us another romp with Josephine.”

Speaking of Napoleon, a black bicorne hat worn by the emperor was sold for the record price of €1.932 million at a recent auction at the Drouot auction house. As reported by DW.com, the hat “was initially expected to fetch € 600,000 to 800,000.” Black and made from beaver felt, the hat has “the colors of the French flag — blue, white and red — on its insignia [and] was previously owned by French businessman Jean-Louis Noisiez who passed away last year… The record was last broken when another of Napoleon’s hats was sold for €1,884,000 to a South Korean businessman in 2014.” The auctioneer said that Napoleon owned 120 such hats in his life.

Equestrian portrait of Napoleon I, 1810, by Joseph Chabord (1786-1848), oil on canvas. Wikimedia commons/ Public domain

Lead photo credit : 'My Dream Christmas' in collaboration with Charles de Vilmorin at Galeries Lafayette Paris Haussmann

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