It’s quiet here. Not so much in the tourist areas, which are as inundated as ever. But in the 11th where I live, signs hang on most doorways announcing extended closures. Here, we are in the midst of an age-old migration: August has returned to Paris and the Parisians have left.
Nearly a month ago, I passed my cheese shop and noticed a 30 percent off sale. At first I panicked, fearing he was closing for good, until he clarified, “I’m selling everything before we leave tomorrow for our summer vacation to la plage. I’ll be back August 21st.”
Everything remaining was consolidated into a single display case: a few stacks of assorted goat cheeses, a half wheel of gruyere, a spoonful of paté. I decided right then that dinner would be a salad with peaches and goat cheese and asked if the four types of goat cheese were similar. He smiled, indulging my ignorance, before emphatically asserting that they were each quite different, not only in taste–but in texture and place of origin. Then for the next five minutes, one by one, he told me their stories.
I bought one of each.
We said our goodbyes, and I went a half block further and stopped at my produce shop. I picked through an atypically paltry selection, by necessity switching the salad from peaches to figs. The vendor pointed to the barren shelves and explained that they would be closing that night for five weeks.
I waved goodbye, sidestepping the detritus of my culinary world which lay crashed at my feet. Two weeks earlier, my wine man had departed for a four-week vacation, and shortly thereafter, my fish vendor had followed. This, however, was the most befuddling departure of all: In the height of the fruit and vegetable season, a produce shop was shuttered for five weeks.
It was a four-cheese pity party—accompanied by a lovely Chablis.
Yet my American sensibilities are shifting. These vendors serve me well. If they can escape the city for a month, it seems the least I can do, is to make do. Besides, my goal is to become a cultural chameleon, not a cultural critic.
So alas, I have reverted to grocery store shopping and am learning to enjoy the slower pace of city life.
It was in this spirit that earlier this week, I meandered la plage—the beach that Paris has set up along the Seine for nearly 20 years. The longer nights mean the August dawn breaks crisper, yet the cloudless sky presaged another hot day. Since there was no imminent need to rush, I sat and forced myself to remain present in this most perfect moment.
As the sun rose higher, my mind wandered back a few years to another plage on the left bank where a man dressed in a suit and spit-shined, black and white dancing shoes stopped to talk. I learned that he was from western Africa but now taught science in Paris. He pointed to his shoes and said, “At night, I come here to salsa.”
I asked, “Why salsa? Why Paris? I don’t associate the two.”
“Only the wealthy can afford to go to the beach. For the rest of us, this is our vacation. We come here, and we dance.”
Back in the present, I nestled deeper into my chair and watched a woman hold a yoga pose far longer than seemingly possible. Finally, I rose and as I made my way home, I smiled.
Categories: Life in Paris