Two weeks ago, a 17-year-old boy was shot dead by police after being pulled over during a traffic stop in Nanterre, near Paris. Subsequently, violent protests broke out in many parts of the French capital and other cities, with cars and buildings set on fire. The event reignited a debate on over-policing in marginalized communities. Authorities responded to the wave of protests with actions such as imposing curfews in some cities. In Paris, bus and tram services were temporary stopped at 9 pm. Yet protests have been quieting down in the last week.
In the meantime, school vacations have begun in the French capital, and many Parisians will leave the metropolis for the next two months to escape the summer heat. Those who remain typically head to the city’s green areas, including its many parks.
I head to Park La Villette, Paris’ largest park which has a canal and recreational area. The mood there is upbeat — albeit a bit more subdued than usual due to the recent protests.
A different mood during Fête Nationale
“The city is once again much livelier than in winter, the people are somehow friendlier,” Adrian Zimmer from Germany, who has been living in Paris for one year tells me during a walk along the Canal de l’Ourcq. He says he’s become used to the frequent protests. “You see windows with broken glass from time to time, although you also saw them during the protests against the pension reform in March. Now I don’t really notice any of it,” he said.
But for many, the repercussions of the death of young Nahel in Nanterre are far from over. July 14 is France’s national holiday, known as the Fête Nationale. It symbolizes the start of the French Revolution, and the storming of the former Bastille state prison in 1789, as well as the Federation Festival in 1790. Traditionally, it’s celebrated in Paris with a military parade on the famous Champs-Elysées, as well as a fireworks display at the Eiffel Tower. This year, however, to prevent a resurgence of violent protests, France issued a nationwide ban on private fireworks for the national holiday. Buses and trams will stop running in the capital from 10 p.m.
Last year, 9.9 million people visited the French capital in the summer months between June and August, most of them in the month of July. Yet, since the start of the protests in June, hotel bookings and online searches for flights to Paris have dropped slightly. French authorities say the drop is minimal — from 0.5 to 2%. “We need to stay calm, we don’t have a cancellation wave in Paris,” Tourism Minister Olivia Grégoire told French news agency AFP.
Outdoor activities reign
Although many leave the Seine metropolis in August, those who stay are likely to take advantage of a breath of outdoor activities on offer. “There are a lot of events outside, like the Cinéma Paradiso cinema festival at the Louvre, for example,” local Berry Ntambwe tells me. “Most of the things I do in the summer are outdoor events in different neighbourhoods,” he adds.
Since 2002, the annual Paris Plages events in July and August are held along the Seine river. They include recreational and artistic activities like games of pétanque, dance events, film screenings and more.
There’s also plenty of music in the air in Paris during the summer. Take the Rock en Seine music festival at the end of August, for example, or the sound and light show “La nuit aux Invalides” which is held every summer evening in the courtyard at the Invalides, and tells the story of the life of Napoléon Bonaparte.
Of course escaping the heat indoors is also an option during the summer months. “I like to go to the museum when it’s less busy,” Emma Compagnion from Strasbourg, visiting Paris, tells me. It’s one of her tips for spending summer in Paris.
Personally, I like to enjoy a moment of tranquillity in the early morning while watching the sunrise over the city from the viewing platform in front of the Sacré-Cœur Basilica in Montmartre. Or, if I’m really sick of summer in the city, I head to the Île-de-France region, to places like Claude Monet’s water lily garden in Giverny.
Even many places in the Parisian suburbs, like Sceaux with its beautiful castle, or Rambouillet offer respite from the urban jungle. You can reach them easily by train.
A new start in September?
Tensions and riots are nothing new in Paris. This march, massive protests against pension reform took place. Often, however, the protests were forgotten after a few weeks. “If you ask the question again in two months, no one will talk about it. It’s a phenomenon that happens and disappears,” said local Thomas Orssaud at La Villette Park. “Violent phenomena have always existed. It will happen again.”
In two months, the summer vacations will already be over. Everyday life will replace the lightness of summer and Parisians will return to their metropolis. In France, the so-called “rentrée” at the beginning of September means the start of school and work after the summer holidays — and is a time of new beginnings.
Personally, I don’t want to think about the end of the summer in the French capital just yet. It would mean no more aperitifs on sweltering summer evenings and the search for big city romance, like in Woody Allen’s film “Midnight in Paris.” Fortunately there are still a couple of months to go! Until then, you’ll find me on the banks of the Seine listening to the Parisian summer soundtrack of French chansons and sirens wailing.