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“The Ins and Outs of “”Aout”””

The first time to set foot in Paris was in the month of August. It was a paradox even then in 1979. The first thing necessary to do was buy a coat, it was so cold and rainy. Traveling in the Summer, the suitcase was naturally filled with shorts and T-shirts and sandals, unprepared for August in Paris. But then again, we can all remember the “canicule” (heat wave) of 2003 when being naked couldn’t make you cool enough.

Saturday morning I arrived at Charles de Gaulle Terminal One to another paradoxical August in Paris. The plane was full to the brim, yet there was only one person seeking a taxi — me. The temperature was a good 30 degrees cooler than the city from which I had traveled, New Orleans (100 degrees, 100% humidity). There was little traffic on route into the city, arriving at my doorstep in less than 30 minutes with only 35 euros on the meter…the lowest fare I’ve ever paid.

The residential neighborhoods are as quiet as Easter Sunday. One could virtually cross rue de Bretagne without looking first —
only an occasional biker buzzes by. Bikers are cycling in the wrong direction up one-way streets without a care — few cars will greet them. Shops are closed for the month or undergoing renovation. The cafés are half full. The grocery store is sparse of both products (no chocolate bars on the shelf!) and customers. No one passes me in the stairwell and as I write this, there is little sound of street traffic under my windows.

But walk just a few blocks into more touristed areas and life changes. There is a perpetual line around the block to get a falafel at Chez Marianne at the corner of rue Hospital St. Gervais and rue des Rosiers (L’As du Falafel, a much better choice at number 32 rue des Rosiers, is closed for the month) and a line almost as long at Breakfast in America on rue Malher (number 4). (I wondered if they were Americans missing their pancakes?)

Paris Plage was moderately patronized, even on a perfect Summer evening. A magician making a dove magically appear out of his hat had only a small audience. The picnickers had plenty of space on which to spread their blankets (one couple had brought their own candles for a romantic candlelight dinner on the sand) and the sand sculptor’s cup for tips was almost empty.

But on Sunday afternoon there was a line to enter the Annie Leibovitz photo exhibition at the Maison Européenne de la Photographie and it was tough to get close to the photos for the crowd. Where had they all suddenly come from?

Paris in the month of August is a city made up of tourists and “poor working slobs” (like me and the North African proprietors of the corner markets). The French residents who have “vacation in August” branded in their brains from birth have intelligently vacated to their country homes, the beaches on any coast or this year while the dollar is weak, to the U.S. where they can bring home bargains. (Much to the happiness of the American tourists in Europe, the dollar rallied this week to a record “high” of $1.50 to the euro — a 4% gain this month alone.)

Meanwhile, we working slobs and the tourists experience a strange kind of paradoxical month when almost anything is possible. If you’re one of them, then don’t judge Paris by its August cover, but do take advantage of all that is worth its August attributes…

Like the ability to drive through the city and park a car easily…
Like the outdoor cinema and all the Summer entertainment (see Paris-Update.com for things to do)…
Like the prettiest sunsets over the Seine ever…
Like dining at the Asian restaurants (that never seem to close)…
Like the especially low August rates at apartments and hotels…
And if you live here, like spending quality time with the friends who are normally too busy to take even a moment…

A la prochaine…

Adrian Leeds
Editor, Parler Paris

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P.S. The Parler Parlor French-English Conversation Group is open all Summer long, so join us anytime and be sure to mark your calendars for the “Parler Parlor Rentree Party Picnic!” on Saturday, September 20, 2008.

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