LIFE IN A DIFFERENT WORLD: Paris

A charming pause from the usual chaos

A picture taken on March 15 shows an empty "Bateaux Mouches" tourist boat on the Seine River near the Eiffel Tower in Paris amid the Covid-19 outbreak. The writer says she has taken a real secret pleasure in rediscovering the beautiful buildings and
A picture taken on March 15 shows an empty "Bateaux Mouches" tourist boat on the Seine River near the Eiffel Tower in Paris amid the Covid-19 outbreak. The writer says she has taken a real secret pleasure in rediscovering the beautiful buildings and having the streets to herself.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
A picture taken on March 15 shows an empty "Bateaux Mouches" tourist boat on the Seine River near the Eiffel Tower in Paris amid the Covid-19 outbreak. The writer says she has taken a real secret pleasure in rediscovering the beautiful buildings and
SANDRA CLOT, 46, PIANIST AND PIANO PROFESSOR

For the past two months, many of the world's most popular destinations have been shuttered, leaving monuments, museums, shops, restaurants, bars and streets almost empty. As the world reopens and residents step out, they are faced with the reality that life today is different from what it was before the coronavirus pandemic, and will likely remain so for some time. One of the most significant differences - a bittersweet realisation for most - is that there are currently no tourists to attend to or crowds to shuffle through. Residents in some of the most crowded tourist spots reveal what it's like.

The Marais is one of the main places that tourists visit in Paris. Normally, getting to my home on a Saturday afternoon is a trial because there are so many visitors swarming around.

Tourists come to the Marais for "leche-vitrine" (window-licking in French) because of all the boutiques. The Marais is one of the oldest, most historic neighbourhoods of Paris and is known for its quaint village-like charm. But it had become a retail Disneyland where visitors came to spend money, but not necessarily for the history.

I knew the Marais belonged to locals again on the first night of France's national lockdown, when I opened my window to clap for caregivers. The light had faded and I said to myself, "Paris is no longer the City of Light".

Sadly, there were few people at their windows, because so many apartments in the neighbourhood have been converted to Airbnb accommodation for tourists.

Instead of the noise of crowds and suitcases on the pavement, the streets were deserted, and there was an air of enchantment. You could hear the birds singing and the wind blowing the leaves on the trees.

I've been out very little, only four times during confinement to get groceries. For the first time in a while, I walked down the rue Vieille du Temple and rue Rivoli towards Saint Paul. Before confinement, I avoided those streets and others in the Marais because they were so clogged with people.

I have taken a real secret pleasure in rediscovering the beautiful buildings and having the streets to myself. All the locals I passed were smiling too... Real life has returned to this corner of Paris with families and children who play in the street, and getting to know my own neighbours... I'm actually kind of dreading the reopening, because I don't miss the crowds.

 
 
 
 
 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 24, 2020, with the headline 'A charming pause from the usual chaos'. Print Edition | Subscribe