Life in France Is a Beach
Life’s a beach. Whether in Paris or Nice, life can take place on the “plage” (beach).
Today I’m on a real beach, although it’s made of pebbles, not sand. Saturday I was on the not-real beach, although it’s made of sand, not asphalt. Confused?
Paris Plage opened it’s sandy gates on July 19th (closing August 17th), and is an annual event this time of year since its inception along the Seine in 2002. It was one of Mayor Bertrand Delanoë’s bright ideas to give city-dwellers an escape to the seaside…and it worked. In 2006 another plage opened along the Bassin de la Vilette.
Unlike all other French beaches, topless sunbathing isn’t permitted and of course, neither is swimming in the Seine, but nevertheless, it’s a welcome break from the cobblestones and grassy parks and has grown each year topping four million visitors in 2007 (it must have been seriously hot and sunny that year!).
Paris Plage is not without controversy, however. A dispute between Paris Plage and Le Touquet-Paris-Plage, a commune in the Pas-de-Calais department in northern France, erupted in 2006 over the rights to the name. The City of Paris sued Le Touquet for impinging on its trademark, but the truth is, Le Touquet-Paris-Plage was named in 1912…so you form your own opinion! (The case was dropped in 2008.)
Even though I was headed to the real beach on Sunday, I didn’t want to miss at least one stroll along Paris Plage before they close the sandy gates and it’s gone until next year, same time same place. I can actually proudly admit to having been on the Paris sand next to the River Seine on the first day of the first year in a bathing suit, no less (and not topless), and being interviewed by one of the TV channels for having been such an enthusiastic beach bum.
There is plenty to do along Paris Plage — or not to do. We had a nice dinner of crêpes and rosé wine at “Les Nautes” then strolled along the ‘boardwalk’ where both ‘much’ and ‘nothing’ was going on. There are picnickers, kids playing in the sand and both kids and adults creating sand castles and creatures. In the oversized hammocks are those who choose to do ‘nothing’ but enjoy the R and R. A miniature Eiffel Tower brilliantly made of café chairs imitates the real thing with perfection along the route. Musicians are making music under the archways where the acoustics are best and street performers are performing whatever talents they have that will earn a buck.
Meanwhile the boats are gliding by, one after another, each one as different as boats can be, some as long as a football field (maybe longer) and some as tiny as a skiff. The river police whiz by while the tourist barges take a slow cruise and the boat parties look awfully elegant and inviting. It’s a beachy paradise in the City of Light and Life.
Nothing, nothing, nothing (for me) is as relaxing as a sandy beach next to a calm, shallow, aqua water — the kind of water where one can float on a raft endlessly. In fact, it’s what I’ve been dreaming of in preparation for this vacation.
One time floating on the Aegean Sea on one of Santorini’s volcanic rock beaches, I floated so far out that my friends’ young and strong son had to swim out with fins to rescue me. It was a bit frightening! Another time in Algajola on the island of Corsica, I slept for two hours on a raft on the water and woke up the next day with serious sun poisoning rendering my lower lip as big as a bike tire’s inner tube. Yet, none of these experiences have deterred me from getting back on the raft and floating to oblivion at every opportunity.
Since plages of all kinds are my personal heaven, it’s no wonder that I chose to make my own “Paris Plage” apartment imitate life on a beach. It has a large terrace, a sandy-like tile floor, aqua tiles set in the shape of waves, a lantern that gives off light like refracting water and a backdropped mural of Paris’ annual summer plage (by Trompe l’Oeil artist, Pascal Amblard). It was as close to life on a beach as my interior design talents and Mosaïste Veronique Husson’s tile talents could muster up.
Yesterday I trained down to Nice and was welcomed by my apartment, Le Matisse, and “Henri le Cactus” who grows inches between each stay. A friend is meeting me today and while we hope to hit the Nice pebbles this afternoon, tomorrow we will rent a car and head to one of the Riviera’s best sandy beaches — not sure yet which will strike our fancy. A friend who has a second home in Cap d’Ail suggested the Monte Carlo beach as the best, as long as we don’t mind spending a bit more than usual on the lounge chairs and umbrellas.
Wednesday you’ll read all about our beachy adventures. Then Saturday my friends and I fly to Calvi, Corsica, where we will become beach lizards (or raft rats) for one solid week…and you will not hear a peep from me until resurfacing on August 11th.
A la prochaine,
(at Paris Plage 2014)
P.S. I want to thank everyone who wrote in response to “The Uglier Side of Life in Paris” for your supportive and poignant comments. In the near future, we will have a forum where you will be able to share your comments with all of our readers, but until then, at least I get to see what an intelligent, appreciative, warm and heart-felt audience we have. Again, many thanks.
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