- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 12, 2003

From combined dispatches

PARIS — With three times more sand, hammocks, Tai Chi classes and a play area for children, the beach playground set to open along the Seine next Sunday promises sun-loving Parisians much more for its second year.

Mayor Bertrand Delanoe announced this month his plans for the French capital’s “Paris Plage” (Paris Beach) initiative, which was wildly successful during its first run last year with some 2.3 million people taking advantage of the downtown sand and sun.

Roads along the river will be closed from July 20 to Aug. 17 to accommodate the summer fun spot, which this year will have an expanded beach area and more sand on the city hall square for beach volleyball enthusiasts.

Hundreds of deck chairs, umbrellas and hammocks will dot the riverfront, and although swimming in the Seine is not allowed, sprinklers and fountains will be installed to help residents and tourists beat the heat.

Bookworms will even find a multilanguage library on the quais.

The Paris initiative has inspired similar beach projects in the southwestern French city of Toulouse as well as in Hungary’s capital, Budapest, and Germany’s capital, Berlin — where politicians and reporters can mingle at the “Federal Press Beach.”

But the Paris beach is the most expansive. After the runaway success of last year’s experiment, the French capital is dumping 3 tons of sand on the banks of the Seine, turning a busy thoroughfare into a palm-lined paradise.

Conceived by Mr. Delanoe, a Socialist, for the thousands who do not get a proper summer vacation, last year’s “Paris Plage” silenced critics with its deck chairs, volleyball courts and live music concerts.

This year’s event will use three times as much sand, brought to Paris by barge, after some of last year’s visitors were disappointed to find thin strips rather than vast golden expanses to spread their beach towels on.

With entertainment and many sports activities laid on free, the bill will come to more than $1.7 million, a bit more than last year. But this time, sponsors will bear more than half the cost.

The beach will stretch more than 2 miles along the right bank of the Seine, from the Louvre to just past Ile Saint-Louis with its elegant 17th-century mansions and will last four weeks. Traffic will be banned in favor of walkers, cyclists and in-line skaters.

“I hope that Paris Plage, together with other events in Paris this summer, will bring smiles and pleasure,” Mr. Delanoe told a July 4 news conference outlining plans for the project.

Although swimming in the river is banned because of its dangerous currents, visitors will be able to lounge in hammocks, bowl, borrow books and perfect their dance moves to the sounds of a live band.

An existing ban on cars during Sunday mornings as well as during the beach project is slowly paving the way for a permanently pedestrian riverside.

“What could be more exciting than to return the banks of their river to Parisians?” Mr. Delanoe asked, saying it would probably take at least 10 years for the car-free dream to become a reality.

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