Wednesday, October 5, 2011

More videos, like it or not!

A walk through the Latin Quarter inspired me to make another short video about the ancient Roman amphitheater in the neighborhood, and a visit to the Paris Plages event this summer inspired me to make a video about that.

The Roman amphitheater is called the Arènes de Lutèce by Parisians, and is about 2000 years old. It was completely covered over and forgotten more than a millennium ago, then was rediscovered in the 19th century. Part of it had been destroyed by then, but most of it was still intact, and it has now been fully excavated and partially restored. It is surprisingly well built.

For some reason, it feels a bit eerie to visit this amphitheater and see people playing soccer in it, perhaps because there were probably people doing exactly the same thing there twenty centuries ago. Once again, it makes me think of the stability of Paris, and how the more Paris changes, the more it's the same. The neighborhood around the amphitheater is lively and popular these days, and so it was two thousand years ago. As I walked around the amphitheater, which was in shadow as the sun prepared to set, I reminded myself that the light, the weather, and the people were essentially the same way back when, with one of the few differences being that the people playing in the amphitheater would have been yelling at each other in Latin in the old days, instead of the distorted descendant of Latin that they use today (i.e., French).

The east side of the main arena in this amphitheater contains structures that supposedly supported a stage in the days of the Romans. And there are cages around the periphery of the playing area that supposedly held wild animals for certain spectacles. Nobody's quite sure, but that's what the specialists say. It's not hard to believe, especially when you are standing in front of these things and looking at them.

Anyway … this summer I briefly visited Paris Plages, the subject of my other video. This event was created by the city government to entertain Parisians who couldn't or wouldn't leave the city on vacation in summer. Originally it consisted of closing the Georges Pompidou expressway that runs along the north bank of the Seine River, and then dumping tons of sand on the expressway, along with beach chairs and umbrellas, so that Parisians could enjoy a sort of beach of their own on the banks of the river. It was very successful from the beginning, and has become a tradition in Paris. Today the event extends beyond the banks of the Seine, but I only visited and filmed the part along the river, which is still the major part of the event.

Paris Plages isn't intended for tourists, although they are welcome to attend if they want. Most tourists don't know about it. Tour companies and guide books don't talk about the event because it's temporary and more oriented to the locals, so sometimes tourists just stare at it, wondering what all the activity down by the river is all about. The recorded patter on the excursion boats on the Seine doesn't mention Paris Plages, either, so tourists often look bewildered as they pass the artificial beaches on their boat cruises.

These days, it's not just sand and umbrellas. There are snack bars (dramatically overpriced), some activities for kids such as playgrounds, a real swimming pool, some concerts and live music, a few sit-down restaurants, and lots and lots of beach chairs and hammocks. There are misting devices at some points to cool people off when it gets hot (although July of 2011 was unseasonably cool). Back in 2003, when a recording-breaking heat wave drove temperatures on the street up to 110° F during the day, people actually slept on the ground during the night at Paris Plages, in order to escape the stifling heat of their apartments (which generally are not air-conditioned in Paris).

I only visited Paris Plages a few times this year. I actually preferred the cooler weather, though. When it's really hot, I stay at home with the A/C running, rather than go outside and suffer heat exhaustion. But July this year was unusually cool, and August was warmer than normal, but not like 2003.

Paris Plages runs every summer from roughly July 20 to August 20.

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