Heat wave, glorious heat wave!
It’s been a hot July, one of the hottest ever recorded. This month, I toured around France for two weeks with a group of brave travelers: We never got a break, and the heat wave was our daily companion from Paris to the Loire Valley, in Lyon, Annecy and the French Alps, at le Pont du Gard, and all the way to Avignon and Nice. When I got home, the weather had cooled down, and we all breathed a sigh of relief. Pas si vite ! Not so fast! La canicule (the heat wave) returns tomorrow.
Que faire ? What to do? France does a lot of things well. Heat waves are not one of them. Air conditioning is not that common here. Many people still believe it makes you sick (don’t ask.) They also believe it is detrimental to the environment. On the bright side, we’ve had a lot of practice with heat waves in recent years.
A 1970s commercial used to claim: “En France, on n’a pas de pétrole, mais on a des idées” (In France, we don’t have oil, but we have ideas.) As a side note, we also have fans (stores are selling out fast,) thick stone walls and heavy shutters (not the decorative types routinely found on the façades of suburban American châteaux,) that can be kept closed throughout the day. What else? Allons-y: Let’s see those brilliant ideas.
Le brumisateur: French air-conditioning
I was surprised to see most of our North American clients had never used those, except occasionally, on an airplane. I have watched French mothers spray water on their children using this ingenious device, at the beach or at the local park, for years. Many women keep one in their handbag in the summer. The cans come in several sizes for that reason. The method is simple, yet it works: Who would not like to feel a fine, refreshing mist (la brume, in French,) of mineral water on their face, neck, or arms on a hot day? (Pro tip: Leave le brumisateur in the fridge overnight; take it out in the morning; enjoy!)
Where do you find a brumisateur? Pharmacies. Supermarkets. Monoprix. Can you make your own? Sure. It will be cheaper. It just won’t be… pretty (you know how much we, Frenchies, pay attention to aesthetics in daily life.)
Les fontaines (water fountains)
From the iconic Wallace fountains to more modern versions, dispensing flat (or sparkling) water, Paris and other French cities make it easy to refill your water bottle and stay hydrated. In the French capital, locate over 1200 fountains on this website or try the excellent iPhone app les Fontaines de Paris. You might be surprised at how many different types are available. Worried about water quality? Don’t be. Public water is scrutinized and tested on a regular basis all over the country. The water coming out of the fountains is the same water you enjoy on restaurant tables when ordering (as all visitors in the know, do) une carafe d’eau. Tip: French cemeteries and small neighborhood squares (gardens and parks) are a great place to find fountains. To be on the safe side, look out for the sign eau non potable (non-drinking water.) Only use that water to rinse off your sandals after walking along the dusty Tuileries gardens. Poor André le Nôtre, the Sun King’s main landscaper, had not anticipated millions of promeneurs – and the occasional delivery truck – would mess with the sparkling fine sand he laid out in the gardens’ main sections, projecting a thick layer of dust on plants, shoes, and nearby monuments.
In Paris, local authorities have been setting up additional fountains hastily. I like the ones offering a top brumisateur (like the can I carry in my handbag, except bigger.) It’s a lot of fun to watch kids run through them, or tourists getting surprised when they push the wrong button to fill their water bottle!
So… no air conditioning in France, then?
Oui et non. It’s there, just not as… efficient and cold as you may be used to at home. Some restaurants and boutiques use the promise of air conditioning to entice customers.
Other businesses clearly remember the old 1970s commercial and come up with creative ways of cooling off. They have to: French windows (especially in older buildings in the trendy Haut Marais,) make things more… complicated. They are French after all! This is what a portable air-conditioning unit looks like chez nous. Vive la France!
See you on the other side in a few days! In the meantime, if anyone needs me, look for that shady spot, and a glass of… water. That’s where I’ll be.
A native’s musings on life in the “real” France.
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