December 21

Just five days before Christmas, it snowed here. I was talking on the phone, glanced out the window and saw big wet flakes coming down, carpeting my little terrace and making my geraniums, still in full bloom, shiver. So I put on my coat and rushed out to do a last bit of Christmas shopping in the appropriate element. I went to La Maison du Chocolat, which I mentioned in my last "Her World" column. There a line snaked out the door and down the sidewalk. Since my last visit, they had put out the buches de Nôel, starting at about $9 for a miniature chocolate-coated log, with rolled cake and filling in the middle. Better yet, they were giving out samples inside.

A bum has a permanent panhandling enterprise across the street from the shop, near the Rue Recamier. When I passed this time, he was making a call on a cell phone. I bought myself a sweater for Christmas in the Bon Marché department store, then idled in the Village Voice, an English language bookstore on the Rue Princesse. The man behind the counter can talk entertainingly about a range of topics, from President Bush to the Tuareg people of the Sahara Desert.

I found my best Christmas gifts at Deyrolle on Rue du Bac, purveyors of such natural curiosities as butterflies, moths and grasshoppers, which the staff artfully arranges in display boxes. I went for the shells, including a big, beautiful nautilus from the Philippines.

Eventually, I ended up at a the Relais de l'Odéon on the Boulevard Saint-Germain for lunch. I sat by the window watching the shellfish monger outside, making platters of oysters on the half-shell for customers: Fines de Claire at $12 for a half-dozen No. 4s (small) and $16.50 for a half-dozen No. 2s (big). Belons, my favorite, were more expensive. With big, wet, red hands, the shellfish guy put a few sprigs of seaweed on a plate and heaped it with crushed ice. Then, one by one, he selected the oysters, expertly slit the muscles holding the shells together, scraped away the detritus and arranged them on the plate.

There and then, I vowed to have a plate of Belons sometime before Christmas, with champagne, of course. Never mind the buches de Nôel. What could be more festive? Later, at another café, I saw a young woman who had the same idea. She was eating oysters by herself, except for the baby on her lap. Quite a feat. As someone whose name I've forgotten once said, "He was a bold man who first ate an oyster."

Back in the foyer of my apartment, I met the little old woman who lives below me. She is the self-appointed receiver of FedEx deliveries, she was in a temper. "Someone," she said, "has been playing games with the mailboxes. They've been switching around the labels." Quel horreur!

Meilleurs voeux to her and you. Now I've a few presents to wrap.