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Paris' sandy social

The French capital has again created a makeshift seaside resort for the underserved.

August 02, 2003|Kristin Hohenadel | Special to The Times

The 2003 version includes the addition of a third beach using three times more sand than last year and twice as many beach chairs and umbrellas. Delanoe maintained the 1.5 million euro budget ($1.7 million) and augmented the quality of the event by securing 800,000 euros ($900,000) from 15 selectively chosen sponsorship partners -- each of whom was asked to come up with an organic justification for participating and is not allowed to display any publicity at the banks of the Seine.

The supermarket chain Monoprix is selling organic picnic baskets; the state electricity company EDF has provided solar-paneled electricity to light the area at night; RATP is furnishing bicycles and Le Livre de Poche has created a lending library of paperbacks in multiple languages. There are activities for kids, picnic areas and sporting activities that include a climbing wall and tai chi lessons.

Unlike last year, the site is open around the clock, and despite a countrywide strike by entertainment workers that has shut down half the arts festivals in France, nightly cultural offerings include traditional music and dancing and a floating barge that acts as a stage for various live performances.

Of course, nobody swims in the deep and dirty Seine, and one of the main complaints about Paris Plage is the lack of water -- which has partly been answered by the installation of showers and fountains for cooling off. Choblet told Le Monde: "People must have the desire to believe in it. We can put tons of sand and palm trees, but if there aren't any people in bathing suits, it isn't a beach."

Among the believers last year were one young shirtless Frenchman and two drunken Englishmen who decided to take the beach metaphor to its logical plunge and had to be fished out by the Seine water patrol. According to the Paris daily Liberation, last year just one exhibitionist, two fights, the theft of one video camera and one purse came about as a result of the event -- not much, they pointed out, considering the size of the crowds. City Hall called the civilized affair "a question of chance, organization and respect for the site."

Delanoe kicked off the festivities at a reception in an elegant salon at Hotel de Ville alongside Tony Parker, the home-grown French basketball star who plays with the San Antonio Spurs of the NBA. Introducing him, Delanoe said proudly that Parker had become "one of the most popular sports figures in the world -- and in this moment one of the rare French people who is liked in the United States," which got a laugh from a casually dressed crowd drinking Champagne and nibbling on caviar-and-salmon canapes and miniature pastel macaroons.

Parker's presence was part of Delanoe's strategy to turn the event into a double-duty campaign for a 2012 Olympic Games -- a bid he lost the last time around. Paris Plage, he said, is a tribute to those who love Paris, and he hoped that during the festival "Paris would be loyal to its universal vocation -- without pride, without arrogance -- to love, to share, to create through culture, sport and human civilization beyond conflict." He hoped that Paris in the usually cruel summer months would be "a place to experience, to share, to be happy -- that the city be not a synonym for loneliness or aggression but a synonym for shared pleasures."

The crowd cheered.

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