Then came Paris Plage.
In 2001, Paris elected the first Socialist mayor of the French capital. He came on the heels of two right-wing mayors: the unpopular one-term Jean Tiberi, who was shooed in by his predecessor Jacques Chirac when he moved on from City Hall to the French President's mansion.
Delanoë was not only a Socialist, but also openly homosexual and living with his partner. Many Parisians seemed dubious that he would prove the right fix for the job. Then he started doing things.
One of the first things Delanoë did was to create the newest beach resort of France: Paris Plage. And it was free. The facilities were a blessing for all those who couldn't afford to go elsewhere. At first it involved merely closing the riverside expressways to cars and turning the space over to people, complete with some games and entertainment. The following year sand was trucked in. Then the following year full-grown palm trees were added, and sprinkler systems for cooling off. Now there's much more, including a floating swimming pool and a ferry to take people back and forth between the two banks. In 2007, the beach alongside the Seine River was joined by a second site in the working class 19th arrondissement along the Bassin de la Villette.
This year the month-long party ran from July 20th to August 18th. As I write this, workers have been shoveling sand back into dump trucks all night long. It's the last year Delanoë will be mayor of Paris. He says he won't run for re-election next spring. People wonder what the future holds for this summer beach party, although doing away with it would probably cause a second revolution. Hopefully, Paris Plage is here to stay.
Here's a rework of a previous story I wrote on it.
While adults were basically just basting and roasting themselves, children could build sand castles, watch a clown twist balloons into shapes, play paddleboard, romp on a huge adventure playground or explore Disney’s replica of its famed Enchanted Castle. Of course there were buskers: a shapely blonde who belly-danced while playing with flaming swords and two young men giving a capoiera demonstration, among many others who came and went.
And in front of City Hall, the square had been turned into a football field where children were learning how to dribble footballs and shoot goals into huge inflated nets.
At the second beach along the Bassin de la Villette, more fun was being had, minus the tourists because this is a part of the city they haven't discovered yet. I lived here for six years and although it was already a favorite with young bikers, couples strolling, and groups of friends picnicking, it was nothing like this. All along the west side and halfway back down the east sand had been carted in and chaise longues and folding beach chairs plunked down - free, first come first served. But there were more activities here than along the Seine. Games for young and old alike: pétanque (French bocce ball), pingpong, babyfoot tables (fussball, in English - even though that’s German!), a train ride, and the cherry on the cake: a wave machine for kids to surf!
But at least one more summer has been made more bearable for Paris. And definitely more colorful.
You can see more coverage of this in two previous blogs:
- July 20, 2011 - Sous les pavés, la plage
- August 21, 2011 - Paris Plage: the sequel