Hawaiian Shirt Days

photo: fountains, trocadero

As soon as the carefree waders saw the camera, they disappeared behind the spouts on the right.

Capturing the Rapture

Paris:- Wednesday, 16. April 2003:- With Easter only next Sunday, it is very late this year. Last year part of it was on April Fool's day and the weather was appropriate for it, as I found by sitting up in the high end in the hurricane zone of Shea Stadium in Queens. The Mets won, it didn't actually snow, and steamed dumplings fixed it all up afterwards.

I am convinced that the weather is always terrible in Paris at Easter, so that the Italians who traditionally come here can consider their visit a continuation of active winter sports - with jars of hot wine served in the jolly cafés of Montmartre.

But this year is different. The true winter part was in December of last year, when there was a half-day blizzard on the Champs-Elysées. Since then it hasn't been much of anything extreme, except for some mean winds from the north. Last Friday it was sunny, but pretty cool and on Saturday it was pretty cool without being sunny.

Anyway, even if Easter is late I have been expecting cool and damp weather, which is pretty usual for thisphoto: made in hawaii shirt label time of year. It is more usual than any other kind of weather. Don't let the Mediterranean-type window shutters here fool you.

The authentic label in my authentic Hawaiian summer shirt.

Last Tuesday, which turned out not to be my day-off of the week, had a dubious forecast. Monday night's TV-weather news predicted sunshine but also forecast great rains for Brittany and Normandy. These are so close, their miserableness could have slopped over to Paris. The predicted high of 24 degrees seemed like a joke.

But to everyone's general surprise, the day was pretty clear and the temperatures did their jump from 13 on Saturday, to about 22. Even though it was not my day-off-of-the-week I went down to the café Bouquet and stood around outside eyeballing the home-going flora and fauna.

Later on, I finished off my day-off-of-the-week about the usual time of 02:00 in the morning. My reward for this was to see the full moon in a thousand splinters through my funny-glass bathroom window. There are two glass panes, and each has a different pattern of funny-glass. It's better than MTV.

At about 8:00 on Wednesday I woke up very annoyed because some crazy person in the cemetery across the street was blasting my living room with a yellow-tinted searchlight - and thisphoto: peniches, seine was doing a pool-table carom off the west living-room wall and spraying the bedroom with glittering gold, brighter than the golf-leaf that Dimitri uses on his Louis XIV picture frames.

Peniches parked in the Seine near the Pont Alexandre III.

It was slightly less than an hour after dawn - which last Wednesday included a surprise sunrise - in a sky the kind of blue color that the Tourist Office would pay a fortune for on 21. June. It was so unbelievable that I took a photo of it and went back to sleep, believing I wouldn't see it again this year and probably not any in other one either.

When I next surfaced to consciousness the golden blaze was gone. The sun, stronger than ever, had looped to the south and was pouring in my south-side windows.

This new apartment I have is well-heated, so I have to go outside before I can really tell what the temperature is. After the usual shopping trip, I was more than certain I wouldn't need to wear the sweater I had on.

'This,' I thought, 'Is a very rare day for April. It is in fact, a Hawaiian shirt day.' So I took off the sweater and ordinary shirt and put on my used-but-nearly-new Hawaiian shirt, for the first time in my life. The first time in my life I've ever worn one.

It is about 40 years old. I have another one like it, and its label says 'made in Hawaii' too, and has the names of all the islands on it. I made the hard choice, to wear the one with the pineapples instead.

With the shirt on, what to report about Paris on Wednesday wasn't a difficult question. It was a 'water' day. Every time the sun pops out for two minutes Le Parisien sends a photographer to the fountains between Trocadéro and the Tour Eiffel, to capture the illegal waders and plaster them on the following day's front page.

On the way there, on the métro line six, I took the usual Tour Eiffel photo from the train as it crossed the Seine. These work out sometimes, but Wednesday's had colored rays from outer space in it. They weren't like something you can see with the naked eye.

At Trocadéro I ignored the active and passive hustlers, I ignored all the folks getting their photos taken with the Tour Eiffel in the background, I ignored the Tour Eiffel itself, the rap dancers and the skaters, and I concentrated on the fountains.

These were, luckily, full of water and operating. Le Parisien must have phoned ahead. People were wading in the big pool while I was still too far away to capture the rapture, and theyphoto: south fountain, place concorde were all taking a rest along the sides of it when I got close enough. I waited a long time for more illegal wading, but none happened.

I think Le Parisien bribes people to wade, maybe with ice cream cones. They have deep pockets and I don't. I needed free waders, carefree anarchists.

Instead of taking the métro to the next water location, I decided to walk along the Seine to it.

My all-time favorite fountain only lacks bleachers.

I crossed the Pont d'Iéna with its reduced number of active hustlers. There were huge crowds of people everywhere - at Trocadéro, by the fountains, on the bridge, beneath the Tour Eiffel, getting on a Batobus, and strewn along the quay of the Port de La Bourdonnais, where the boat operators have cafés on the quay. It seemed like a day in July, except for it being very sunny.

There is a wide dirt path between the road of the Quai Branly and the port and you can walk on it with your elbows out, past the Debilly footbridge, to the Pont de l'Alma. On the other side of this there is the round kiosk of the ticket office of 'Les Egoutes' - for the visits to Paris' sewers.

When I began to copy down the open hours, a sewer guy stepped out of the kiosk with a brochure for me. I observed that it was not a sewer day, but realized another day might be. The sewer guy said it is always cool and damp down there - something handy to remember if it ever gets stinking hot in the open air.

I crossed over the Seine to the right bank at the Pont Alexandre III, to proceed along the Cours la Reine, under the trees overhanging the peniches moored to the Port des Champs-Elysées. One had a little good-humor on-deck palm tree.

At the Place de la Concorde I waited patiently at the half-dozen stop lights before getting across to thephoto: octangular pool, tuileries stone island in the centre of the place, and to my favorite fountain, merrily spouting waters every which way. The south fountain is more sensually addictive than the north one, but I don't know why.

In the Tuileries, loungers study the pond reflecting the sky.

The fountain - both of them - has about a thousand interesting details. With a little breeze, you never know what the water jets will do. The colors change, glisten, the sun moves overhead, sprays are flung at the sky, and mists drift randomly in all directions.

Inside the Tuileries garden the first, octagonal, pool had its spectators who were watching its water jets sprinkle varying patterns on the surface. Concorde's Obélisque had its wavy reflection and the ducks paddled around, making tiny waves.

Under the trees the ice cream wagon had its long line, and there were thousands of other people seeking shade, a place to rest, an early place to be outside after a long winter. The cafés under the trees were all full of people taking refreshments under dappled light and dense shade.

The rent-a-sailboat business was thriving at the smaller, round pond further to the east. Here there wasphoto: round pool, sailboats, tuileries only the single water spout in the centre, but the afternoon sun was illuminating the sails on the little boats in infinite shades between flat colors and shadowed transparency.

Other shadows dropped in the white granular dirt beneath the metal chairs occupied by loungers, in the free seats around the pond. Beyond, the stretch to the little Carrousel arch was blinding white with glare, lined with flower beds.

A sailboat captain need fear no hurricanes on the Tuileries' round pond.

This was the end of water. The triangular pools by the Louvre's Pyramid were empty, as they have been for some time now. Without the rippling reflections between the water and the glass, the Cour Napoléon was all stone, steel and transparent glass. It seemed a bit dry after so much water, and so was I.

Les Egouts - a tour, the museum, and an audiovisual show, will explain everything you ever wanted to know about a vision of Paris as seen from its sewers. Except for Thursday and Friday, open daily from 11:00 to 16:00, and from 1. May to 30. September, from 11:00 to 17:00. Beside the Pont de l'Alma, opposite 93. Quai d'Orsay, Paris 7. Métro: Alma-Marceau, or RER 'C' Pont-de-l'Alma. InfoTel.: 01 53 68 27 81.

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