posted on July 27, 2007 05:05
Paris offers the tourist everything - except the sea. In this regard, Paris always loses out to Ballybunion and Bray. However, every summer the city hall tries to remedy this - et voila! The beach comes to Paris!
'Paris Plages' (now in its fifth year) is a temporary beach on the right bank of the Seine, starting below the Louvre and running upriver past Chatelet and Notre Dame as far as the Gare de Lyon. From mid-July to September a riverside road, the Voie Georges Pompidou, is closed to traffic (as it is every Sunday, to facilitate walkers and rollerbladers). Tons of sand are dumped on it, and the improvised beach is then garnished with palm trees, sun loungers and so forth. This being France, there's also pétanque, or bowling.
The beaches are enormously popular and always packed - despite the obvious drawbacks. For one thing, there is a busy road up above at street level, so there's no escape from noise and pollution. Also, there's no privacy - tourists take photos of sunbathers from above on the street and from the decks of the bateaux-mouches (river cruises). Still, some people may like having that paparazzi feeling.
Another problem is the strangeness of being on a beach but unable to swim in the nearest body of water - i.e. the Seine. Now the old river is no longer as polluted as it was centuries ago when it would actually go on fire. Your blogger lives down the river from Paris and there are anglers on our nearest bank. There was also a swimming race recently (similar to the Liffey Swim).
But despite former Paris mayor Jacques Chirac's 1987 pledge to make the Seine fit for swimming, it's still completely forbidden to swim in the central Paris stretch (there's the old joke that if you fell off a Paris bridge you'd be dead before you hit the water). The city fathers have therefore set up floating swimming pools on the river. We presume that surfing is not allowed either - sorry, Jules. However, Juliette Binoche is allowed to go waterski-ing. Who could refuse her?
'Paris Plages' really comes to life at night, when there are free events such as the 'Indétendances' series of concerts featuring new and established acts (including the fantastic psychedelic pop of Izabo, who we featured recently). One of the joys of summer in Paris is going down to the river at night and sharing wine with friends. So far the French summer has been a bit cool (still better that the Irish one, of course) but last weekend we went to the canal at La Villette, where there are also 'Paris Plages' activities. Life is good in Paris.
So that you can share some of the 'Paris Plages' vibes, here's Serge Gainsbourg singing 'Sea, Sex And Sun':