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paris pizza hut scooters, notes from paris by nessa o'mahony on

Volcans Meurtriers
a multimedia exposition on volcanoes
held in paris at the
Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle
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notes from a paris garret
1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5

notes from a paris garret
: 4
from nessa o'mahony

: July-August 2003

Heat, heat, air so heavy that the mere effort of moving from the small living room to the bedroom seems too great. Days spent lounging on the sofa, summoning up the energy from time to time to turn the page of the book I’ve been trying to read for the past month. Too hot to get dressed, too hot to get undressed.
Too hot to eat, to drink...

Okay, okay, so I’m exaggerating a tad, but with temperatures regularly over 30C in the past month, and averaging at about 27C, it’s been the hottest summer in Paris in over a decade, and when the Parisians themselves start complaining, this Irish red-skin knows she’s in trouble. But it’s easier to understand the mass exodus that begins on 15th July as the French, still suffering from Bastille Day-induced hangovers, jump lemming-like into their camper-vans and take to the highways in their tens of thousands. Anywhere but Paris is their marseillaise-like cry.

Gloriously beautiful city that it is, Paris is simply not designed for the heat. This makes me wonder where Haussman and his confreres spent their summers back in the 1880s when they were redesigning Paris – if they’d spent more time on the Grand Boulevards, they would never have constructed so many buildings in that pale stone that seems to reflect back and magnify the heat – one can actually get burned simply by leaning on it.

Haussman’s 21st century counterparts have spent hours dreaming up modern solutions to the problem of how to keep dehydrated Parisians, unable to leave the capital during the dog days of July and August, from going postal. Their current solution, wittily titled the Paris Plage, is to try to get people to imagine that the right bank of the Seine is actually the Riviera. To achieve this extraordinary ambition, they have deposited tonnes of sand (well they claim tonnes – the amount I saw during a wander down there yesterday wouldn’t fill up a small portion of Dollymount) along the side of the river, scattered a few thousand deck-chairs up and down the quays and have created children’s play-areas... bouncy castles etc... from place to place. They’ve also granted licenses to small concessions to sell over-priced soft drinks and thankfully under-priced beer and there’s even a lending library to provide intellectual stimulation to would-be sun-worshippers. The small flaw in this mediterranean idyll is that the Seine ain’t the Mediterranean, and if anyone tried to swim in it they’d swallow more microbes than you’d find in an average laboratory. Tant pis, the organisers said, and laid on lots of water-sprayers in compensation for this lack of the wet stuff. Not that many people were availing of the option yesterday.

The exodus of Parisians to the countryside and the seaside, and the removal of the rest of them to the banks of the Seine, does have one great and obvious advantage – it leaves the rest of the city comparatively empty, and more easy to negotiate for the mad dogs and wanderers. The other day, I actually didn’t have to queue for a quarter of an hour for my Berthillon ice-cream – when I asked the charming vender where she thought everyone was, she shrugged and said, "but it’s too hot – they’ll be out later." I wandered off, slavering at the mouth over my framboise sorbet.
The framboise put me in appropriately solemn mood for my next port of call, a visit to Hotel des Beaux Arts (at No. 13 rue des Beaux Arts), where Oscar Wilde whispered his last witticism. The hotel is considerably fancier now than it was in Oscar’s day, but they’ll kindly allow you a look into his bedroom if things are quiet and they’ve nothing better to do. The subject of Wilde’s final jest, the atrocious wallpaper, has been replaced by tasteful stripes as part of an overall attempt to recreate his famous Peacock room from London. And there, in aquamarine glory, is a huge Peacock frieze over a emperor-size sedan bed. The walls are covered with Wilde memorabilia (I failed to spot his unpaid bill, but it must be there, somewhere) and despite the garishness, there’s something quite moving about it, particularly if one recalls Richard Ellman’s description of how the poor man actually died.

In sombre frame of mind, I submit to the heat and crawl slowly back to my own humble accommodation. As I climb the four flights, stopping for 10 minutes at each floor to catch my breath and prevent hypertensive shock, I realise that things could indeed be much worse, a mantra I repeat the next morning when woken by several billion euro worth of French airforce power booming over my window as part of the annual Bastille Day fly-over. I mean, they might actually use the bloody things.

A bientot



notes from a paris garret : 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5

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