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Paris Notebook

17 August, 2013
August in Paris

Although in August most Parisians endure horrendous traffic jams to bask in blazing sun on the crowded beaches of the Côte d'Azur, some people, myself included, prefer to stay at home. 'It's the best time of the year, it's so quiet and you can park anywhere without getting a ticket,' they say. Well, yes that's true up to a point but there are disadvantages as well.

Every August I promise myself that I will do all the odd jobs that have accumulated during the year - descale the coffee machine, defrost the fridge, turn out the overflowing cupboards, clean the oven - but somehow it never quite seems to work out that way. For one thing, Paris can be extremely hot in August. 2003, when the thermometer soared to 42°C was exceptional, but this year we have had a number of days with temperatures of 35°C and high humidity which is not conducive to doing extra chores. And don't think you can cool off in a nice air-conditioned cinema because you will only find a lot of rubbishy films that the distributors unload in August because nobody would go to see them at any other time of the year. Moreover, the Métro becomes hot and unpleasant. I always think that with the Parisians gone it will be easier to get a seat but in fact it's often harder because the trains are invaded by hordes of tourists with enormous backpacks and huge suitcases. Paris is the most visited place in the world and numbers reach their peak in August. This is excellent for the fragile economy but bad news for residents. However, as most tourists tend to congregate in droves at the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre and Montmartre they can be avoided to a great extent.

Shops selling non-essential goods are often closed as are most theatres and if you decide to go to your favourite restaurant you may well find the shutters down and a notice on the door with the dreaded words Fermeture Annuel. It's best to deal with any medical or dental problems before August because it can be hard to find a doctor or a dentist and try not to have a plumbing emergency. My bath suddenly and mysteriously filled itself with black water which dripped through to my neighbour below. I was very lucky to get hold of the plumber just before he left on holiday.

Nevertheless there is something special about Paris in August. It is quiet if you avoid the tourist hot spots and there is a feeling of being on holiday even if you stay at home. The restaurants that remain open are often half empty and they will be glad to see you and give you their undivided attention. And there's another bonus: the gypsies in the Métro who play music you don't want to hear and pester you for money have mysteriously vanished. Have they all gone on holiday?

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