Picnic At Large

photo, picnic on the pont des arts Picnic with a view, right bank, left bank, sunset.

Eats With Headroom

by Ric Erickson

Paris:– Wednesday, 23. July:–  All those folks driving 500 kilometres through France to get to their holiday digs or plush campsites – past all the gendarmes on the lookout for speeders, drinkers, the improperly equipped, the underinflated, with their radars, helicopters, BMW motorcycles and pursuit hotrods – I don't care about any of that. My summer includes the métro and my two legs, and maybe a picnic in any spot nobody can buy, in a park but more likely beside the Seine either on a quay or on a bridge.

Yes I know, everybody is supposed to get out of town. Leave it free for the millions of visitors who put out a lot of bread to come here to see the sights. They read their guidebooks and flit from museum to gallery and if they aren't all tuckered out then they try to get into famous fooding emporiums, to have a multi–course French feed. But there's no harm in it. It may be once in a lifetime and dang the cost and the dollar in the pits – you only live once.

photo, giant head, jardin luxembourg The Senat presents sculpture
in the Luxembourg.

There's something about going to a local marché and picking up the fixings for a picnic. You can get to haggle over the high prices but it won't do you any good unless you wait until the merchants are about to close – they don't want to carry that fresh stuff away and preserve it until next opening. No use in haggling for cheese and bread – those prices are fixed and cheeses follow the gold futures.

If haggling is not your thing then there are supermarkets. Some are even better than others, and some are no less expensive than their counterparts on the Upper East Side if your taste runs to exotic goodies. But if you are just an ordinary mensch then a roast chicken from the chicken guy will do and drink from a supermarket like Monoprix will fill the bill. Plus you can get the plastic cups, wobble knives and bendy forks there too. Don't forget to get a corkscrew while you are at it.

For years I've been told that the Thursday picnics on the Pont des Arts are lusty affairs. Tonight I've found out that they happen on Wednesday too, and since I don't know why not, probably every other evening of the week as well. Judging by my arrival time, to secure a good spot getting to this footbridge by 20:00 is probably the ticket. All the same it is about 150 metres across and quite wide, so you might want a place in the centre by one of the few benches, or along the western rail if you are a serious sunset fan. By 22:00 choices will be reduced.

photo, pont des arts, sundown Pont des Arts – elevated terrace.

There are a couple of practical details to remember. The bridge has no life–rings – if you fall off somebody has to phone the river police to get aid. Best bet – don't fall off unless you are an expert swimmer. There are no toilets on the bridge and there are none near it on the Left Bank. The closest are in the club's café La Corona on the Right Bank – turn right after leaving the bridge. Anywhere else is unofficial.

On the bridge you will be out in the air, and subject to dampness if it rains suddenly like it did tonight. Although the bridge is a public place smoking is allowed because it has no walls and no roof. Just don't burn it down. Finally, if one of those sightseeing cruisers rams a supporting piller, remember that it hasn't often happened in the past and the bridge is stronger than it looks, I think.

With all of that out of the way all you need are those portable goodies and a bunch of like–minded friends. Folks with musical instruments seem to be welcome too. If there's room I am sure dancing is tolerated. Most other bridges in Paris are infested with cars, all except the Simone–de–Beauvoir passerelle between Bercy and the Mitterrand bibliothèque in the 13th, next to the floating swimming pool. Besides bridges there are quays, islands, ports, canals and other watery scenes.

photo, al fresco at l'atlas, terrace dining Café picnic al fresco.

All in all I can't think of a better place for a picnic, unless you don't like sitting on boards, concrete or granite and would prefer a napkin and some sort of service. If that is the case then I suggest finding a café with a terrace and getting to it early enough to snag a table. In this case shopping beforehand is unnecessary and if it rains they will scoot out the awning and you can continue to eat and drink while the hapless scurry about seeking shelter. All except those clever souls who magically pull a concealed umbrella out and continue their al fresco evening with ample headroom.

A bientôt à Paris
signature, regards, ric

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