Monday, August 14, 2006

August in Paris

August in Paris -- you've heard it all before, right? Stifling hot, filled with tourists, all stores shut and shuttered, can't get a decent baguette without walking for miles.

Sshhh! Don't tell anyone. It's not really true.

We've had glorious clear weather, rain and positively autumnal chill.

The tourist spots are indeed crammed with a great mix of international visitors. Always will be, 12 months a year. The Louvre is a swarming madhouse, and on the Champs Elysees hardly a word of French is heard among the teeming masses.

But in the residential nieghborhoods, it is quite simply delightful. The pace is relaxed. Neighbors greet one another in camaraderie. The trees rustle in the breeze. I have friends, native Parisians both, who choose to take vacation in June and July so that they can enjoy Paris in August. If they let me divulge their names, I'll tell you. They may disown me for letting this secret out of the bag.

The majority of Parisian Fidos appear to be away with their owners, so the the narrow sidewalks are navigable and crotte-free. I can wander the streets and look at the facades (my favorite pastime) and not be jostled or have to practice Parisian "double vision," a neat trick of simultaneously looking upward at beauty and downward to avoid slippery little dog patties.

Closed? Sure, most of the small shopkeepers have taped "Fermeture annuelle" signs to their stores for their well-deserved holidays. One quick reconnaissance mission will let anyone know which favorite neighborhood spots are open and where to find substitutes. But staff in the shops that are open are cheerful and happy to have clientele.

Driving in Paris is a breeze in August-- now would be the perfect time for me to practice getting around the city by car, as there is very little traffic and lots of on-street parking.

There are a lot of planned activities -- like outdoor movies and Paris Plage, which turns the banks of the Seine into a beach for August. I haven't even checked those out. I'm just happy to explore the city and discover the Paris that gets lost in the hustle and momentum of the other 11 months. This is the reward.

On August 1 at the Sevres-Vaneau bus stop, a dear older lady gazed at the vacant street with delight. "Regardez cela, madame," she rhapsodized to me -- a total stranger -- as she waved her cane at the calm. "Pas une voiture sur la rue de Sevres. Enfin Paris est a nous!"

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