For any of you who don’t happen to follow the weather in Paris, last weekend was hot. Hot in my apartment, hot on the street — even the stones of the quay of the river were hot, long after dark. The water flowed by, cool and untouchable, while I sat on the hot stones until my knees got sticky.
Saturday, I had a plan to avoid the heat. Go shopping! Stores, unlike Bohemian apartments, air condition. So when it got too hot, I set out. The problem was, the stores were just little oases in a blazing desert of concrete. I had to go into many more stores than I even thought about shopping from, and the contrast of indoors and outdoors was terrible.
So Sunday, I had a new plan: find water. Where I come from, if it’s hot, you go swimming. If it’s almost hot, you go swimming. If the sun is out and getting wet wouldn’t make your teeth chatter, you also go swimming. And some people just go swimming. At this point, it’s Pavlovian. I feel heat, I think cold, cold water.
Paris has a river. (The Seine! Well done, gumshoes.) But the only people who I have seen swimming in this river are the Civil Protection guys, who I was told were training for saving people who accidentally fell in. Supposedly, this happens a lot. They let you drink wine at river picnics, so what do you know. Supposedly, if you go in the river, they automatically take you to the hospital, but I’d like to check my sources on that one.
Paris also has a lake, out on the edge of town, in a park called the Bois de Boulogne. I should take a moment to tell you about this park. I was out there earlier this week, riding my bike around. It has everything. A hippodrome. An orangerie. A man in a Speedo walking a small dog. There are miles and miles of trails that wind through real woods, not trees planted in rows surrounded by pale dusty gravel, which is Paris’s usual attitude towards foliage. These trails are a place I wouldn’t go with anyone I didn’t trust, I was thinking, when out I came to a crossroads. A man in full drag stood there. Waiting, but not for me. Bonjour, he said. Bonjour, I said and kept on riding.
So it seemed like this park might be a place you could find things you were looking for. And the security guard himself had told me in fluent gesture that there was a lake where I could ride a bike! Row a boat! Do really fast crawl-stroke! It seemed like the place to look for water.
On Sunday when I went back, I had an accomplice: a verycool British guy in town for the weekend to research his novel. We metroed out, then walked and walked. The 16th arrondissement was an asphalt desert. He told me his life story. We went on and on and on. There was the lake, but no one was swimming. People were boating, picnicking, napping, smoking, but NO ONE WAS SWIMMING. The water was a scuzzy green. We bought cold drinks. We stuck our feet in. We considered, and headed back.
Actually, we headed to where we should have gone first: Paris Plage. Of course. There is no swimming at Paris Plage either, but it was ok. The misting sprinklers made my whole body happy, the kind of happy that makes you realize how unhappy you were before. Or how much you were just surviving. Somehow, this beach with no swimming is onto something. Swimsuits, sand, bocce ball, cold drinks, children, ice cream, sun, mist — it was enough of a beach. We shut that place down.