As I am writing this, it’s August 24th and I’m in Paris, eating loads of baguette and watching vespas zoom on the single-lane, cobblestone-lined street beneath my window, and I am thinking about school.
You might wonder why I’m thinking about school. Shouldn’t I be thinking about accordian-playing mimes, and cute French waiters, and more baguettes?
Mais non, mes amis.
Parisians take summer vacation very seriously. VERY seriously. Everybody takes vacation in France in August—and not for one week, or ten days, but for the entire month. That is not an exaggeration. Bakeries shut down. Butchers shutter their windows; boutiques lock their doors. The streets are empty of Parisians. The mornings dawn misty and quiet, the evening smolder in silence. It is actually a very peaceful time to be in France…if you don’t want to buy anything!
Here’s another example of how seriously French people take les vacances d’ete (summer vacation). There is a famous, famous ice cream shop here called Berthillon. It has exactly one location, on the Ile St Louis, an island in the center of Paris. It does not export its ice cream. You cannot find its ice cream outside of France, or even outside of Paris. And it sells nothing but ice cream—no cookies, no chocolate, no bars of nougatine. Just ice cream.
It is also closed for two full months of every year. Guess which ones?
July and August.
And then, suddenly, at the end of August is la rentree: literally translated to the re-entering, it is when Parisians pour back into Paris, and the bakeries fling open their doors again and begin churning out their heavenly baguettes, and the boutiques and papeteries are packed with families shopping for back-to-school clothing and supplies. This might be my favorite time to be in Paris: la rentree is all about optimism, and energy, and hope for the new year.
That’s what I always loved about going back to school in the fall. It offered a chance of reinvention: new clothes, new binders, untouched sheaths of paper, unused pens. The promise of new friends and (possibly, please God, please God) new adorably hot transfer students who would fall madly in love with you during chem..
And okay, yeah—so most of the time it didn’t work out that way. Within a week, your new clothes are just newer old clothes and you still have nothing to wear, while that annoyingly perfect student body vice president looks like a freaking runway model every day of her life—meanwhile, the only transfer student is weird and short and smells permanently like meatball subs. (Or, if he is cute, he’s already dating the student body president.)
But the point is the start of the school year is all about hope and new beginnings—so much more so, I think, than the actual new year. (Who wants to celebrate new beginnings when it’s like, negative five thousand degrees outside and everyone you know has the flu?)
So make a wish. Heck, make a resolution. And happy New Year!