A quiet street, shop shutters drawn, barely anyone in sight. Lights off, doors locked.
No, this is not a sleepy ghost town; it’s summer in Paris. Everyone makes it clear that the residents vacate the city of love in August, but it doesn’t hit home until you see it; even people who have lived there for years still voice surprise at the annual – and mass – evacuation. It’s eerie, and it’s highly frustrating: numerous places are closed. Shops have handwritten notes in the window, announcing their 4 week break, and wish the public “bonnes vacances!”
This accepted month of holiday from the metropolis, the Sunday of the year, the urban pause so widespread in Paris it feels like an institution – it’s peculiar, but undoubtedly admirable. I cannot imagine a business shutting in London for a month because of ‘happy holidays!’ There’s work to be done, surely. But because there seems to be some kind of understanding in France, it’s clearly feasible and businesses survive the break. It’s quite a captivating thing, the city that goes on holiday. The normal stress is put aside, dissolved. Is it a form of negating work, or is this really how life – and business – should be conducted? Does living in a city require an annual block month’s break away from it – or is it rather that work cannot and should not be ceaseless?
There is always a certain atmosphere associated with summer: of freedom. And this sort of freedom relates to the outdoors; an outdoors which is often stifling, polluted and short on green space in cities. This freedom to escape the continual urban affair and the work that necessarily goes with it is a beautiful antidote to the anxieties of the capitalist system, to the belief that money and business must always come first.
Cities are wonderful places but a break can never be a bad thing. A good city should facilitate, expand and diversify your life and your ambitions; it is a place to inhabit, not that inhibits. Cities are not machines and neither are we; so shut up shop and vacate the streets for a while.
An original version of this blog post first appeared on City Psychology.