Dip Your Feet Into the Water at 'Paris-Plage'

l'Institut Oceanographique
This is the home of the Institut Océanogaphique in Paris.

Small Exhibition Evokes Paris'
Attachment to the Beach

Paris:- Friday, 18. July 1997:- Even though it seems as if all France goes on holiday in the summer, somebody has to stay behind to supply vital services - such as keeping the bars and cafés open, keeping the capital's attractions in operation and taking out the trash.

Nobody works 90 hours a week doing this; so there is plenty of time - with the long evenings - for Parisians to savor the summer attractions of their city. These people, when asked where they are going for their vacation, might say that they are going to 'Paris-Plage,' or Paris Beach.

On Wednesday when I was visiting the Hotel de  movie poster: 'Les Vacances de Mr Hulot' Ville's small but neat exhibition, 'C'Etait Paris dans les Années 50,' I accidently picked up a brochure for another exhibition, called, 'Paris-Plage.'

If you have not seen this movie, your life in not complete.

"It's not just what people say," I thought, "It exists!" So I called up the Centre de la Mer et des Eaux to make sure it was really real. Now I have walked further than I expected up the rue Saint-Jacques, parallel and just east of the boulevard Saint-Michel.

For Paris, the rue Saint-Jacques is quite a long street - 1,550 metres in all - and it dates to before Roman times. It was just a trail of course, and the Romans made it into a major route, and called it the 'Via Superior.'

At number 195, find myself in front of the Institut Océanogaphique which I have been past before, but never particularly noticed.

I don't know why not, because it was built in 1910 by Nénot after being founded by Prince Albert 1st of Monaco - in a 'Monégasque'-style building, which is not quite like other buildings in Paris. The opening photo souvenir cup and board-game does not show its tower, which is quite a bit higher than the rest of the structure. Is the tower an 'Italian' light-house, I wonder?

Old beach souvenirs, games and toys are on display.

The entry is through the left-side gate, to the left of the tower, and this leads directly to the permanent exhibition space. The 'Paris-Plage' exhibition is upstairs on the main floor. It is contained in one room, with a handful of posters in the entry.

For Paris to have beaches two things were essential: people who could afford to go to them - the bourgeoisie - and the means to get to them - the railways. Paris is somewhat inland from the nearest coast and has no beaches of its own, so some bright spark decided to make the nearest ones accessible.

Maupassant, who set many scenes at Yport, Fécamp, Le Havre or Bénouville, described the detail of this life in more than a few exact words. Boudin painted it. Goncourt wrote, "La plage n'est que le prolongement du salon." The Seeberger old swimsuit 2 brothers went on tour for postcard publishers: Tréport, with its houses on the beach below the cliffs, to Dieppe with its 'Palais des Bains,' the turko-moorish 'American Bar,' the casino at Trouville...

A bathing costume, from about the turn of the century.

Ah, Trouville, with its fantasy houses, little cottages, swiss chalets, hanseatic mansions, or moorish castles; with their polygon towers, often copied - and Deauville, 'baies d'opales, plages d'or,' wrote Marcel Proust; with its immense boardwalk, its casino, its racetrack with its stands inspired by Fountainbleau; shooting clay pigeons off the beach at Dieppe - in fact it is all still there, but the bathers wear less in the way of textiles now.

I have bought fish from the marché at Trouville, taken a cool drink in one of the cafés opposite, watched the players of boules on the beach under a southern sun, standing on their shadows. It is not much changed; if you had 110 years on you, you could go back.

'Paris-Plage' is a small exhibition, with ten glass cases, 50-odd posters, magazine covers, a whole series of original bathing old swimsuit 1 suits, souvenirs, postcards, toys - and is not wearisome with facts and figures, dates or names. Therefore I can not give the date of the first train arrival from Paris, nor that of the opening of the first hotel or sanitorium. Maybe it was in the 1850's.

This sleeker outfit, is from the 1920's. No point in showing anything from 1997.

With the inauguration of paid holidays in 1936, the coast became more democratic. Since I have tried both Deauville and its sister-town, Trouville, across the little river; I can say I prefer the down-scale air of Trouville with its smaller beach, smaller and more modest casino, and its reasonable restaurants. I might have to leave my car on the Deauville side as parking slots in Trouville are not abundant, but the walking distance back to Trouville is not great.

Just so you don't think this feature has cheated you of Paris beaches, here is a list of swimming pools that either have outdoor areas or roofs which open:

  • Piscine Bertrand-Dauvin, 12. rue René-Binet, Paris 18.
  • Piscine Henry-de-Montherlant, 32. boul. Lannes, Paris 16.
  • Piscine de la Buttes-aux-Cailles, 5. place Paul-Verlaine, Paris 13.
  • Piscine Georges-Hermant, 6. rue David-d'Angers, Paris 19.
  • Piscine Roger-le-Gall, 34. boul. Carnot, Paris 12.
  • Piscine Bernard-Lafay, 79. rue de la Jonguière, Paris 17.
  • Piscine Champerret-Yser, 32-36. boul. de Reims, Paris 17.

While we're at it, anyone for water-skiing? While boat speeds on most of the Seine are limited to 20 kph, there is a section where 60 kph is allowed. This is somewhere between the Pont de Suresnes and the Pont de Sèvres, where the water is not exactly like crystal, but is not deadly either as increasing numbers of ducks and fish testify. Call the Ski Nautique Club de Paris at 01 47 71 76 01. The address is 1. allée du Bord-de-l'Eau, passerelle de l'Avre, in the Bois de Boulogne.

Exhibition 'Paris-Plage'

L'Institut Océanographique - Centre de la Mer et des Eaux
195. rue Saint-Jacques, Paris 5. Until Sunday, 31. August; open daily except Mondays, and Friday, 15. August. Weekdays, from 10:00 to 12:30 and from 13:15 to 17:30; on weekends from 10:00 to 17:30. Entry: 30 francs, 18 francs for 12 to 18 years, 12 francs for four to 12 years. Métro: Cluny-La Sorbonne, seashell or RER line 'B' - Luxembourg. This is just off rue Gay-Lussac, at rue Saint-Jacques. Tel. Info.: 01 44 32 10 90.

Besides the exhibition, the centre also has a film program and a special afternoon program for children, from Tuesday to Friday, at 15:00.

The 'Centre de la Mer et des Eaux' is a permanent exhibition in the basement of the Institut Océanographique. It features six aquariums, lots of seashells and other displays of things marine. The film program is a regular one, with projections beginning at 15:00. The L'Institut Océanographique is a foundation, dedicated to marine sciences. It publishes pamphlets and books and there is a library in the centre. There are also travelling exhibitions, conferences, and special animations. For more info, tel.: 01 44 32 10 70.

L'Institut Océanographique is associated with the Musée Océanographique on the avenue Saint-Martin, in Monaco.

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