Guest post by: Victoria Miles
1:30 p.m. July 25, 2019. Lying flat on my back on the concrete floor of Ateliers des Lumières I am supposed to be having a digital art immersion experience. And I am, but more than anything I need to cool off, which explains lying down in an exhibit that receives thousands of visitors, and their dusty feet, every day.
Outside the gallery, its 38 degrees Celsius and rising. My plane landed at Charles de Gaulle airport only a few hours before, the captain’s customary “thanks for choosing us” including a weather warning: it will be hot in Paris today. If he mentioned the high I didn’t catch it, the excitement of visiting Paris for the first time was all that was registering.
This gallery, in the Paris’ 11th arrondissement, was, 150 years ago, a foundry, supplying cast iron parts to shipping and railway companies. Hot work. In 2018, following major renovations, it reopened as the Atelier des Lumières. Digitized works of Vincent Van Gogh, a cosmic interlude called “Verse” and “Dreamed Japan” featuring gigantic sliding screens, churning waves and unfurling fans which transform the floor I’m lying on and walls around us 10 metres high. Wind-blown, samurai warriors “dance” to the beat of Japanese drums, lanterns float upwards and disappear into the dark ceiling. A dynamic tattoo glides over my body; I look around and see others decorated the same way. Half-an-hour later, the program loops to begin again and I’m standing up with my three friends: Jacqui, Lewisa and Kevin, freshly inspired and ready to find some lunch.
It got hotter on the street while we were indoors. We make it to a table outside a small café and the owner, possibly afraid we will faint on his doorstep, rushes out with handheld, battery-operated misters and menus. It’s one of many small chivalries we encounter over the coming week and we all marvel at the somewhat unexpected friendliness of the French. “They’re just misunderstood,” says Kevin, who speaks French fluently. He thinks this is his 10th visit; Jacqui’s second, Lewisa’s… 30th.
Salad, oysters and gazpacho. Cold drinks with extra ice. Lewisa consults her phone for the temperature: 42 degrees (it will peak at 42.6 C°). Getting up again seems unthinkable until Kevin looks over his should and says: “I think that’s Père Lachaise up there.” Otherwise known in pop culture as the cemetery where Jim Morrison is buried.
One thinks stupidly in 42 degrees. As we walk along the sweltering sidewalk to the cemetery, I can’t recall a single Doors song, or why I would care where its lead singer is buried. Morrison died when I was just a few years old. But when in Paris, and near Père Lachaise, this is what one does, and, in utterly staggering heat, one drags one’s friends along.
Under a wilting tree canopy, the air in the cemetery is possibly a degree cooler, but no less. Lewisa uses data to find the grave. Sizing up our motives, a young woman correctly assumes, then gestures with a languid arm and says: “It’s over there.”
“It” is a rectangular, raised granite border covered in faded plastic flowers and cheap toys. Amongst the crooked and crumbling mausoleums that crowd Père Lachaise, the gravesite seems especially dry and dusty. Despite the small attentions it’s been paid, the site is so strangely forlorn I find I can’t look at it straight on. Instead, I filter a photo for Instagram to give it back some long-lost colour. A little respect in the Digital Age.
“He’s probably nice and cool down there, “says Kevin. We nod, but turn immediately to head-shaking when Lewisa asks if we want to see Chopin’s final resting place. He is, supposedly, a neighbor of Morrison’s. The effort of a few extra steps are just that much too much and it’s not like we’re keen to join them in a final rest any time soon.
A few days later we meet another friendly Frenchman, Gwen, who is on shift at the front desk of the Hôtel Jeanne D’Arc where we are staying in Le Marais. He asks what we did to cope in the heat wave. We tell him about standing under the water misters at Hotel de Ville (city hall). Pistachio gelato at 10 in the evening. The tree-canopied Fontaine Médicis in the Luxembourg Gardens.
He suggests the catacombs (Paris’ underground necropolis) would have been a cooler alternative to Père Lachaise. And we could still wade up to our waists in the fountains at the Jardins du Trocadéro—with the Eiffel Tower for a backdrop they are probably the most famous of all the city’s 1,200 fountains. The media were there in droves over the past week, filming locals and tourists alike for b-roll to accompany their reporting of the historic heat wave.
We like his ideas, all of them, but have castles in the countryside to visit before heading home.
À la prochaine, Paris. Next time.
Pack: A maxi dress no heavier than a handkerchief. They’re also easily available for about 30 – 40 Euros in the bargain dress shops that dot main streets in nearly every arrondissement. Be prepared to change two or three times a day in a Paris heat wave. While it might get crushed in your plane’s overhead compartment a wide-brimmed hat is worth the extra bit of bother. Don’t forget your sunglasses, or better yet buy a fashionable French pair while you’re there!
Stay: The très charmant boutique Hôtel Jeanne D’Arc in the Marais district. (www.hoteljeannedarc.com).
Eat and drink: In Paris, the chocolat viennoise is too delicious to bypass, even in 42-degree weather. Buy the bottled version of Angelina’s at https://eshop-angelina-paris.fr/fr/épiceries-sucrées/le-chocolat-chaud
Visit: Atelier des Lumières (https://www.atelier-lumieres.com/en/home). Or get out of the city altogether: take the train to Tours, rent a car for the day and drive the Loire Valley to the Château de Chenonceau. The castle’s bridge crosses The River Cher’s shimmering waters to the welcome shade of a forest on the other side.