PARIS, Jan. 5 — These are dark days in the City of Light. It is a cruel trick played on those who are not forewarned. Paris is a northern city, on about the same latitude as Seattle and Vancouver. New York, by contrast, sits on a level with Madrid and Naples. So when winter comes, Paris's northern position combines with humidity, above-freezing temperatures, the absence of fierce winds and a location at the bottom of a basin to rob the city of sun and light. ... Daylight arrives well after 8 a.m. and leaves only eight hours later. Even as the days begin to grow longer now that the winter solstice, the longest night of the year, has passed, the demons of darkness linger. ... The darkness has such an effect that the French government's generous medical insurance program covers medical consultations for those who grow depressed because of the waning light of winter. The syndrome — clinically known as seasonal affective disorder, more commonly as the winter blues — affects as much as 20 percent of the population, according to studies.
By 10 a.m. yesterday, 18,000 shoppers had already plowed their way through the doors of the Queens Center mall to participate, by purchasing, in the year's great American spending moment. By the look and sound of things, the shoppers seemed to have come from 18,000 places, from Alexandria to Zagreb, from Quito to Katmandu. And a lot of them were not really shopping for Christmas.
Black Friday at the mall, on Queens Boulevard in Elmhurst, is surely as hectic and hedonistic as it is at any other mall in the country. In fact, in terms of retail sales per square foot, the mall, an aging urban anomaly with a headache of a parking situation, is one of the busiest in the United States, doing roughly twice the business of the average American mall and drawing 21 million shoppers annually. ... But sales aside, it would be hard to find this at the Mall of America: Polish Jehovah's Witnesses; a Vietnamese Catholic shopping for Hanukkah; and a circular bench in front of J. C. Penney's that, in the span of only 20 minutes, gave respite to the rumps of shoppers from the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, Japan, India, Korea, Mexico, Pakistan, the Philippines, Poland, Thailand, Trinidad and the Bronx.
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