“Fête” means party. It also means feast, festival, holiday, and celebration. (Fans of “Wayne’s World” will recognize the expression “Bonnes Fêtes” as a less poetic, Gitanes-smoking version of “Party on, Garth.”)
And what we in English call a party animal, is in French a “fêtard,” a word I cannot even type -- let alone say -- without giggling.
And in the same vein, I guess, as telling someone to “break a leg,” one does not wish anyone a happy new year (“Bonne Année”) any time before the clock has struck twelve on December 31. Bad luck awaits them if you do. “Bonnes Fêtes” is a perfectly acceptable alternative before midnight, one that conveys your good wishes without attracting the evil eye. Even though a French person told me this a few years ago, on New Year’s Eve, I forgot all about it long enough to hex a number of people, mostly merchants, in my neighborhood.
I walked over to Laura’s at just about nine, two bottles of Lanson Black Label in tow. (The Times had done an article not too long ago on good buys in the world of bubbly. I would say the Lanson is good indeed a good buy – less aggro than Piper Heidseck, but not as delicious as Nicolas Feuillate.) The meal was delightful. Laura made marvelous roasted sea bass (sea photo, above), mashed potatoes, and carrots sautéed with fresh ginger. At one point, someone had the good sense to check the time, because we were nearing twelve. (I can’t remember if it was before cheese, but it was definitely before dessert, and before l’incendie.)
We opened a window in the dining room to listen for people counting down. There was some good-natured rowdiness on the street below. I leaned over the balustrade to see what was going on when I heard muffled chanting in a very familiar cadence, and my brain filled in the words: “Trois, deux, un….”
And what I heard after that gave me chills. It is doing so again as I type. After that, I heard the sound of thousands of people cheering all over Paris. It was like the roar of the ocean in a tiny shell, or a crowd cheering in a stadium just a bit far away. To the south I could see the edges of some bursts of fireworks in the sky. I stood there frozen for just a second, straining to hear, with a white-knuckled grip on the balustrade so as not to flip giddily to the pavement.
Across the city, there were crowds of thousands of people – on the Champs Elysées, on the Champs du Mars around the Eiffel Tower, and plenty of other gathering places, I am sure. Paris is really a small place when it comes right down it. Intimately sized for a world capital.
And in a nation that specializes in the discreet and the logical, that somehow makes a lot of sense.