Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Paris: On vacation for the month of August

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.


8 comments:

  1. So funny, I had just posted all the 'closed' signs on my fb page for everyone in the states. There are quite a few Philippine women walking the neighborhood however. Maybe they opted not to go with their families or weren't given the option, not sure. I noted it because on these past hot days, they are out in flip flops, shorts and tank tops. It struck me because in years past (and still to some degree) I always told friends that they should absolutely NOT wear shorts while visiting in Paris, it simply was not done! They usually classified me as a fuddy duddy, but that's just the way it was. Now I see shorts more and more, still not by Parisians, but they seem to be in dwindling supply, at least this summer. Maybe this will be known as the 'summer of change'. It seems like it to me! Or maybe I'm just getting older?

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  2. Omg, imagine having your own personal masseuse on a beach holiday! What a life... Maybe it's just because I'm still at work every day, but things don't seem so quiet in these parts this year. That's interesting about the boulangerie law, I was wondering about the dérogation no. in the photo before I read your text, never noticed that before. Is it just Paris it applies to?

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  3. Love the boulangerie photo! This is the first time I'm here in August and it is soo weird! Vacant! Makes me wish I could take an entire month off too!! haha I was actually at the Audrey Hepburn movie as well! Wasn't that fantastic!

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  4. Many of your missing fellow Parisians are here in Creuse for their holidays! There are as many shiny convertibles as tractors on the roads at the moment, and that's a significant amount! We have some closed shops and garages too but that's generally only for a week or two.

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  5. As I make my own bread, I don't have the bakery problem and this summer, my cleaner is here all month because so she had to go to Portugal on several occasions throughout the year to look after her sick father so needs to work in August to make up for lost revenue. My fortune is her misfortune.

    The most annoying this is that I ordered new contact lenses from my regular supplier who didn't call me to say they had arrived before he closed for the whole month without even leaving a note on his shop! This is one customer he's definitely losing!

    A lot of people will be back after the 15th August long weekend though because they believe the weather always get colder after that date.

    Aren't you supposed to be off soon? Or have you already come back?

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  6. Thanks for sharing your experiences! I have always wanted to see Paris for myself so I have been looking at some Paris vacation rentals so that I can experience the great city for myself. What were some of your favorite things to do there?

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  7. Vacation is one of the best thing to enjoy the some days in life now a days vacation has been start and many kids want to go for teh trip i think vacation is not only for the kids busnew york to indianapolis bus but i want to make the plan of US and i provide the facilities of bus tour between the cities

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  8. Paris is paradise of earth I hope one day i would visit this beautiful place Thanks for share .
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