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Yes, it sounds romantic. Thank you, Gene Kelly, for singing in the rain and you too, Woody Allen, for making rain a happy ending in “Midnight in Paris.” Agreed: The city of Light can be brilliant even when it’s gray and drizzly and looks like Amsterdam or Seattle. But, it gets old and fast. April this year in Paris and May, too, have been wet—and since it wasn’t in a movie, it was no fun at all.
Drizzle and sheets of rain are not amusing when you’re wading through puddles, and cars are spraying water on pedestrians crossing the street. If you want to see hostile looks, watch people when drivers whiz by with zero awareness of the damage they’re perpetrating. There’s nothing wonderful about feeling wet and cold when it’s the season to be sitting in one of Paris’ thousands of cafes.
Instead, people were waiting in métro entrances and exits, waiting to dash to their destination when the weather broke. Those who could, had long lunches, did their sightseeing and shopping in some of Paris’ beautiful passages. Movie theaters had high-ticket sales during these months, but people don’t generally come to Paris to get their movie fixes, unless they want to overdose on French films and have language classes, which isn’t a bad idea. Some friends attended more than their usual quota of concerts, but had to dress warmly in order to combat the chill factor in churches.
When April comes, people are geared up to navigate the city by Vélib’ bikes, most of which remained stationary in the parking bays this year. Who in his or her right mind would want to navigate slippery streets while draped in parkas that are rarely weather tight? Nor did tourists who wanted to see Paris by Open Bus have much encouragement. A few brave souls sat on the top deck, but they were relatively rare—which is probably a good thing. There was no way some would return home without having been on a cruise on the Seine. Let’s hope they were with someone with whom they could feel romantic if it was an open boat and getting a chill turned into a thrill. If not, they felt… wet. People made pilgrimages to Giverny, but they may not have felt the splendor of Monet’s garden. Gray is not nature’s best color.
It’s not seductive to feel shoes go squish when you want to be wearing sandals rather than rubber rain boots with high tops. It may sound like fun to be huddled under umbrellas, when in reality, you’re probably doing battle with others who are fighting for dryness as well as space and may be poking you in the eye.
Yes, this was the wet year from hell for those of us who were in Paris, although visitors kept affirming that Paris, even in the rain, is more alluring than other places. No one denies that the weather is fluky all over the world because of climate change or whatever it is that you want to call it.
How did Paris residents survive? Not incredibly well, thank you. Some people became short-tempered while others were out and about depressed. Parents were trying to entice anyone they could—parents, neighbors, the baker—to take a turn with their children. Museums were frequent escapes for children who’d rather have been playing in one of Paris’s many parks—in other words, quasi escapes for their parents.
Some tried to escape for a few days (remember, they took winter breaks in February during vacance scolaire) while others tried to grin and bear the weather that wouldn’t stop raining except for an occasional few minutes that caused people to think they might be able to put their rain gear and woolies away.
But hold on—wait a minute (well, a few days) and people were complaining about the heat. In the space of 36 hours, it went from winter (or whatever) to summer. Posts on the Bonjour Paris Facebook page were clear that no one should come to Paris for the weather. Hello, we’ve been saying that for years, as well as that people should be prepared for all seasons and pack a thermal or silk undershirt that doesn’t take up a whole lot of space.
If people don’t know, vendors in Paris do. You can buy Pashmina shawls twelve months a year and try to look French, even though French women have a je ne sais quoi when it comes to wearing scarves, and never drag them on the ground.
I still laugh about the first year I was in Paris, when I purchased a deeply discounted, final-sale, black cashmere sweater in June, convinced I wouldn’t have use for it until (at the very earliest) the following November. It may have been the best purchase I ever made (yes, it’s been retired after owing me absolutely nothing) because that sweater would become my uniform that I started wearing that summer and continued wearing for many years.
Of course, when the rain stops and it warms up, people gripe about there not being enough room for picnics in the Luxembourg Garden, and unless you’re at the park every early in the morning, forget about snagging a chair. Europeans use parks as extensions of their homes, and if you’re a regular, you tend to have a place where you’re more comfortable than others. It’s kind of the same thing as having a favorite café, where you know the barman, and he knows you. But in the park and the bar, it’s first come, first served. At least it’s not raining, right?
When I was growing up, discussing the weather was considered a no-no and lacked a kind of intellectual spirit, plus was ever-so-boring. Little did I expect I was going to have to readjust my way of thinking. The world is now concerned with the climate and in France, it’s a tout à fait correct topic to discuss even with strangers. It’s right up there with books, vacations and food, although it would be awfully nice to be able to take a bit of a break. D’accord?
© Karen Fawcett
Karen Fawcett of Bonjour Paris discusses Paris weather, Paris parks, shopping in Paris, cafes, and expat life.
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