|The painted window at my bakery depicts a happy family departing on vacation. Even the cat and dog are carrying bags.|
Paris, at least my little corner of it in the 16th arrondissement, is quiet. Eerily quiet. My bakery, newspaper stand, butcher and cheesemonger have all closed up shop for the month of August. Pieces of paper wishing their forlorn customers "Bonnes Vacances" ("Happy Holidays") hang in the darkened windows. I guess it's to be expected considering that most of their clients have vacated the city for beaches in the South of France or familial country homes in Burgundy.
The rest of us have been left to forage for food from the one or two stalwart vendors remaining at the market. Not surprisingly, they're cleverly using the opportunity to win our hearts by reminding us that they value our patronage even if our regular vendors have deserted us. I've never been given so much free produce in my life. "Would you like a bunch of mint or basil, Madame?" and "I put a few extra peaches in your bag because I always reward my faithful customers." The message is clear. They want my return business in the fall when my regular vendor returns sun-tanned and relaxed from his annual holiday.
Not only are the shopkeepers gone but so are my doctor, dentist and hairdresser. When I tried to make an August appointment with my dentist, she peered at the ancient silver filling in my mouth and proposed that we wait to replace it until after la rentrée (the return) in September. As soon as I agreed, she deftly switched subjects to something more important, her upcoming vacation in Deauville. As she worked on my teeth, she rhapsodized nostalgic about childhood memories of summers spent in Normandy and told me that she couldn't wait to exchange her practice for leisurely days relaxing on the beach with her young son and daughter. It was obvious that a month-long holiday was a long standing tradition in her family. My filling could wait.
When I asked the woman who periodically cleans our apartment if she was available last Monday, I inadvertently learned that all of the Filipina housekeepers and nannies are also on vacation. The major difference is that the Filipinas work the entire time they're at the beach because apparently well-heeled French families only leave Paris if they can take someone along who will babysit their children and do the dishes. As I sent one futile text message after another to various members of the Filipina network, I kept getting the same response, "Sorry, but I'm in _______ (insert Cannes, Trouville, Beune, etc) this month." When I was finally able to reach the lone Filipina who was rather remarkably still in Paris, I was curious to know why she was here when all of her friends were gone. It's because she had already gone on vacation with a family during the entire month of July. Even Grace, my masseuse, is away. A French family took her to the beach with them so that she could give them daily massages in return for a monthly salary. Knowing that most of her regular customers would be gone, she explained that she had no option but to agree.
|Empty rowboats floating on the lake in the Bois de Boulogne|
Nonetheless, staying in Paris has its advantages. There are lots of empty seats on the bus, it's possible to get reservations at the few restaurants that are still open and the normally crowded parks located outside the touristic center of town are pleasantly deserted. Despite the sunny weather, empty rowboats remained tied up at the pier while the ponies appeared to be permanently parked under a tree in the Bois de Boulogne when Stéphane and I were there last Saturday afternoon.
As always, the city of Paris does a good job looking after those of its residents who aren't able to flee their urban confines. Throughout August, it offers a wide range of free activities and entertainment. There's Paris Plages, sandy beaches with evening dance classes, nautical activities and volleyball courts near the Seine and at Bassin de la Villette, as well as Cinéma au Clair de Lune, an open air cinema screening films in some of the most picturesque parts of town. In a "pinch me, I can't believe this is real" moment, Stéphane and I watched Audrey Hepburn drive a sports car past Notre Dame on a large inflatable movie screen right next to the Eiffel Tower on Sunday evening.
|"The bakery will be closed for vacation from July 31 to August 28, 2013, inclusive."|
The sign also gives the addresses of nearby bakeries that are open.
In spite of my bakery being closed for the entire month of August, the government has been regulating bakers' holidays for more than 200 years to ensure that Parisians will always have easy access to bread. This regulation is a legacy of the time when lack of bread sparked revolutions in Paris.
To find out which bakeries are open this month, click here. Once you're at the Paris.fr website, click on the section that says "Consulter la liste des boulangeries parisiennes ouvertes au mois d'août 2013 (au format pdf)*".
Another added bonus of staying in Paris during the month of August is that 90% of the parking places are free of charge. Click here for more information in French.