Clockwise from top, Pont des Arts, Jardin Palais Royal, Longchamp, Pont de l'Alma
Years before moving here, I read an article about French beauty secrets, one of which was, "Sleep in a cold room," to plump up skin or something- puzzling, since I don't know anybody with air conditioning at home. The Métro Glacière may derive its name from underground ice cellars designed to keep the royal family cool, but French people are wont to serve drinks sans ice cubes, and old buildings don't have the ductwork necessary for climatisation. My chic brother in law, who lives in a gorgeous, huge Marais apartment, told me how once, he and his friends slept on the balcony, because it was too hot inside. I grew up without air conditioning, which is the number one thing that prepared me for Paris life. Since it's 102 degrees F (39° C) now, here are tips for surviving the heat wave:
Surviving Without Air Conditioning
- Live in the dark. At night and in the early morning, open windows and doors to promote a cross breeze. When the sun rises, shut everything, and draw curtains and blinds. Buildings here have metal shutters or awnings to shade apartments from blinding sun- I hang a wet towel and blanket over our windows, keeping the indoors as cool as possible.
- Limit electricity usage. Avoid turning on lights and try not to cook, iron, use the computer, or vacuum. If necessary, I'll do laundry in the bathtub, since French machines give off so much heat. Unplugging the modem, cable box, and television can cool the surrounding area several degrees.
- Cool your feet. It's not unusual to walk through Tuileries or Jardin Palais Royal and see people kick their shoes off, using the fountains as a foot rest or foot bath. While this disgusts me, I sympathize with their plight, and wash my feet in cold water when I get home. I do this with the cats' paws, too. My French friends recommend espadrilles because they allow air circulation while protecting from sun, other people's shoes, etc. I saw a girl the other day with completely sunburned and chapped feet, and when I asked if it was painful, she winced and said, "Don't remind me." Parisians also wear flat sandals and wedges- I hardly ever see women in flip-flops.
- Abandon American conceptions of corporate dress. Does anybody work in an office where t-shirts aren't allowed, much less tank tops? Women here wear spaghetti straps to work. Everyone ditches pants for sleeveless dresses, rompers, t-shirts, and mini-skirts. Even men walk around the office in bermudas, although in my neighborhood, this seems verboten- a navy linen jacket, unbuttoned white or French blue shirt, and pants cropped at the ankle is the uniform of choice. Ditto for Tod's loafers and espadrilles. I don't think many women here wear above-the-knee shorts by day, because I asked my friend Sophie and she said, "Shorts are for vacances, sport, and night."
- Hydrate. Before you roll your eyes and say, "Duh," my friend Séverine brought up a good point- many French people don't carry around water bottles. She freezes her canteen to pack water for the day, but most people just stop at a brasserie and drink rosé. My neighbor claims this is why certain establishments are service continu. If my friends are any indication, Parisians are more likely to spritz water on their faces than drink it, but they're perfectly willing to cool off with a lemonade or ice cream. Along the same lines, many of the Parisians I know prefer aerosol spray deodorants over sticks. When I asked my husband about this, he said, "I like the freshness."
- Sleep different. Lack of air conditioning begets temperature-regulating natural bedding. Wool, linen, buckwheat, or rice hull don't absorb heat like memory foam, cotton, and down, and dampening a linen sheet before bedtime keeps things cool without breeding mildew. Last night we took a cue from the cats and camped on the floor in front of open balcony doors- the circulating air felt amazing! Then they crawled on top of me, and it was too hot again.
- Carry an umbrella. You don't see adults carrying parasols for sunny days as much here as in Asia, but during the heat wave, people are desperate for extra sun protection. Every French baby has one fitted to his / her stroller.
- Eat later. Every summer, Parisians are out on their balconies eating anywhere from 10 to midnight (I know, because I hear them talking about Tinder until then). It's too hot to cook or open windows any earlier. Barring that, people rest on terraces and by the canal or river with beer / rosé. I recommend drinking a lager in pretty, shaded Jardin Partagé Marcadet-Montcalm.
Lastly, the most Parisian way to beat the heat is leaving town. In June, you'll find people loitering in shopping centers for free air conditioning, but come July / August, Paris is empty. Whenever it's too hot for pétanque, people flee the city. My friend Francine told me the suburbs are always a few degrees cooler than Paris, which could be one reason everybody goes to country homes on weekends.
The photos above are typical representations of what Parisians wear in the summer. As for the cats, I stuck their bowls in the fridge and used a cool, damp towel to moisten their fur, but this made them angry. They seem fine in the heat and run around and play and lock each other in the closets. During the day, they mostly stay under the couch and under the bed, and at night sit on the balcony, enjoying cool breezes. They drink lots of fresh water; I try to give them plenty of wet food so they don't get dehydrated. Un bel été à tous!