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A Paris Bee in My Bonnet and In My Lunch

I’ve got a bee in my bonnet. In fact, the pesky stinging buggers are everywhere in Paris. They are making me nuts, quite honestly, buzzing around our food in open-air cafés and finding their way inside to the tables to harass us. I have found myself swatting like a wild woman and recently swatted one so that it landed in my glass of water and drowned. (Should I be ashamed to admit this?)

Bee in My BonnetBee in My Bonnet

Bees Swarm a Hot Dog Stand at Times SquareBees Swarm a Hot Dog Stand at Times Square

Opera Honey

Reported by Reuters, Youtube Video https://youtu.be/08XppOkfTXgReported by Reuters, Youtube Video

There is a decidedly larger amount of bees in the air than usual. Bugs of all kinds are somewhat a rarity in Paris, evident by the lack of screens on the windows. For example, I’ve never seen a roach (although I’m sure they exist somewhere), occasionally an ant appears in the kitchen, a moth or two in the closets, but not much more than that. Since coming back from Nice where I spent much of the summer, we’re being bombarded by honeybees.

Last week, about 25,000 bees swarmed a New York Times Square hot dog stand at 43rd Street and Broadway, descending on its parasol with a vengence. Beekeepers were called to the scene to remove them, which they did by vacuuming them up in order to relocate them to hives elsewhere. Bees are known to swarm after a new virgin queen bee is born. The old queen leaves with her constituent bees to start up a new hive. (Sounds pretty political to me!) This particular old queen must have been pretty popular to have so many followers and found the hot dog cart to perhaps make a perfect new hive…that is, until the masked vacuuming cop came and took them all away.

It turns out I’m not dreaming about the onslaught of bees in Paris. Paris is becoming the beehive capital of the world with more than 1,000 hives atop landmark buildings and community gardens located all over the city. The hives are on the roof of the Opéra Garnier (which sells their honey in their boutique), on the spires of Notre Dame, atop the Ecole Militaire, at the Restaurant La Tour d’Argent, the Cordon Bleu cooking school, in the Luxembourg Gardens and in lots of even more unlikely places. Beekeeping classes stay fully booked and hives are popping all over the city as a result.

Bees had been dying in France, so much so, that a group of beekeepers staged a mock funeral in central Paris this past summer, with a plea to the government to take action. They blame the 30 percent drop of the bee colonies to the use of pesticides, commercial-style agriculture and a predator called the Asian Hornet. They were not happy as evidenced by the seriously sad looks on their faces.

Their demise could easily be ours if we can’t replenish or replace the buggers. Without them, our planet would be a very different place since they pollinate about one-sixth of the flowering plants in the world, or about one-third of what we eat. They aren’t the only pollinators on the planet (bats, moths, butterflies, hummingbirds, ants, and beetles, too), but we rely on bees most of all. Without them, there would be no broccoli, asparagus, cantaloupes, cucumbers, pumpkins, blueberries, watermelons, almonds, apples, cranberries, and cherries…and on my diet, that would be disastrous!

Most important of all, they produce honey (not on my diet, unfortunately). Did you know that they do this by “regurgitating nectar and passing it back and forth in their mouths to one another before depositing and sealing it in a honeycomb?” Yuck. But, what a sweet nectar it is.

Audric de Campeau, Le Miel de Paris http://www.lemieldeparis.com/mieldeparisAudric de Campeau, Le Miel de Paris

Abeille Royal honey

Audric de Campeau, founder of a young company and an experienced beekeeper, observed that bees, with their survival threatened, would grow better in the city than in the countryside. He combined technology with environmental defense and started installing beehives in Champagne in 2004, then on the rooftops of Paris in 2009. His Parisian bees produce more honey than in the countryside and survive better. The lack of pesticides (the use of which is forbidden in Paris’ parks and gardens even forbidden on home terraces and roofs) and greater floral diversity are the main reasons.

So, when you buy honey from the Paris bees, you can be sure it’s pure. It doesn’t take many hives to produce enough honey for a restaurant kitchen – 55 pounds can be produced by one hive in just one year. Paris produces about 2 percent, while other regions in France take the honeybee prize; mostly those in the south – Provence and Languedoc Roussillon, where fruit and flowering trees are abundant. (Makes sense.)

Sure, bees are essential to life on the planet — the one bug that is most revered, for whom we can give credit for pollinating one-third of the planet’s crops…but I just wish they’d stay closer to their hives and their flowers and not all over my lunch.

This recent New York Times article details more about Paris bees.

And more on the city website.

A la prochaine…

Adrian Leeds - Paris, France

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The Little Paris Beekeeping School - Paris, France

P.S. Think you might be interested in keeping your own bees? Here’s a good place to start: The Little Paris Beekeeping School. Just try to keep them close to home, please!

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