It’s August In and Outside Paris
Paris is a bit ‘schizophrenic’ these days (I use the term loosely).
The residential areas are like ghost towns. The streets are empty, the sidewalks are clean, the shops are closed and it looks as if it’s suffering from biological warfare as there is so little life left.
Head to the touristed areas and it’s virtual chaos. The streets are jam packed, the cafés overflowing, the lines to enter the monuments and museums are a mile long. It’s August in Paris.
Some Parisians LOVE August and make a point of staying even though all their friends are on the beaches or elsewhere whiling away their time. Others dread every moment and do little, but complain. Either way, it’s weird to experience a city without its citizens and that’s what Paris is in August — like a theme park with ticket-holders who just want a ride or two and then head home. They’re in their summer vacation garb, speak dozens of different languages and are just taking in the sights so they can say they’d been in Paris at least once in their lifetimes.
I used to be one of those who liked August and then the reality set in. While everyone else was on the beach, I was working harder than ever to cover for their absence, eating Chinese food (since the Asian restaurants are some of the few that stay open), generally getting lonely for my friends and jealous of their real tans, instead of like mine that came out of a tube.
That’s when I vowed to skip town, at least for a bit, to reap the rewards of the Summer and the French constitutional habit of not working during the eighth month of the year. Why should I when everyone else is using August as their excuse for doing nothing?
Friday afternoon I took a one-hour train ride to the countryside to visit my old friend and co-coordinator of Parler Parlor, Marie-Elisabeth Crochard Fasanella Hayes Fitère (married three times, but I’m not sure I have them in the right order), who has a home in the little town of Auxy not far from Saint-Pierre-lès-Nemours in the Saône-et-Loire department in Burgundy. I hadn’t been there in many years, for no reason other than lack of time and bad planning.
The house she calls “Tara” is a classic farmhouse made of stone that she has renovated herself with a stable-turned-living-room, a big back yard and all the creature comforts à la Française. The ivy has taken over the stone facade rendering it in total country charm. Elisabeth has furnished it from her “brocante” bargain-hunting and with her own hands has remodeled, remade, refinished and refurbished every inch. Everything about it exudes French countryside à la Madame, la Grande Bricoleuse (Great Handywoman).
The patio is where life happens in the summer. She grilled chicken and corn on the cob on an open barbecue under a trellis of grape vines and sheer cloth. On the overgrown yard, the cats played and waited patiently for a mouse or two. It’s peaceful and idyllic, except for the conversation which is centered at the moment around François Hollande and his tax reforms sending a nation into apoplexy. (The first round of tax reforms have been fully approved by parliament on Tuesday, July 31st).
She warned me that I would ‘sleep like a log in the country air’ and I did, having gotten about 11 hours of sleep when my normal snooze time is more like six. Breakfast is taken on a wrought-iron table in the front of the house where the sun begins to bath the house in light about 11 a.m. The cats join us, of course. There is a bee hive nested in a space between a little sun porch off the master bedroom that she hears buzzing, but doesn’t dare disturb. Anything she plants grows like a weed, evident by the mature trees that have appeared since the last time I was there.
To see the village we wandered the back lanes — the petits chemins used by the farmers to reach their fields. Years and years ago, the farmhouses sprung up on plots of land and now often share one small path or road to access each of them. Many have been beautifully gentrified by city-dwellers who do what Marie-Elisabeth does — enjoy her second home weekends and summers.
Since the 1950s, the French (and foreigners, particularly the British), have been acquiring second homes in France. Three million properties in this category represent 10% of the national housing, which, according to the French financial press, is a world record. Some argue that conversion of the residence to vacation housing is one of the main reasons for the increase in property prices and lack of housing in France.
On the other hand, Marie-Elisabeth said that the ‘rich’ who can afford to buy homes that have deteriorated into stone shells and turn them into comfortable contemporary abodes has done the countryside of France a big favor. Once upon a time the towns were drying up and thanks to the vacation-home-fever, “blood” is pumping back in.
It’s an interesting dichotomy of opinion here. According to Wikipedia, Paris has the most with 84,609 secondary residences and Nice is not far behind with 27,663. That’s where I’m headed tomorrow — to my own “résidence secondaire” — so stay tuned for a different kind of August on the Riviera, to where all the Parisians have gone!
A la prochaine…
Editor, Parler Paris
P.S. Mark your “Rentrée” calendar for September 11th, when Francisco Leiva is going to teach us how it takes “Two to Tango” at Parler Paris Après Midi! Visit Parler Paris Après Midi for more information.
P.P.S. Paris Weekender blogger Abby Gordon is a happy new apartment-owner and the subject of an upcoming House Hunters International! She just published her interview with Adrian talking about life, business and French real estate, so don’t miss it…and be sure to subscribe to her very informative and fun blog! See Interview with Adrian