Seasons of Paris

In Cole Porter’s 1953 Broadway musical Can-Can, the French performer Lilo sang, “I love Paris in the springtime / I love Paris in the fall / I love Paris in the winter when it drizzles / I love Paris in the summer when it sizzles…”

But it’s not only (or sometimes – as we don those pullovers for Bastille Day-parade watching – it’s not even) the weather that heralds the arrival of a Parisian season.  Here are some little hints that whisper “change is in the air”:

Versailles in the Fall
Versailles in the Fall

YOU KNOW IT’S AUTUMN IN PARIS WHEN:

  • fresh figs start appearing in the fruit stands and anemones in the flower stalls. (As for chrysanthemums, they’re the “flower of death” in France. People take them to cemeteries to lay on relatives’ graves on All Saints’ Day [la Toussaint, November 1. In a past column I explained why it’s la, feminine, Toussaint; share an interesting fact about the circumflex in the noun fête, which is related to the la explanation; discuss why Toussaint’s November 1 date is significant.]. So do not bring les chrysanthèmes as a hostess gift when your new French friends invite you to dinner on a crisp October evening!
  • a semblance of regular bus service is back. Yes, Paris is the most visited city on Planet Earth: according to rfi.fr, “2010 was already a record year for French tourism with 77.6 million visitors heading for the beaches, châteaux and restaurants. But 2011 topped that with 81.4 million foreign tourists defying economic uncertainty, staying on average 10 days longer and spending an estimated 33.4 billion euros, 8.4 percent more than in 2010.” Yes, summer is the most popular tourism season. Yes, more people in the city in the summer means increased demand for transport. But hey, bus drivers need a vacation, too!
  • the natives are – kind of – smiling. Not really smiling but not glowering. For now. It’s not that they’re happy to be back from vacation. They’re not. But they’re happy that they went on one.
You dont meet snowmen very often on place des Vosges. Photo by Lynn Rovida
You dont meet snowmen very often on place des Vosges. Photo by Lynn Rovida

YOU KNOW IT’S WINTER IN PARIS WHEN:

  • it’s breathtakingly (literally and figuratively) cold. You did not expect this. You did not know, or you forgot, that Paris is on approximately the same latitude as Vancouver, not New York. The cold is relentless. You think your thermometer is broken. It hasn’t moved (up) in weeks. You think the radio weatherpeople are off in the Bahamas shuttling in teeny bathing suits from their over-air-conditioned luxury suites to their palm-tree-shaded pools having left behind a recording announcing the glacial conditions that they know will last unremittingly until they’re back in several months.
  • the cafés spend a fortune to enclose their terrasses and heat them via those huge, wildly non-ecological 21st-century contraptions with electric coils or real flames. And they don’t even seem to pass the cost on to customers (operative words here: seem to), as the alternative would be way fewer customers on to whom to pass any cost. Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir legendarily spent entire days and evenings inside Les Deux Magots, writing, hanging out with fellow Existentialists and, primarily, keeping warmer than they would have been had they stayed in their unheated apartments.
  • The spicy, ambrosial whiff of hot wine wafts through certain neighborhoods (often working class, where it is served from big black urns or caldrons on little tables in bakeries) and tourist sites (the marché de Noël, or Christmas crafts-market, in front of the Saint-Denis Basilica, for instance). You don’t have to drink wine, like wine, know about wine – the perfume of this delightful brew is all the intoxication you’ll need for the rest of the day!
Luxembourg Gardens
Luxembourg Gardens

YOU KNOW IT’S SPRING IN PARIS WHEN:

  • there seems to be…..hope in the air. This sounds hokey. I know. It does. But when the congenitally morose, card-carrying pessimistic, dependably downtrodden French emerge from the hideously cold winter, even they have nowhere to go but emotionally up. Don’t worrythis explosion of sanguinity doesn’t last long.  But it sure rivals the robin as a harbinger of warmer climes.
  • The enclosures come down, the heaters go in and what looks like the whole population of not only Paris but the entirety of Gaul engages in concentrated, militant outdoor-café sitting. It’s like the Berkeley scene in The Graduate where one second there’s no one on campus and the next second the place is crawling with bodies. If you had been kidnapped by space aliens to an alternate universe without calendars and then suddenly dropped back to Earth, one look at a heaving café terrasse would tell you we’ve segued into spring.
  • The gorgeous flowerbeds at the Luxembourg (and other) Gardens strip off their russet browns and forest greens and plum purples and put on their pinks and yellows and mauves.  If fruits are Mother Nature’s candies, and vegetables are Mother Nature’s vitamin pills, then flowers are her jewels, and the hundreds of municipal gardeners who delicately place them into their settings have the best job in the world.
Fermeture Annuelle
Fermeture Annuelle

YOU KNOW IT’S SUMMER IN PARIS WHEN:

  • if you’re a woman, you get the creepy feeling that you’ve become fair game for every pick-up-line spouting husband who’s packed the wife and kids off to the vacation spot for the month, where he joins them on weekends – between hunting trips up and down the Champs-Elysées.
  • if you’re a man, the little devil sitting on your left shoulder whispers to the little angel sitting on your right shoulder that maybe these French guys have the right idea after all – and you start practicing your come-ons in front of your mirror, Antoine Doinel-style.
  • You lose your Eiffel Tower. You knew it was around here somewhere, but you can’t find it in this Everest of tourists. WHO INVITED THESE PEOPLE?! Did you invite them? I certainly didn’t! Wiki.answers.com says, “In 2011, the Eiffel tower had more than 7 million visitors. That represents about a visitor every four seconds, all year round, day and night.” You’re not overly anxious, though: you know you’ll get it back soon. That’s how YOU KNOW IT’S AUTUMN IN PARIS…

Shari Leslie Segall is a writer who lives in Paris.