Tuesday, August 2, 2011

When I was a student living in Paris, in 1979, I spent a fair amount of time walking along the banks of the Seine. I loved doing this, at first because it reminded me of a framed print my parents had of a Seine scene complete with les bouquinistes and some clochards (tramps) hanging out underneath one of the bridges. Later, I loved doing it because I was fascinated by all the house boats on the river, and on occasion I had some conversations with some really interesting people. But my absolute favorite Seine pastime was to sit somewhere -- anywhere -- along the banks in warm weather, which only arrived in the late spring. Do not believe that song 'April in Paris' (composed by Vernon Duke -- did you know his real name was Vladimir Dukelsky? -- and lyricist E. Y. "Yip" Harburg) as it is positively false. Anyone who's spent a winter in Paris knows that it's very cold (I actually went to the dentist at the American Hospital in Neuilly in the middle of February because my teeth hurt, and the dentist told me I was simply too cold!), and I completely embraced a line from 'In a London Square' by Arthur Hugh Clough (1819-1861) that read, "Spring never would, we thought, be here." The warm side of spring definitely does not arrive in Paris in April, which is most of the time rainy or gray or blustery or all three. (I'm glad I spent three weeks of the month in the south of France -- it was raining when I left, and raining when I came back.)

My parents came to visit me on May 2nd, and it snowed. But only a week later the warm and beautiful weather did finally arrive, and when I walked to the Seine from the rue de Grenelle (where I lived with a French family of five), Parisians were literally packed along the banks, peeling off sweaters and long-sleeved shirts, picnicking, playing guitars....it was a veritable fete, and I loved it! Someone painted the words 'Vive le Soleil, Toujours Sourire' (long live the sun, always smiling) on a stone wall, and I took a picture of it (this appears in my book on page 558).

All of this is why the creation of Paris Plages, ten years ago, is such a welcome and brilliant idea. If you'll be in Paris before the 21st of the month you are in for a real treat (the dates this year are 21 July to 21 August). I went early on in its run (I believe it may have been the second summer), and it was just so much fun my head nearly popped off. Every year this celebration of summer just gets better and better -- this year there is ten times more sand; racket sports can now be played on the "beach;" the Paris Plages furniture that dates back to 2002 has been replaced with chaises longues and blue-and-white-striped beach mats; there are ten giant deckchairs (each one is roomy enough for two adults) spread along the beach; and sculptors will recreate the castle of Sleeping Beauty out of sand (courtesy of an initiative by Disneyland Paris).

According to the official website, this year there are three Paris Plages sites: the Georges Pompidou Expressway, the La Villette Basin, and the square in front of the Hotel de Ville (the Hotel is also host to an exhibit, 'Paris on the Seine - From the Old Quays to Paris Plages' that's free until 17 September from 10 to 7 everyday but Sunday and holidays). Be sure to watch the video clip on the site entitled 'Une journee a Paris Plages' -- it's fun, and the music is terrific! (I wish I had the soundtrack.)

A mon avis (in my opinion), Paris Plages is as wonderful and innovative as two major urban projects here in New York, the Brooklyn Bridge Park and the High Line. If you are a visitor to New York, I urge you to add both of these to your itinerary, and if you live within the New York metropolitan area, I urge you to continue supporting these great urban spaces.

Paris Plages is just incredibly additive and appealing. On y va! (Let's go!)

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