Sunday, August 21, 2011

Paris Plage: The Sequel

Paris is a moveable feast, according to Hemingway. Yes, but not in August.
     In August, Paris has moved. Out of town. And for a month.
     When planning your Paris trip, do not, I repeat NOT, come in August. Not if you want to see the markets. Not if you want to buy a baguette at the neighborhood bakery. Not if you want to experience the bustle of Parisian life.
     But do come if you want to find a parking place, or make it across town by car in half an hour flat. Or to enjoy Paris Plage.
I posted an introduction to this event on July 21, Day One of Paris Plage - Paris Beach, in French.  Today is August 21st, the final day. After a cold and rainy first three weeks, the skies over Paris are now resolutely blue - in spite of a thunder-and-lightning-filled night storm that was short but far from sweet.
Saturday, the sun was unrelenting, in the high 80s, and any wisp of shade was a blessing. My daughter and I took a walk along the Seine... along with thousands of other people. Most of whom were dribbling melting ice cream down their chins, bought at a stand right on the river. On the street above the "beach", enterprising men were hawking chilled bottles of water - 1 € each.
     Some people elected to sunbathe outside of the sanded perimeter... which is what people do along the Seine throughout the summer anyway. But hard cobblestones are no match for sand when you want to be comfortable, so they were in the minority. Most sunbathers were stretched out between the ultimate romantic bridge, the delicate Pont des Arts, and the Pont de Sully at the far end of the Ile St. Louis, a distance of 2½ km (1½ mile).

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.

Sunday, the very last day, we decided to walk around the second site, the Bassin de la Villette, where I lived for six years. Back then it was already a favorite with young bikers, couples strolling, and groups of friends picnicking. But that didn’t hold a candle to 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 the accent here was on activities... much more so than along the Seine. There were 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!
Because of the heat, and because it probably isn’t wise to swim in this water - although some teenagers were jumping in at the far end - there was a huge mist machine to cool people down... mostly kids, but I saw a very chic-looking sixty-something woman all in white walking through it. And there was a multi-tap drinking water dispenser on either side of the canal, just to make sure no one keeled over from dehydration.
     Water was the highlight here. As there is very little barge traffic remaining on the canals that feed into either end of the Bassin, water activities were everywhere. With many Chinese in this neighborhood, someone had organized dragon boat races. And there was a sailboat to teach apprentice sailors how to navigate, being careful to miss all the rented pedal-boats, kayaks and canoes. But my daughter’s personal favorite was the large inflated hamster cages in florescent colors that twirled across the water as you walked inside them or floated with the waves and wind.
Tomorrow the sand and the palm trees will be carted away and the beach will all be a memory. September, jobs and classes are just around the corner. People are returning to Paris today and the streets are filled with cars unloading suitcases. There are traffic alerts across the country, televised maps showing the traffic jams to be avoided. Life will be back to normal soon.
     But it was fun while it lasted.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for yet another beautiful armchair vacation. It had to be nice to spend this quiet time at your other home. I'm thinking that the inflatable floating hamster wheels look like a great time!