Christmas Cannot Be Cancelled

With my work finished for Christmas and to celebrate Sadie’s birthday, we decided to go to Paris for a couple of days for a cultural trip and to visit Sadie’s brother.

As lockdown returns to many countries the sense of deja-vu dominates our thoughts at this time, as a year ago we were desperately trying to make sure we could travel to France, to our new home and life, before the Brexit deadline.

The tragedy and farce of how the UK government is handling its current COVID crisis are too familiar and I feel relieved to be off the island and living in mainland Europe with relative freedom to travel.

Perhaps I have a false sense of freedom as I know many friends and families have been forced to scrap their holiday plans, and it looks like Christmas will be cancelled itself in many countries due to the rampant omicron variant.

The situation in Paris was fairly normal, as long as you have a vaccine pass and we were left to roam the city at our leisure.

We stayed in the hip Montreuil area of Paris, where Dan, Sadie’s brother, lives with his partner. He was on his own until Christmas, desperately trying to get his two children over to Paris from the UK, but to no avail because of the freshly imposed travel bans

He took us for dinner on our first night to a very trendy Algerian restaurant close to his house, after Sadie and I had enjoyed Champagne and cake on her birthday in the fashionable Marais district of Paris before a look around the expensive shops.

The next day I had reserved tickets for the new David Hockney exhibition at the Musée de l’Orangerie in the Jardin Tuileries. I left Sadie at Les Halles to shop and walked to the gallery on my own.

Paris is such a paradox, it is much smaller than London and walking the city is easy. But it is not as cramped or congested as London. I once read that the wide boulevards, squares and public spaces were not for the benefit of its citizens, but so the government could quickly mobilise troops at times of civil unrest.

Hockney’s A Year in Normandie exhibition unfolds along a narrow gallery like the Bayeux Tapestry, starting at the onset of winter where he paints the local countryside and his gardens and ending back in full winter.

The paintings were created on his iPad and then printed out by the gallery and there is a wonderful live and spontaneous feel to the work.

Also on show at the gallery is a permanent exhibition of eight of Monet’s water Lillies, which Hockney references in the book, Spring Cannot Be Cancelled, as an inspiration.

As a bonus, there was also a fascinating joint exhibition of work by Soutine / De Kooning and the influence of the former on the latter.

While Sadie met with friends and contacts, I headed over to Gare de Lyon to visit my favourite barber for a classic, Italian haircut. I discovered him in October when I was last in Paris for work, and he remembered me — and I promised to return when I was next visiting the city and in need of a coiffeur.

I can’t remember the last time we went to the cinema, but showing in the Montreuil picture house was a version original of the new West Side Story adaptation by Steven Spielberg that we both wanted to see.

The movie is a hyperreal experience, staying close to the original, but exploding onto the screen with breathtaking scenes that transport the viewer back to 1950s Gangs of New York.

In the provinces and rural areas of France, it is hard to find an undubbed showing of a new film so we seized the opportunity and had a memorable evening at the pictures.

The next morning we visited a local Christmas market and enjoyed a glass of mulled wine, the smell and taste of which brought back other memories of the same time last year when we were working our arses off on Sadie’s mulled wine stall in Richmond, saving money for this new life that we are enjoying here in France.

We drove back later that day on uncongested roads and under a wide-open sky. As the sun went down a full moon revealed itself guiding us south and into the long dark night. When the sun rises it will begin its journey north after the winter solstice and we will have come full circle on our journey.

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On 1 January 2021, the UK left the EU. On 30 December 2020 I left the UK with my wife to start a new life in France … here’s what happened next …

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Tony Jemmett

Tony Jemmett

On 1 January 2021, the UK left the EU. On 30 December 2020 I left the UK with my wife to start a new life in France … here’s what happened next …

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