Just Above Sunset
July 23, 2006 - Paris Plages, Unusual View, Real Palms

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Our Man in Paris is Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis. And Paris-Plages (Paris Beaches) returns - a city-sponsored initiative that turns one section of the bank of the Seine into something else entirely. This is the fifth year of this month-long event - a tropical beach in the heart of Paris, with sand and palms and everything. Berlin, Rome, Amsterdam and Budapest, and other cities around France, have followed with their versions, but this is the original. And you are there.

Paris-Plages, Unusual View, Real Palms *


PARIS, Saturday, July 22 - Despite being stinky icky, on account of our unseasonable summer weather in summer, there is no way I am going to miss the first Saturday night of Paris-Plages. Yes, yes, I know we've been through all this before. It's like, Coney Island is always there so why bother with it? Yet Coney Island, even neglected, is the beach. The beach.


Paris lacks the advantage of abutting the Atlantic or any other ocean. Even those people you think are smoking stinky cigarettes and drinking stinky coffee on the brain-raddled Left Bank could not have imagined Paris-Plage. It is a pure Right Bank thing.


It appeals not to the intellect but to the body's other senses. The less you see of Paris-Plages the better it looks. The less you smell of Paris-Plages the better it smells. The less you hear of Paris-Plages... ah, I guess this means me. The less you hear there more there is for us.


However, from tonight's little tour it is patently obvious that my efforts in the past have succeeded too well. TV-news has said, for each of the past five weekends, that at least a million Parisians have left town by train. Almost equal numbers left by plane, some drove - another 450 kms of 'bouchons' today - and some rode out of town on a bicycle. Five weekends! So who the hell were all these folks on Paris-Plages tonight?


Maybe they've come to town to watch Floyd 'Wazisname' Landis win the Tour de France tomorrow. Man, this kid is hot! The French say he is formidable. Beat to hell, wrecked, he drinks a beer - a beer! Hey, yoohoo, doping! Then he gets a call from Eddy Merckx, the 'cannibal.' It was like a hornet sting in the ass! Floyd rode away from everybody. Everybody loves Floyd. He's like, he's a human being.


So even though Americans have been hogging the highest pedestal at the end of the past Tours de France, if Floyd gets to climb up there tomorrow everybody is going to think he won it, fair and square, unless the racing committee says hornet stings are doping.


But we around at JAS are not sportsmen. We are on a higher, far loftier plane. We are those Left Banklers, with stinky pipes and cigarettes, and totally hooked on the filthy coffee, spelled café, here. It is why they named the bars where you drink it, cafés. Yes, and we can live without Paris-Plages too, except that they have become plural and jumped the Seine, with a beachhead in the 13th next to Mitterrand's ultra-huge library, called a bibliotheque here. Not boutique, bibliotheque. It's about great books so it has to be lots of syllabes. Jeez, how do you spell that thing?


And before you start objecting that Paris-Plages is falling apart before it even starts, let me clear up some misconceptions you may have lept to - is 'lept' a word? It is true the new floating pool in the Seine, named so appropriately 'Josephine Baker,' had some tiles fall off. But these were replaced by order of the mayor, and now the pool is open again. It costs 10 euros for three hours - two hours in 'high' season - but it is the only thing on Paris-Plages that costs anything, other than ice cream.


What about the brand-new bridge that is a little defect? Yes I know, I tested it and it jiggles, but so what? It's a long span, going all the way across the river. It's like a suspension bridge. It is supposed to jiggle. All these whiners, moaning about the total lack of life rings, are probably folks at home on the Right Bank. Everybody on the Left Bank knows that if you stick life rings all over a brand-new bridge, folks are going to think it might sink. Nonsense! This new one is Paris' 37th bridge and there hasn't been a problem with any of them since they fixed the last new one at Solferino.


Superficially this edition looks like past editions of Paris-Plages. The sign is different. The striped blue-and-white chalets are still blue and white. The sand for the boules pitches is still sand. The new fairy lights are new. The small pool that was there last year is back and it is turquoise again. The blue sails - I thought for a moment they were going to change color, but they have another year of life in them.


What's really different is that Parisians are really used to their Paris-Plages. Folks who have just spent a month in a camping in Provence are back and here they are on the beach tonight, wearing the same duds they had on, but mostly off, all month.


Name me some other world-class capital city where right in the middle of town within sight of the parliament and the highbrow Institut de France - not to mention the country's chief courthouse - you can run around like a beach bum wearing a hat backwards and without shoes. The city is probably deathly afraid that all the homeless, paperless folks are going to move in permanently. I want to be there when Sarkozy in his baggy suit shows up with his goons to arrest some poor mom and her seven kids!


Sometimes I wish I was still young enough to spend a whole summer down there. There's sand, there's water fountains and fog machines, real but potted palms, there are cafés and there are deckchairs - called 'transats.' Most people never go in the water anyway because of sea monsters and because it's polluted. Besides there's a pool for the fanatics - if they want to be topless nobody can see them except the dudes in the Ministry of Finance with binoculars. Harmless stuff. Only thing missing are tides.


I didn't hear much music tonight, but there's time. I didn't see much dancing but it was early. I did see a lot of Parisians, but then I always do. I mean, if they are going to leave town, when are they going? I bet you, some of them, probably think Paris-Plages is a real beach. 


* attributed by the Beaner's Guide to the Galaxy, 2006 edition.


Paris-Plages 2006
Paris-Plages 2006

Paris-Plages 2006
Paris-Plages 2006

Paris-Plages 2006
Fairy Lights, Paris-Plages 2006

Paris-Plages 2006
Boules, Paris-Plages 2006


Text and Photos Copyright © 2006 - Ric Erickson, MetropoleParis

Copyright © 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik

The inclusion of any text from others is quotation for the purpose of illustration and commentary, as permitted by the fair use doctrine of U.S. copyright law.  See the Legal Notice Regarding Fair Use for the relevant citation.
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