Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Snowflakes that stay on my nose and eyelashes

A few short weeks ago, Paris looked like this:
Your steps crunched, and there was that earthy smell of decaying leaves that always reminds me of the scratchy feeling of new, back-to-school sweaters and the slick coldness of pumpkin seeds that slip through your fingers when you scoop out their fibrous innards:
However, although the official start of winter is still several weeks away, Paris has unofficially made the transition. To start with, it's been really cold (by temperate Parisian standards, at least-- what zee hell is with these below freezing temperatures this early in the year?). I'd wager even the Frenchiest of the Frogs has been giving his cigarette break a second thought, rather than brave the chill. We've also already had days of snow with decent accumulation (by Parisian standards this means any accumulation at all, but still!)

The first snow I saw was two weeks ago, on a student excursion I lead to a marché de noel at La Défense, Paris' financial district (you can see the iconic "Grande Arche" in the background of this photo). The light flakes are a bit hard to make out, but they began falling just as started to sip on our mulled wine, and they made for a perfect atmosphere to sample pain d'épices (gingerbread) and do some Christmas shopping:

A few days later, on a Wednesday evening, it snowed a little more. I had the good fortune to have time for a stroll through the Champs de Mars before I hurried off to my English tutoring appointment, for a family that lives just beside the famous Tour Eiffel:Then there was this past Saturday, our first significant snowfall. I was playing tourist with some visiting friends at the time, so I got to admire the snowy French countryside from the window of the RER C, and then tromp through the snow with the other shivering tourists to pass through the gilded gates and into the chateau of Versailles:

Seeing the snow-blanketed gardens was definitely the highlight of the trip:

My next snowy encounter was yesterday, when it made for a slightly annoying, wet-socked commute to and from various appointments. My walk through a snowy marché de noel on the Champs Elysées en route slightly made up for it, however:
This frosty bear was on the side of a crêpe booth where I grabbed a quick raclette (pre-mixed potato and ham fondue) lunch:
It was good weather for marrons chauds (roasted chestnuts), sold from carts up and down the market streets (and elsewhere in the city, sold by hobos who roast them over empty drums in shopping carts):
The manège looked particularly picturesque in the snow:
And then today it snowed again; fat, floating flakes that stuck and quickly formed inches, then melted into slushy puddles that soaked the calves of pedestrians and stole the friction from cars. I'm all for the change from the standard gray skies and cold drizzle of Parisian winters, but I have to admit that the snow is getting a little old. The walk from work to the métro at lunchtime, only about an hour after the snow started, was already pretty miserable:

I felt particularly bad for the folks who, like this guy, relied on bikes or motorcycles for transport. The métro was a particularly inviting alternative on a day like today, which is to say warm and carefree (although the above-ground lines, like the 6, seemed to have problems).

The contrast between the snow on the awning of a produce market and the tropical fruit on display made me chuckle:
From my apartment I could spy a few children making the most of the shared yard behind their complex to throw snowballs and do cartwheels in the powder:
By the evening, when I was heading to tutoring, the snow still hadn't stopped and the situation was becoming pretty hairy. Commuters huddled on street corners, trying to determine the path of shallowest puddles from one curb to the next and avoid the patches of ice as the slush began to refreeze. Cars that had stopped at lights slid around the street trying to start again. The elderly eyed the ground warily, treading cautiously with their canes. I was twenty minutes late to tutoring with the time the trudging added to my commute, but by the time I emerged two hours later the snow had (happily) stopped.

When I finally got home, I was greeted by a jolly bonhomme de neige next to the café outside my front door:
I wondered if he had been created by the same children I had seen cartwheeling earlier. I smiled at the sight, feeling slightly guilty for my Grinchy anti-snow attitude, and marveled at the curling puff of my breath through the chill night air as my numb fingers fumbled for my keys.

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