Paris in August is a very different and delightful experience. Basically because the city is full of foreigners and many Parisians have fled south to enjoy the sun and their summer holidays so there is an atmosphere of calm. The frantic hooting of traffic and fraught pace of life seems to have been snuffed out. This is Paris without the Parisians. Architecturally magnificent and sedate. Some might say it is the very best combination and season to discover the city.
When I was first living in France, I listened to an interview on my car radio with the Mayor of Paris, Monsieur Chirac (later France’s President). He was being questioned on the subject of the advantages of staying in the capital during the month of August. At that time, there was a move to encourage French citizens to stagger their holiday periods and not just travel south like lemmings en masse as the calendar moved towards the end of July.
Chirac was asked to enumerate reasons to stay in the capital during August. He suggested that seats for the opera were more easily available, tables in one’s favourite restaurants could be booked without delays (assuming the resto proprietors had not also shut up shop for the annual exodus), and one could visit one’s mistress in the afternoon without being spotted…
I nearly crashed the car. Imagine a politician from any other nation making such a statement. His words would be headlines and he would soon be out of his job.
Vive la difference.
This year from 20th July to 18th August – in other words right now – Paris Plage is underway. This is an ingenious creation inspired by the man who succeeded Jacques Chirac and who remains mayor of our city, Mayor Bertrand Delanoë. The idea was that for those who cannot get to the coast, the coast comes to them. Paris Plage (plage is French for beach) is a giant beach that runs along the banks of the River Seine. Sand is imported, parasols are erected, temporary bars and bistros opened, music stages are put in place. And, headache to all those who use it regularly, the expressway that runs alongside the Seine is shut down for this purpose. Paris is no longer a city at the mercy of its traffic’s whims and anger. It is relaxing.
Paris Plage used to be located only on the rive droite but now it has also extended to the Left Bank. If I am in Paris in August on a hot summer’s day, I stroll to the beach, taking along my computer because the strands also offer free Wifi.
Usually at this time of year, we are south at the Olive Farm but Michel is preparing a small film festival in Paris for late September and he needed to be in town. So I flew up with him for a few days. I continue to work on my book in our studio but if I am missing my daily swims, I take myself off to the beach for a couple of hours (always on the lookout for Mr Chirac skulking about town!) and take in the easygoing atmosphere. Paris en vacances and so are we.