My heels were my grogger, my noisemaker, my ratchet.
There I sat, in Paris’s most glorious synagogue—its most Grand Synagogue, La Victoire, the one where Netanyahu spoke days after the Charlie Hebdo attack a few months ago—trying to make some noise any way I could.
After all, it was Purim—or Pourim, as it’s spelled here. (I love how all the holidays get the “ou” treatment to make them French. Hanukkah, if you recall, was Hanoucca.)
On Pourim, you make noise. You get drunk. You celebrate yet another time in history when the Jews were being persecuted and they had to prevail.
It’s also customary to get dressed up in costume for this holiday, which is why I always loved it as a kid. (Then, as I got older and realized it also included booze, I loved it even more. Maybe not so much the day after…)
This is Paris, though. They know how to drink, but how do the chic get silly? Do they wear wigs? Makeup? Will there be Queen Esthers or Lady Gagas? Hamans or Clowns?
There were too many unknowns, so I decided to tread lightly and recycle a Halloween costume I rocked a few years ago when “50 Shades of Gray” was all hot in its original book form.
Seeing as it’s now hot in its film form and my wardrobe is heavy on the color of pavement, I piled on all the shades I had, rocked my snakeskin, French-designed Atelier Mercadal heels and did the punny, play-on-words thing again—with fewer “Look at me!” accessories. At least I knew how to say it in French: Cinquante Nuances de Gris. It didn’t matter that I was probably only wearing about huit (8) shades—including my silver clutch, silver earrings and the gray in my pumps. But I was going alone, so I was going to be safe.
When I arrived (fashionably late at 7:30) for the 7:15 megillah reading—where they tell the story of Pourim in Hebrew—they had still not begun. (This is status quo here in Paris. Being late is the new Black. Or grey, in my case.)
I walked into the sanctuary, a bit trepidatious to remove my coat. With it on, I looked normal. With it off, I looked…like a girl who loves to dress in monochrome paired with an undone men’s tie and a pop of red lipstick.
As I looked around, though, it seemed I wasn’t alone in the mish-mash department. Some people weren’t dressed up at all (or were they?) and others tried their best. I saw brunettes in cat ears, an old man with a red nose, several wigs, a lady with a silk scarf held on her head with a flower crown, and a group of teenage nuns! That’s right, the young French Jews thought it funny to dress in another religion’s attire.
Right, so who amongst these participants do I place myself near? Normally, I’d scan the crowd for a hip, scruffy looking fella and casually slide in. But men and women sit separately in this shul, so I had no choice to use that same judgmental tactic with the girls and hope to score a new friend as opposed to a date. My eyes eventually landed on a row that wasn’t too close to the front and wasn’t too far back, where a girl sat looking as if she had the same tactic I had in the costume department: wear normal clothes, but accessorize with something to turn it into a costume. In her case, a cowgirl hat. While trying to decide if there’s a French way to say “Yeehaw,” she ended up moving elsewhere when her friend arrived.
So I observed solo and did a lot of looking up. The ceilings soar and the architecture is just bedazzling.
The megillah reading itself was making my eyes glaze over until the first mention of Haman, the bad guy. This is when it’s customary for everyone to stamp their feet and shake their groggers, which are sort of like baby rattles that you turn in circles to create a really grating noise. It was loud and thunderous and exciting.
This went on for about 45 minutes until suddenly is was over and everyone started piling up to leave or migrate into the hall where a dozen tables had been set up for those who paid for the dinner.
While I did pay in advance, for a split second I contemplated just treating the €30 as a donation to the shul lest I got stuck looking up for another two hours. But just as I was walking into the room, I saw a guy I’d met two months ago when I came for Shabbat. Immediately, I was introduced to a crowd of youngish, fairly observant French Jews, of which I was the only in “costume.”
“Je suis ’50 Naunces de Gris’,” I proudly announced en Francais.
A few people got it. Sort of. But everyone was so lovely and curious about “the girl in grey” who’s not from here. I tried my best to speak in French, but they all wanted to practice their English. The conversation eventually turned back to French and I just sat back and tried to listen, offering a smile or a nod every now and then to at least make it seem like I understood. I do catch phrases and words here and there, but overall, trying to fully understand a topic, let alone contribute, remains difficult.
A kosher meal of Mediterranean salads and really dry chicken with potatoes and mushrooms was served, while teenagers and kids paraded in and out of the room making noise, trading masks and encouraging the adult folk to donate to their “travel the world funds.” Ah, to be young.
Eventually, it was time to go and I walked my groggers through the shul, trying to avoid getting the heels stuck in the carved floorwork and ancient mosaic tiles. Once outside, I proudly let them click-clack on the cobblestone streets of my adopted city.
While it wasn’t necessarily the coolest or most drunken Pourim I’ve ever had, it was special. Mostly because, well, isn’t it obvious? It was Pourim in Paris.