This evening I went to visit L in the hospital. She's got something that's unpleasant and serious but not chronic or fatal. Ses jours ne sont pas en danger, as the French say. ["Her days are not in danger."] Still it's never nice to be in the hospital, and I brought L some toiletries and some light reading. She didn't look as well as yesterday, poor thing. She is on intravenous feeding and was feeling nauseated, and tomorrow she has to have a nasty intervention. You're so alone in a hospital.
It's a public hospital, but not the awful kind our concierge died in a few years ago, which was clean and decent but ugly and bare, full of half-naked, destitute, toothless old people en fin de vie. This one is a teaching hospital, hushed and grand, with a beautiful garden like many Paris hospitals, surrounded by long cloisterlike arcades. L is in a large double room on the ground floor with a sweet-tempered quiet roommate and a bathroom. The ward must be mostly empty because it is always so silent when I visit. The hospital is so much nicer than I was expecting. Everything looks clean and well taken care of, although there were posters everywhere urging solidarity against attacks on public medicine. The nurses and doctors I saw were all white French people; most of the patients seem to be recent immigrants (that would include L). To my surprise, the doctor who came in to examine L while I was there spoke excellent English. He said he'd lived in the States for ten years.
I took the bus home across the city. It's very cold for Paris right now, and I had to huddle into my coat collar while waiting for the bus, and was glad I had worn my hat. It was a magical ride. Like an ad for visiting Paris. All the Christmas lights of Paris are up. Galeries Lafayette was the most extravagant. This year it's decorated like an oriental palace, with enormous Persian-carpet-like patterns of multicolored lights over its façade. Printemps next door is lit in pink and is having a British Christmas. We passed the spectacular Place de la Concorde at the moment when the Eiffel Tower was sparkling. (This started the night of the Year 2000, and was meant to continue for a year, but Parisians loved it so much that it has been continued. One year the lightbulbs were replaced with blue ones, but they were hard to see and so the regular white ones came back. A team of mountain climbers is needed to change them.) Then the Rondpoint des Champs-Elysées was there with its Christmas trees freshly set up (and their hideous artificial snow, which surprises me again every year: how is it that a people so renowned for elegance firmly believe that Christmas decorations all need a coating of white chemicals? ), and then of course the most beautiful avenue in the world, slanting uphill in a blaze of lights to the Arc de Triomphe.
But some people are eager to get away from Paris. Today I kept getting weird text messages on my cell phone, and while reassuring me that the company was just remotely updating my SIM card, the guy from the phone company and I somehow got into a conversation about Christmas in New York City. "I dream of going to New York!" he said. I told him that Christmas was the only time I ever missed New York, which on the whole I loathe, in spite of having lived there for five years. "How much would a flight cost?" he asked, and we had a long conversation about airlines and where to stay. I hope his supervisors weren't listening!
I do miss it sometimes. I miss the Christmas carols, the snow, the bustle, the Rockefeller Center skating rink and the huge tree and the Christmas tuba concert, the Radio City Christmas show, the Singing Christmas Tree at South Street Seaport, the Nutcracker and its enchanted Christmas tree, balsam Christmas wreaths with red ribbons (French ones are spray-painted chemical-snow and gold), Christmas cookies, Christmas pageants, lots of good American Yule spirit. But on the whole, I appreciate that in France, the holiday is more family-oriented, less public, less frenetic. My father used to rage against the commercialization of Christmas. Here, you can't shop all night. You can't shop on Sunday, except that in December the Grands Magasins are allowed to open on Sundays. But maybe the stress is coming here, too. The last time I went to BHV at Christmas, there were so many people that there were firemen to move people along at the bottom of the escalators. (Who are these people who get off a crowded escalator and then just stand there?) That scared me.