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Beating the Paris Heat

“You can stand here with me if you want, but you’ll have to agree not
to talk about the heat”, said Ned Racine (William Hurt) in Lawrence Kasdan’s film, “Body Heat,” to Matty Walker (Kathleen Turner) who looks at him with a startling directness of her gaze, and replies cooly without being hostile, “I’m a married woman.”

I felt like Ned yesterday. It was 95 degrees in the shade here in Paris and is predicted to remain in the high 80’s and mid 90’s for the next ten days. Since 2000, the weather patterns have drastically changed. Believe it or not, “France is the country in Europe that is showing the most drastic changes in weather patterns, violent events and anomalies, what we call ‘americanization’ of European weather,” wrote John Connor, a National Weather Service Forecast consultant.

Air-conditioning is more uncommon than the norm, but can be found in department stores, grocery stores, movie theaters (although not all) and the better hotels. The French didn’t think it was very healthy for you…that is until the “canicule” (heat wave) of 2003 happened when more than 15,000 people died. That summer Paris had highs of over 100 degrees the first 12 days of August. I remember when it was 104 degrees on August 7th and you couldn’t even find a fan for sale, much less air-conditioning units. The temperatures were so high that even the best of systems couldn’t support the overload.

Health is not the only reason most apartments aren’t air-conditioned. Remember that in the U.S. we build a house from the ground up and network the systems within the walls before the sheetrock is hung. Just imagine trying to knock through my 17th-century walls that are solid stone to install the conduits! And then when the system wasn’t there as in “older” U.S. homes, units were invented so that you could just plug up the window and it would vent to the outside.

In Paris, most of the dwellings are apartment buildings, not single family homes, that are dictated by laws which govern the exterior of historical buildings and are run by their “copropriétés” (homeowners associations). External pipes or units are not allowed to be visible to the common areas. Individual units exist, but you must have a balcony or external space to put a machine that makes it work that doesn’t infringe on your neighbors. More and more people have resorted to free standing units that run a large hose to a window propped open, but it takes up space and isn’t very efficient.

Lack of air-conditioning is not only true for France, but is the case for all over Europe. Interestingly, in the reporting by the American press in 2003, Germany, Belgium, Italy, Greece, England and France all had record highs, but France had the highest temperatures for the longest period of time and therefore had more victims. While thousands died in the other countries, only France was criticized. (I call it “sibling rivalry” — our two nations that actually have so much in common.)

So, how does one beat the heat in the city that isn’t air conditioned?

First of all, the city of Paris provides a suggestions on way to protect your health and those of your family, friends and neighbors as well as ways to cool your homes along with emergency information for someone suffering from the heat. Visit http://www.paris.fr
(in French) for more information.

Or head for the swimming pools…at the foot of the Bibliothèque François Mitterrand (13th arrondissement) along the Seine, do a few laps in the open air “j2999éphine Baker” or consult http://www.paris.fr/ for more cool Paris pools to dip into.

If you haven’t been to the beach yet, then make your way to Paris Plage. Starting tomorrow and until August 20th, three kilometers along the Seine on the Right Bank and now a new one kilometer portion along the Left Bank from Port de la Gare to the passerelle Simone de Beauvoir is beach blanket bingo for the 5th year. Two-thousands tons of sand, 240 parasols, 68 palm trees and 300 lounge chairs await you. Visit http://www.paris.fr/ for more information (in French).

And if you’re just plain in the mood for rest and relaxation, take a book to the Fontaine de Medicis in the Jardin du Luxembourg to sit under the cool shade trees next to the still pond. I actually think it’s the coolest unairconditioned spot in all of Paris and one of the most beautiful.

A la prochaine…

Adrian Leeds
Editor, Parler Paris
Email [email protected]

P.S. Don’t forget, there will be no Parler Paris newsletters all next week while I’m beating the Italian heat in Tuscany! Save your letters or send them to mailto:[email protected] where Lynda Sydney will help answer your questions or pass them on upon my return.

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