The Dead of August

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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. 

IMG_6768If 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?

IMG_6686But 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.

IMG_6731There 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.

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Yes, you read that right. This business is closed for over five weeks. Just try to do that in NYC.

13 responses to “The Dead of August

  1. Yes. I remember 11 years ago or so when the Big Heat Wave hit France and all the kids were gone on holiday and (no air conditioning in France to speak of) some 15,000 seniors died in France in 2003 in August. Shocked the world how frail we can get when we get older; how we depend on family–if they will be there or can be there. 70,000 heat related deaths in Europe that 2003 August. Takes a village to raise… and keep us alive.
    ….
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2003_European_heat_wave

  2. i have always wondered how they all manage to afford to just pick up and go somewhere for weeks at a time..I’ve never been in August either…the best time is la rentree..most of the tourists go..the weather is still warm(ish) and the city comes back to life.

    have a bon weekend Lisa!

    • But it’s a PAID vacation Debbie. They do prefer you stay inside of France…why everywhere is so fab. My nearby copyshop closed but Office Depot is not thanks gawd. I’ve gotten use to the calm. And there are not so many pastries to feast on. Arnaud Larher IS open! And Picard has 100 flavors of ice cream. Lait d’amande with macarons is to die for better than Berthi…

      • I love Picard. Where is there a Picard in this area? There is one around the corner from my place in the 11th. That was on my criteria list. 😉

  3. We have much to learn from the French, and this post illustrates one of the most important lessons.

  4. It is the same here in Germany. Summer breaks are staggered by state, to limit the amount of people trying to travel on the same highways. But when it is summer holiday, everybody shuts down. I returned to town to find my favorite pizzeria closed. My doctor is on vacation. I don’t mind though. Why shouldn’t they get time off? They can be confident that when they return, so will their business. It is also why I enjoy Sunday’s so much. Close the stores and enjoy doing nothing with friends and family.

  5. Summer is my busiest time of year, professionally speaking, since I’m in ground construction and work mostly on railways. And in spite of the desert-ness that is sometimes annoying (like when ALL the bakeries around me *and* work decide to close at the same time for a month), I must say I do love working in Paris in the summer. Way less wouldbe-parisians (i.e. people come from elsewhere who get really big-headed because THEY get to live in Paris) in my way, way less traffic to bear with (I’m all team Vélib’) and the métro is way less crowded too at rush time (though it’s more crowded the rest of the time). I crave the quietness, though I would get bored pretty quickly in a smaller city. The parisian paradox !

    • I agree, I love Paris now. Much more manageable. Although, ironically, I’m staying in Ile de la Cité because of a leak in my apartment so it’s tourists everywhere. Heading back chez moi around the Rentrée, in time for my favorite hangout to re-open.

      • I’m sorry to read about your leak (this sounds very wrong, but well), which I just read did not get fixed in your latest post (no surprise there). It’s funny because you stayed just metres away from where I was (and still am) working, on the south bank beside Île-Saint-Louis 😉

        So all back to normal now eh ? 🙂 My favourite bar re-opened too, at long least. aaah.

      • Yes everything is back to normal—and me I’m back in my own apartment, or as I am now calling it, “La Palace des Moisissures.” Leak keeps leaking, mold keeps growing. Luckily, my fave hangout is open again, too, so I can go and write there.

  6. Pingback: La Rentree (Re-entry) | My (Parttime) Paris Life·

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