Merry Christmas!

Enthused by the need to cheer up my husband who has been moping around the apartment of late, looking sinfully bored, I thought we should swing into a little town nearby for some Christmas cheer. It is a town of antique shops and art galleries and artists. Lambertville (, which I have introduced you to a while ago. The way was paved with swathes of snow, then patches, where the snow has melted but with degrees of reluctance. Charming, quiet hamlets, acres and acres of farmland, silos and barns – the mainstay of the American farming story. I have a yen for those silos and barns. Have had it since my first trip Stateside in 2016. I could not take my eyes off them then, when we were visiting my sister-in-law in Seattle. Thereafter, I have fantasised of living in a barn. Adi is suspicious of the concept, but I tell him, “You would never look back with regret.” He still needs convincing.

So we roll on and listen to country music and carols and reach Lambertville within the span of an hour. The streets are remarkably empty. A couple of people roam the pavements, armed with coffee cups. The shops are open, the restaurants look shut, and generally the whole town looks like it has gone to sleep. It is cold, but not terribly so. We have not been keeping up with news. I am tired of keeping track of the numbers. But this makes us think, maybe it would have been better to just stay home. Covid’s token. Certainty is a thing of the past.

This must be the year of the grinch.

I enquire at some galleries for my art pieces. They mostly display oils. I make a mental note that I should continue with my objective of experimenting with oil painting starting next year. I am looking forward to it. After all, it is going to be a fresh challenge. A promise of growth.

At the antique shops, I pick up old bound editions of William Faulkner and Stendhal, when Adi beckons to me. I follow him. Massive installations of Tyrannosaurus and Komodo Dragons, a massive head of the Tyrannosaurus, its cruel eyes glinting at me, so life-like and uncanny. I shudder and run away, back to the comfort of books, porcelain figurines, faded cigar boxes. Within the matter of an hour, we take off from Lambertville for home. With dusk, the temperatures have dipped remarkably. Home seems the only place to be.

On the way back, we drive back again through hamlets and farms lit up with fairy lights and candles glinting at the windows. The pièce de résistance is a magnificent old spruce tree that we sight, on the grounds of a church. It is so tall. And threaded with warm twinkly lights, a yellow star crowning it, almost casting a mellow pool of light (or it maybe a figment of my imagination). I wish I could have stopped for a photo. But could I have done it justice? It is one of those things where words will have to suffice and you will have to take my word for it that it was a thing of rare beauty. A tree not uprooted, a tree left to grow unchecked, a tree done up in the simplest of manners, but one that was possibly the best Christmas tree that I have clapped eyes on. It belonged where it stood.

This year, we are not doing the traditional bird roast. It turns out, both of us were thinking of it, and were amazed when we said it aloud and realised that we were both on the same page. We will however bring it in with loads of veg, cheese and pies and cakes. I would love to hear how you are celebrating.

Here’s to a fuzzy Christmas, wherever you are, dear reader. Big love from us and Jack Phat from my art journal.

Upstairs, Downstairs in Paris

Sheets of rain came pouring down the morning we stood in a queue to enter the network of tunnels, better known as the Catacombs, deep beneath the enchanted city of Paris. Down there, the enchantment wears off a smidge. There has to be balance after all, or you would be in danger of becoming inured to the beauty of that old city. The queue for the Catacombs was long and our patience short, e’en though we were armed with a sturdy umbrella from the boutique hotel we had just shifted into, from The Grand Hotel.

I have always been curious about them, ossuaries. There are 40 such houses of bones scattered around the world, in England, France, Italy, Germany, Austria, Siberia, the Czech Republic…yet I had not been to a single one.

Before you exclaim, ‘oh how macabre’, there is nothing macabre about death. It is a natural counterpart of life, after all. When the cemeteries started to get overcrowded, it was inevitable that ossuaries cropped up as a response to the need of the times — they were chambers dedicated to the preservation of the skeletal remains of the departed.

Paris sits above quarries of limestone and gypsum. In Lutetia, that is old Paris, the Romans used the stones to build their bathhouses and arenas. The Parisians carried on with quarrying underground, and naturally, the outcome is a honeycomb of tunnels in the bowels of the city. They are said to extend for 200 miles, most of them uncharted, but the adventurous few known as cataphiles, make regular inroads into the tunnels through hidden entrances, ventilation shafts and manholes. There are underground cinema theatres, murals and setups for raves. The gendarmerie stumbled upon a cinema and restaurant of sorts somewhere beneath the 16th arrondissement a few years ago. They also found a note that instructed them to not try and find these cataphiles.

I am not a cataphile, but I do profess to have a fascination for the underground. There was that subterranean wine cellar in Southbank where I once sat with my cousin drinking wine to beat the heat outside. Its dimly lit chambers a salve to the senses on that bright and hot summer’s day in London. The underground salt cellars in Krakow were a revelation. The allure of the underground lies in the sense of mystery it evokes, perhaps in the suggestion of more; a strange intoxication that stems from the possibility of disregarding rules, because to begin with, strictly there are no rules down there. Also, for the most part, you leave the world well above you.

Back at the public entrance to the Catacombs’ in the 14th arrondissement, a grizzled, grumpy man, seemingly overcome with ennui, checked our tickets and let us in. Then five stories of winding staircase, a dizzying exercise if you did not stop because there were people at your heels, and voila, you were in the Catacombs.

“Arrête, c’est ici l’empire de la mort” (Halt, this is the empire of death), read the words at the top of the entrance before you found yourself walking through long galleries, eye goggling at the sight of skulls, tibias and femurs stacked together, and rather neatly, from ceiling to  floor. Some arranged in heart-shaped patterns. Those were old, old bones. Some dating back to thousands of years. You would hardly know which bone belonged to whom. There in death’s chambers, we were witness to a strange equality. Aristocrats and beggars lay stacked together. Many famous figures from the French Revolution too, when bodies were buried directly in the Catacombs.

True, it was the history of a city preserved in tangible terms, in a dimly-lit and quiet affair, but after walking through the remains of some 6 million dead in those tunnels, it was refreshing to come back above to the land of the living, to appreciate the flow of life around us.

Oh but there is such poetry in simply living!

Cimetière des Innocents. Towards the latter half of the 18th century, bodies were transferred from the cemeteries to the quarries. It started with Les Innocents, the oldest burial ground in Paris, where there was such dearth of space that thousands of bodies were being piled into a pit, some not even properly buried. 

The Catacombs where it is said King Charles X threw clandestine parties and musicians played  Chopin and Camille Saint-Saens. Bizarre.

Neatly stacked skeletal remains. Who knows, one of these might belong to Robespierre or Rabelais. Where there were gaps in the stacks, you knew people had happened. Bones here are often stolen. Again, bizarre.

Seeking comfort and quiche in a café in Montmartre

The elegance of mansions in the 9th arrondissement. At Place Saint-Georges.

Place Saint-Georges. The fountain at the centre, where horses would stop for a drink, is topped by the bust of a 19th-century Parisian illustrator, Paul Gavarni.

Théâtre Saint- Georges 

In the shadow of old churches

Beauty is always everywhere around you, in Paris.


Style, in the 9th arrondissement

Somewhere in the 2nd arrondissement

Near Bastille

The 16th-century Gothic church of Saint-Eustache in the 1st arrondissement

The constant flow of people in the 1st arrondissement



Christmas markets

Vintage shops and dreadlocks

Back in Le Marais

And tada, when Juliette became American.