My partner, David, and I, as is comme d’habitude, generally spend Thanksgiving in Europe. It’s a time here in this country that seems more and more like a week off.
I remember when leaving work early on a Wednesday afternoon prior to the four-day holiday was a luxury — sneaking out for an almost five-day break from the tedium of employment. Some years, when I had my beach house, I headed to Amagansett on a Tuesday night. Then it became Tuesday afternoon, to Italy, the ad agency I worked for at the time quiet as a library. And then, off and away on the Monday of Thanksgiving week, the days before that Thursday, dead.
The people who were around probably had nowhere to go. Those of us with places to go and people to see were already gone and seeing them, making Wednesday, touted as the busiest travel day of the year, spread out over a handful of days before.
A week off. Blissful, really. No gifts to buy. Just food. And more food. And leftover food.
I myself do not work anymore. For me, every week is a week off. What I do is write. And not just here, elsewhere. Published! Books in the works. I write with a glass of red at the ready. Writing is a lonely profession, filled with distraction, henceforth, the vino. Keeps me centered. Focused. There are those who find writing glamorous, but that would be only people who don’t write.
But back to the subject at hand: Thanksgiving. Paris. A world, smaller. Un petit monde, where what happens here in the U.S. seems to bleed through to every region the world over.
In London, in Leicester Square this past November, days before heading off to Paris, a big poster over a large multiplex — and isn’t that an American phenomenon? — advertised “The Counselor” with Michael Fassbender, a hunky new American star, and Cameron Diaz, more established but solidly Hollywood, there for everyone to see. Even if not too many people actually saw it. In London. Or anywhere else, for that matter.
Kevin Kline, Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman, and Michael Douglas look out at you from the sides of a red double-decker bus: “Last Vegas.” Really? “The Hangover” for the senior set? Whatever happened to “Georgy Girl,” or “Alfie,” or even “Strangers on a Train”? The great British movies — are they still running in Great Britain?
I think: If I were Jennifer Lawrence, somewhere in her early 20s, traveling and seeing my puss plastered all over posters in London and Paris and, no doubt, Tokyo and Bangkok promoting “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” how would I feel? Freaked out? I mean, I’m — I mean, she’s — just a kid. How can that kind of global recognition sit well with someone who just three or four years ago was as unknown as me?
And “Wicked” is playing to packed houses in Seoul, South Korea.
Now. Thanksgiving. Once a defiantly, stoically American holiday, it is now talked about in Paris like it was Bastille Day.
I’m annoyed by this. I am bothered by the idea that not much of anything is unique to anywhere. Mickey D’s cover the globe. Starbucks coming soon to a nearby star. You can take the Metro or the Underground for a footlong at a Subway. Even KFC is not far from YSL.
Am I too old now?
When younger, I didn’t notice the proliferation of all things American in all places exotic. And now, Thanksgiving joins the ranks of things American now appearing in a restaurant near you. Wherever you may be.
A few Thursdays ago in Paris, you heard plenty of people gobble up the sentiment “ ’appy Thanksgiving!” on the street outside the Cafe de Flore and throughout the Marais section.
Joining the ranks, but entitled as Americans, we reserved a Thanksgiving dinner at Ralph Lauren’s restaurant on St.-Germain-des-Pres. With a kir royale at the Brasserie Lipp prior.
There were two seatings: 6:30 and 9. We opted for the earlier one and it was packed. With Americans and Russians and Germans and Parisians.
It was lush and plush with men in suits, women in furs, families, and festivities — a twinkling Christmas tree and a table at the entrance groaning with a big, fat turkey, encircled by all the side dishes bathed in candlelight and flashes popping from smartphones from every diner who entered.
It was a prix fixe affair — butternut squash soup, thick with cream with an island of a small bruschetta and olive paste, topped with a teeny dollop of creme fraiche. A glass of champagne arrived, and small, fried stuffed olives, mixed nuts, and a buttermilk biscuit. The service was fast and furious; there was a second seating to consider. The wine list was (mostly) French and way up there in the stratosphere. We settled for a pinot noir at 105 euros (approximately $145) and then the meal began.
Plates of turkey, white meat and dark, appeared, with a slush of mashed potatoes, brussels sprouts that tasted vaguely of tobacco, and stuffing. Waiters, in sexy Purple Label striped pants and vests, slipped around the tables, balancing further platters — mashed sweet potatoes. Baked root vegetables. And seconds. And pouring water and wine. Briskly. Very briskly.
Finally, as it neared 8:30 p.m., plates of slivers of pie — pumpkin, pecan, and apple — came and went in a blur.
The whole event, two hours or so, was delicious, if rushed. As checks were paid, swag bags — small blue Ralph Lauren shopping bags — were handed out. To women. To women only. I got a glimpse of something silvery. A frame, maybe? Whatever, it felt a little sexist.
It felt rushed and sexist and somehow not quite right. Of course, we could have taken a pass and saved roughly 350 euros (about $500). But I never get to have turkey — except for Oscar Mayer slices on rye with Swiss, but that doesn’t count. And I was curious to see how Ralph and his classic Americana lifestyle — dark blue and green plaid woolen walls, wood trim, candelabras, and mood lighting, like his Madison Avenue mansion-shop — looked translated, transplanted, halfway across the globe. It was glittering and gorgeous. Still, it felt somehow wrong on the Right Bank.
The next day, we went to the Pompidou Center. And there, atop this industrial behemoth of a museum, lies Georges — a Parisian treasure of a restaurant with breathtaking views of rooftops and chimney stacks and, in the distance, the Eiffel Tower surrounded by misty, romantic gray cloudiness.
We ordered cheeseburgers. But at least the fries were French.
Hy Abady is finishing up his third book, this one with a collaborator. “Dish: Juicy Gossip and Tasty Recipes, a Private Chef Goes Public” is due out in early 2015.