August: when everyone flees for the seaside. I’ve never been in Paris during this time of year; I usually come just before la Rentrée, or “re-entry,” when everyone is coming home to ready the kids for the first day of school. I knew things closed down but I really wasn’t prepared for what a ghost town it would be. I didn’t even know a major city could be so empty, except maybe during an apocalypse or something.
I mean, Paris is dead.
If you travel here as a tourist and stay mainly around central Paris, you won’t notice it much. But just move away from the tourist areas, to a real local neighborhood like mine, and you feel it. One by one your favorite cafés, the local fruitier, the wine guy, all begin to close down—some for as long as three weeks or more. The streets are empty; even the patter of your neighbors’ footfall vanishes. It’s like being on the set of Omega Man. Eerie.
Need your prescription filled, your shoes repaired? Tant pis. We’re on vacation. Hungry for good meal, desperate to wash your clothes? Sorry! The holidays are upon us. If you’re not smart enough to get out of town, too, we can’t help you.
It amazes me, as a business-minded New Yorker, that an entire country would shut down for a month. But I suppose if the whole country complies, it makes sense. Why open your shop if your usual customers are away?
But in this economy, can everyone afford to go to the beach? What about those stuck here, or the ones with jobs to do: the police, les pompiers, the hospital workers? What happens to them? It doesn’t seem anyone will ask them anytime soon. When it comes to Europe and their August break, it’s not something you mess with.
And sure, there’s something to this idea, something we Americans should try to get our brains around. In my old job, I’d feel guilty for taking time off—time owed me. So, what’s wrong with us, huh? Why not just shut it all down and go to the seaside? Everybody in the pool! Europe’s been doing it for generations; why should it be a problem economically now? Maybe it’s just a problem for the CEOs of the world. Tant pis.
There is also something wonderful about August in Paris. All that silence has an upside. Paris is dreamy and calm. Those of us who’ve stayed behind to guard the gates acknowledge each other as we pass on the streets—we the secret brotherhood of the intrepid city dweller. Yeah, that’s right, let the hoards sit on the beaches. We’ve got the city all to ourselves.
You can easily get a terrace table at La Favorite, that’s for sure.