Don't get me wrong -- I love the summer.
Wedged between an uncertain spring and an inevitable autumn, summer
is a season of promise and pleasure and peregrination. Anything goes --
we strip off our clothes, we loosen our inhibitions, and we race off to
the shore, the mountains, or the countryside. Or we exchange one
sweltering city for another: we leave Chicago to visit Rome, we quit New
York to visit Madrid.
We hit the road with a carload of cranky kids and bulging baggage, or
we trudge through airports swarming with sweaty fellow-travelers. The old
French Line used to have as its slogan, "Getting There Is Half the Fun."
That's not true anymore.
Americans, with only two weeks of paid vacation, are particularly
disadvantaged. Europeans actually have a whole month off -- four weeks to
recover from the other 48 weeks of work. (They are also likely to get a
week or two off in mid-winter, when health experts say we need a break the
most.) So the American response is to make the most of this meager
hand-out. The result, as we know, is a fortnight of hectic activity
followed by a breathless return home.
The real luxury, of course, is to travel out of season, but work
obligations and school schedules make this impossible, and it is only at
retirement that one can enjoy this prerogative. Even then, the summer
syndrome seems to persist: we are forever in the habit of taking "summer
My life in Paris, even after many years, still makes me think I'm on
a permanent vacation. But I'm certainly not a tourist. And I must admit,
I view the actual tourists, the summer arrivals, with a critical eye.
They are easy to spot -- guidebook in one hand and camera in the other. I
don't begrudge them that. But often, they have sloppy clothes and sloppy
manners. They seem to forget that they are visiting a capital city of
historic dimensions, of enduring tradition; they should realize that they
are not just cruising the local mall in their T-shirts and sneaks.
Yes, they are struck by the city's beauty, but they are stunned and
insulted when their English is not understood. They are dazzled by the
restaurants and cafes, but they end up ordering "un hamburger" and a Diet
This year, three and a half million Americans are expected to visit
France, in spite of the feeble dollar vis-a-vis the flourishing euro.
They will gripe about the prices, they will criticize their unhelpful
concierge, they will complain about the long lines at the Louvre, they
will bemoan the general scarcity of air-conditioning.....
I want to yell at them: "Then why didn't you just stay home?"
They have come here, T-shirts, sneaks and all, to gape and grumble
and gawk and groan. To light a candle at Notre-Dame, to trudge up to the
top of the Eiffel Tower, and to be ripped off at the Clignancourt flea
And you know what? They will probably return next year.