La Canicule

 
 
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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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." 
  5. 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."
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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!

Paris to Go

14 comments:

  1. I don't enjoy hot weather much, so while I love Paris I am so glad I live in the Norwegian mountains. The peaks here still have snow on them but it's sunny and warm enough with 20-25C. Bliss!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ah where you live must be beautiful! I've never been to Norway but would love to go. That is the perfect temperature!

      Delete
  2. loved this post. Yes it's very hot. I have also 40° here in the country side.
    I apply most of your advises :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Adeline! Thank you. It's so nice to have the French perspective :) Stay cool in the country!

      Delete
  3. I have a wool mattress and confirm it's very comfortable. My home is lower to the ground than yours and there isn't as many windows. I imagine that gets like a hothouse in the summer. I wouldn't advise flip flops to anyone in Paris. People step on the backs of them. It's very dangerous in the metro.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Ji, thanks for the recommendation! Yea, it feels a little bit like a plantless greenhouse. Kar and Toffel are like Savannah cats, lying in the shade until my feet pass by and then they pounce!

      I've worn flip flops in Paris and the exact same thing happened to me. I lost a flip flop in the Métro that way and going up and down stairs, people just can't seem to help stepping on them. Plus there's so much broken glass lying around, I don't even like wearing sandals, much less flip flops here.

      Delete
  4. Hooray I have been waiting for another post! I love your blog. I discovered your blog last week as I was researching what to pack for my 8 month move from Australia to France. I am not gluten intolerant, not do I live a minimalist, waste free lifestyle. However I will be living from a suitcase for the next 8 month and I strive to live waste free. Like you I believe in buying second hand and I am now limiting what I buy to only a few good quality items. ( I have come to terms however that I like many options with what I wear). In the last week I think I have read every single blog post. It is so inspiring. Thank you

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi, your story is amazing! Will you blog about it? What a cool project. Thank you so much for sharing, this comment made my day!

      Delete
  5. My methodology: get one of those magic bags (the kind filed with wheat that you can nuke in the microwave or put in the freezer to use as an ice pack), put it in the freezer and then at bed time or when you want to cool down put it around your neck.
    Best,
    Patricia

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's a great tip! Glad to hear the wheat hulls work. Thanks for sharing!

      Delete
  6. Not going to lie- not jealous ! But here in U.S. We have not used the air conditioning only when we have people coming to visit and need to cool the living room down for 30 minutes. We sleep with just fans. It's so different than others. No 40c or 100f but we have had high temperatures here and lots of dampness.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Everyone in the hall gets sick in air conditioning! I didn't have AC in the US at all, so I'm used to sleeping with fans. This is a different kind of heat than I'm used to, but I can bear it with fans on.

      Delete
  7. Ariana, I, too, grew up without air conditioning, until my mom hit a certain age and she was like install one now. ;) The only bit of tan I have had this summer is from Paris, every one of my freckles came out, as it has been rain, rain, and more rain in my part of the world: Pittsburgh (ahem). I would ask for ice with a shrug and a laugh and say American. The things I have found to be different from what I thought I knew about Paris: there is ice, there are sunny days with not one drop of rain, and no one was rude, well two men on the metro were talking about our group. I might have shrugged at them as they made rude noises and gestures at us; but they could have been two grumpy men any where in the world. Oh, and no matter how much I butchered bonjour, merci, and the other four words I can manage in French the lovely people were encouraging of my attempts. Sending you cool breezes.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hahaha Tonette, I think when I enter menopause I will need one for sure! Ah we grew up so close to each other! In Cleveland apparently it's raining so much as well, so Steelers and Browns fans can suffer together. Thanks for the cool breezes :) I'm sure your French was wonderful and everybody appreciated the effort.

      Delete