It’s Christmas Eve 2010, but it is taking place in February 2011; a Tuesday night. Snow doesn’t appear to fall in flakes, instead it falls in blankets. Looking out the window, the mountains of white are growing quickly every five minutes. This, to say the least, is a New England blizzard.
In the background the Home Alone soundtrack plays on repeat with brief, merry, interruptions from Bing Crosby and David Bowie, Frank Sinatra, and Gene Autry. This is our Christmas wish – Cath* and I – to have a white Christmas. We are celebrating together, just the two of us, as we agreed on the plane to Europe back in December.
It was going to be my first Christmas away from family and both of our firsts outside the country. The plan was to see as much of Europe as possible in six weeks. I had just spent the summer of 2010 studying at Cambridge while Cath was back home pulling ten-hour days and occasionally meeting my mom somewhere close for a movie or dinner. But while in Cambridge, through emails and video chats, we determined that we would return during my winter break. And we were going to hit up as many places as possible. From England, on to France, then back up to Scotland, then over to Ireland, then back down to Italy (Florence), and then Spain before connecting in England and flying home.
And plans change the night before the flight out.
What we do end up with is six weeks across England, France, Italy (Venice, Florence, Rome). But it is in France where I want to push to see literary landmarks – mostly that of the expatriates of the 1920s. I relate to them, in some way. I am in France the week of the biggest holiday across the globe. I know that on Christmas Eve, my parents are racing. They’re getting the last few gifts and the final fixings for the following days dinner. Cath and I spend it at the Louvre.
“It’s a Christmas miracle,” Cath says.
We’re walking down Rue des Acacias. We’ve spent the whole of Christmas day in bed watching American Christmas movies in French and German – not understanding a word of it. Cath points ahead into the lights of an avenue. On the corner, lit in red, is a Pizza Hutt. After walking up and down the various streets, becoming dismayed by restaurant prices and offerings (Cath is a vegetarian), we welcome the thick dough and sweet canned tomato sauce. We laugh. We return to the hotel feeling victorious. Upstairs in our room we eat as much as we can stomach and wash it down with cheap corner store wine. Feeling warm we head down to the hotel bar. Cath orders Bailey’s and I order gin. Then we make use of the free mulled wine the hotel ladles out. We speak to an American couple, Seattle by way of California and Boston, who just spent their honeymoon in France. They are our age and for a minute it feels like we could be anywhere in any bar. Expatriate or not.
In the morning the street is quiet save for one or two small groups of people heading off to see relatives.We spend it in the hospital – The American Hospital of Paris – because I have a shocking moment in the bathroom and a recommendation to drink more juice and water; as well as the use of suppositories for the next six days.
But that is a much different story.
The story here now returns to February 2011. The Christmas music gently falling from the speakers, the kitchen smelling of Cath’s vegetables, squash,mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce and tofu – sliced with rosemary, slices of lemon, authentic maple syrup, and soy sauce. We also bought French red wine to remind ourselves of what we now missed. Earlier that day we wrapped our presents (in separate rooms), hung fleece socks on the staircase, and decorated the tree; a house plant that Cath put lights and fake holly berries on; topping it with a silver ribbon. We drink hot chocolate and watch Tim Allen’s The Santa Clause.
As we dose on the couch we reminisce about Europe. We talk of how cozy England feels in the winter. I think of that, but also the noise and cold in London and the grey dust that builds up in your nose from the city air. I know that Cath is thinking of cozy cottages blanketed in snow. A fire and delicious food. And then, I am there too.
*Names are sometimes changed to keep anonymity.