How to Be a Tourist
Unrolling the map of yourself a little farther
Paris in the summer is hot and not really built for heat. Air-conditioning is rare, as is ice, and the only cold things we regularly experience are the looks from Parisians after confirming their suspicions that we are Americans. Still, even sweaty this city earns its reputation as beautiful and ancient yet alive, its long-legged concourses lined with bistros full of smokers spectating from tiny round tables, its expansive gardens, and its ancient bridges where people snap moments with their phones. The Seine passing under those bridges pulses with people. An initiative called “Paris Plages” (or “Paris Beaches”) converts both sides of this iconic river into a celebration during the oppressive summer months. (Parisians tend to leave their city during the summer as the temperature, humidity, and number of tourists rise, and Paris Plages, launched in 2002 by then mayor Bertrand Delanoë, strives to assuage the misery of those trapped in the city by work or lack of money.) The warm evenings seem to pull the whole city to river’s edge to drink European amounts of wine, the women effortlessly elegant in wide-legged dress pants and short tops, the men generally wrinkled and unremarkable. We pass by open-air bar after open-air bar, lounge chairs opened under palm trees, clusters of people playing guitar and singing at various levels of professionalism.
We’re in Paris contributing to this summer tourist misery to pick up our daughter Q after a two-week drawing class at the Paris College of Art (PCA). She’s 17, heading into her senior year of high school in the fall and then into The Future. She and a friend from Boston found the class online and organized the trip themselves.
We agreed back in January to Q taking the Paris class when thinking about summer seemed like an audacious act of optimism. She would be traveling to a foreign country where she didn’t speak the language with a friend that she knew from three weeks of summer camp and hadn’t spent that much time with. The pandemic surrounded (and still surrounds) us, fires and floods and storms spread and grow more Biblical each time, and powerful minorities in the U.S. work constantly, with alarming success, to take back rights and the futures they enable, particularly from…