Paris in August is a dreamscape, an empty limbo, a city slightly askew. The streets resemble something from a Giorgio de Chirio canvas, the surrealist painter famous for barren cityscapes casting long shadows on empty spaces. The famous monuments of Paris are still here, the bridges and old buildings still occupy their places. The masterpieces of art still hang in the museums. But the outdoor market stalls are almost empty, and many cafés and restaurants are closed. Even free grocery delivery from the local supermarkets is suspended.
This is the time for congrés annuels, the yearly vacation when everyone leaves for the month for the South of France, Corsica or the Brittany coast. For those left here, there are the parks and movies or perhaps a weekend trip outside to the country.
And of course there is Paris Plage, Paris Beach.
To an American, Paris Plage might seem a little bizarre. Tons of sand are trucked into the city and dumped into the blockaded streets along the river. Even palm trees are shipped in. Beach umbrellas and chairs are set up facing the water. There are a number of ice cream stands, crêperies, restaurants and newsstands lining the river. There’s a book stall and a postcard stand where you can buy something to read or send holiday greetings to your wealthy relatives vacationing in the Midi. On the great square in front of the Hôtel de Ville badminton courts have been set up.
Further down along the river kids play the game of boules, tossing silver balls in the sand. Misting showers cool down the crowds. One can even rent a fishing pole and cast a line into the Seine, but heaven knows what you’d catch other than some curious glances and sunstroke.
Along with the food and activities are street musicians and clowns. There’s even Papy Dance, an older gentleman with a small sound speaker, jigging and “getting down” to Michael Jackson’s “I’m Bad.”
But of course the main activity is the beach itself, where you can bring a blanket, towel, a sandwich and friends, and sun yourself. Parisians are sun-worshipers. Everyone from 3 to 83 is out in the sunshine in every state of dress — or undress, in some cases — faces the sky, lapping up every ray possible.
My deck reminds me of hot beaches and I dream someday of visiting Paris Plage. Oui.
Paris Plage in many ways is corny. It’s a half-baked attempt to bring a little of the seaside to the middle of a great city. But people seem to love it, and it’s a safe and secure place to take some time out. It costs nothing to get in. The city of Paris picks up the tab. (Thanks to Doug Cushman for this article on the web).