Archive for the 'les vacances' Category

Bonnes Vacances !

August 1, 2012

Store Window, Saint Paul, The Marais

Bonnes vacances ! – Have a good vacation!
les vacances
– vacation, holidays

tranquille – quiet, calm, peaceful
une boulangerie – bakery
tant pis
– too bad
le métro – the Paris subway
l’heure de pointe – rush hour
la foule – crowd
le quai – quay
du monde – (many) people
il n’y a pas grand monde – there’s hardly anybody; there aren’t many people
une complicité – understanding, complicity

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“Les gens s’étonnent toujours que vous ne quittiez pas Paris l’été, sans comprendre que c’est précisément parce qu’ils le quittent que vous y restez.”
(“People are always surprised that you don’t leave Paris in the summer. They don’t understand that it’s precisely because they leave it, that you stay.”)
– Henry de Montherlant



It’s August 1st!  For many Parisians, that means one thing – it’s time for les vacances!  As I write this, Paris’ year-round inhabitants are fleeing the city in droves, abandoning it willingly to starry-eyed tourists and the handful of residents who are staying behind. The next 31 days promise to be tranquille, as stores, boulangeries and businesses close up shop, often to the perplexed frustration of August visitors to the city.  My friend Andrew, for example, got here last Sunday and immediately started calling around to make restaurant reservations – only to discover that virtually all the eateries on his list… which he had oh-so-carefully researched and notated for his long-anticipated vacation… are closed.  For the entire month.  (I tactfully refrained from pointing out that if he had been reading my blog, he’d have already known about Paris in August, though I guess, technically, I’m now pointing it out here. Ahem.)

It’s all so very French in attitude. Even Berthillon, the world-famous artisanal ice cream maker—who could easily make a killing during high tourist season—closes its doors during the month. Some things are sacred, after all. Money or not, August is designated for les vacances. Tant pis.  The tourists will just have to get their ice cream elsewhere.

This marks my third August in Paris and I’m looking forward to it. No impossibly jam-packed métro during l’heure de pointe. No fighting the foule at the supermarket. Crowded, narrow sidewalks that are normally overrun with people are free and clear for strolling and il n’y a pas grand monde along the quai de la Seine. As long as you stay away from the main tourist attractions, it feels as if the city is suddenly at your disposal.


Room for quiet contemplation on the quai de la Seine

There’s an unspoken, friendly complicité between all us Parisians who are left behind to wander the city streets – as we go about our daily routines, we cross paths and exchange knowing, sympathetic glances with each other. Yes, for whatever reason, we have not been able to leave the city for les vacances along with the others. But we also share something else in common: a delightful little secret. For the next month at least, the city belongs entirely to us, and to us alone.

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On Backpacking (or “Wallowing In My Own Filth”)

July 30, 2011
Oasis in the Bolivian Altiplano desert?

The following post was originally published on June 1, 2007, during a six-week backpacking trip through South America. With les vacances approaching, most of Paris fleeing the city, and travel on everybody’s brain, I thought it was a good time dig it up from the archives.

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I don’t know about you, but there’s something about travelling that makes the unthinkable in everyday life become perfectly palatable when you’re on the road. Take, for example, hygiene.

This very thought occurred to me as I sat on the chicken bus to Uyuni, Bolivia this morning, munching on a stale piece of bread that I had stuffed in my pocket after breakfast, a scattering of breadcrumbs embedded in the fringed “100% Alpaca” (read: very possibly acrylic) sweater that I had picked up from a tourist shop a few towns back.  I was dressed in the same socks and long underwear that I had been wearing for the last two days.  Still hungry, I rummaged around in my backpack and triumphantly unearthed half a granola bar with a few pieces of lint stuck to the sugary outside coating.  Unfazed, I picked them off handily and proceeded to devour the bar with the enthusiasm of a dog who has unexpectedly come across filet mignon table scraps.

The thought occurred to me again as I sat squatting by the side of the road later that afternoon, behind a poor excuse for a bush, during a much-needed pee break.

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31 Days Later

August 19, 2010


Store Window, Montmartre, Paris

les vacances – vacation
une fermeture – closure
la Mairie de Paris – Paris City Hall
un embouteillage –  traffic jam
le supermarché
– supermarket, grocery store
une fermeture exceptionnelle – unexpected or extended closure; an “exceptional” closure, outside of the regular operating schedule
l’Hôtel de Ville
– City Hall
la plage – beach
les quais de la Seine – the quays of the Seine

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Do you remember the creepy opening scenes of the film 28 Days Later?  They caused a stir among critics and sent a chill down the spines of audience members everywhere because they depicted, in very realistic fashion, the always-bustling London landmarks, Westminster Bridge, Piccadilly Circus and Oxford Street, utterly devoid of human life.  The simple, surreal absence of people in such famously and characteristically overcrowded spots was eerier than anything Jerry Bruckheimer could have pulled out of his bag of over-the-top tricks.

Well, those famous scenes are kind of what Paris feels like in August.  Public spaces that are normally bursting to overflowing with people now appear vast and empty.  While passing through the central métro station Châtelet the other day, I could have sworn I heard the opening theme from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly playing as a piece of tumbleweed drifted by.

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