| People rest on the artificial and temporary Riviera-style beach created on the banks of the Seine river in Paris on Sunday, the day it was opened to the public. (AFP)
Paris, July 20 (Reuters): Can you have a beach without the sea'
Paris today set out to prove you can, importing sand, palm trees and sunbeds for a repeat of last year’s “Paris-Plage” experiment that lured over two million sun-worshippers to the concrete-lined banks of the River Seine.
The French capital looked to have another hit on its hands this year as most sunbeds were snatched up by mid-morning and parents sat back to watch their offspring work on sandcastles and jump around in cooling water sprinklers.
“It’s great, I got here at half past eight,” said Swedish tourist Linda Isberg, 23.
“I think I’m just going to relax but if I get bored there’s always the boules,” she said of the street entertainment laid on by city hall as an alternative to swimming in the Seine. The river is out of bounds because of strong currents.
Dreamed up by Socialist Mayor Bertrand Delanoe, “Paris Plage” stretches over three kilometres of closed-off road on Paris’ Right Bank from the Louvre art gallery to the elegant Ile Saint-Louis.
Touted as a chance for poor city kids to get to a beach, the month-long project is also part of Delanoe’s ambition to wrest back Paris from the clutches of the car after decades of pro-motorist policies in the French capital.
Right-wing critics argued that dozens of underprivileged children could have been sent to the French Riviera on its 1.5 million euro ($1.7 million) budget, and warned the whole thing could end in tragedy if a toddler fell into the Seine.
But no one drowned last year and crime — which included a few thefts of cameras and one reported case of an exhibitionist — was no worse than usual in Paris.
Three tonnes of sand have been shipped in this year after some complained last year there was no room for their towel on the thin strips of beach. Hammocks, live music and a multi-lingual library are some of the other attractions.
Officials are determined that nothing spoils the holiday atmosphere, dousing walkways underneath the Seine’s bridges with disinfectant to remove the usual smell of stale urine.
One sociologist said the reason for the success was that the French, now enjoying more leisure time than ever before, were demanding that their towns become more than just places of work.
“It’s because Parisians have got ‘the beach’ in their heads that Paris-Plage works,” Jean Viard told the daily Liberation.
“What city-dwellers really want is that one day city hall will arrange it so they really can bathe in the Seine.”