It doesn’t snow in Paris very often, and when it does, we see the flakes falling but nothing accumulates on the ground. Paris, although it is at the same latitude as the northern-most parts of the US, has a mild, temperate climate similar to Seattle. The relatively mild winter weather is both because of its position in the European land mass and due to the influence of the Gulf Stream on the weather of northern Europe. The Paris urban area is always a couple degrees centigrade warmer than the surrounding areas. This often spares the city from effects of cold weather even when it produces snow in the suburbs. Typically, the temperature here in winter is in the 40-45 °F range. Freezing weather is rare.
Thus it was significant when 12-15 cm (5 or 6 inches) of snow fell in Paris Tuesday night, turning the streets, the parks, and the building tops white. It was the biggest snowfall in Paris since 1987. No one from a snowy winter climate would be impressed with the magnitude of the storm, yet for Paris, the snow creates two effects: it renders the city quiet and magical and it turns city services into chaos.
About a year ago I purchased an Apple Watch, which has a couple of fitness programs I use, Nike Run Club and the Activity App. These drive me nuts because I have goals every day to stand up often enough, burn enough calories through movement, and to get enough minutes of exercise. It’s relatively easy every day to stand up enough and to get 30 minutes of walking or running, but on days when I don’t run it’s difficult to get the 550 calories of activity. It usually takes about 90 minutes of walking to get there. Oh – and the watch can’t detect when you are doing pushups or squat thrusts, so you can’t achieve the goal by going to the gym. It bugs me not to reach my goals, so every day there is this reckoning.
Tuesday night at 10 pm I still needed about 125 calories, so out I went into the snow storm. I stuffed my 35mm camera into my coat, put up my hood, and walked around. Every once in awhile I stopped to take a photo in the swirling snow. Hopefully I’ve captured some of the calm, the quiet, and the mess. If you click on the pictures you can see a larger version.
Underfoot in the snow, Paris becomes magical. The snow gives a different look to every familiar scene, and the weather keeps most people away, so especially at night the streets and public spaces are lightly trafficked and sometimes deserted. The normal noise and bustle becomes quiet and serene. No one moves quickly. Traffic slows down. Everyone proceeds carefully, looking for solid footing, except the kids who revel in the sudden chance to have a snowball fight.
All this calm belies the inability of the city to cope with even a minor snowstorm. No one has even a shovel. In walking extensively through the city streets, I saw one small green city truck with a snow blade, pushing a narrow path up a busy street. Most streets were eventually cleared by the grinding of the slushy snow under wheel and gradual melting. Curbside there were slush and deep puddles everywhere. Merchants and the City spread salt and sand to improve traction along the sidewalks of the main streets, but other than a narrow path near the doors to the storefronts, the slush and snow remained as a hazard out to the curb. Flights were cancelled. Metro trains and the bus service stopped running. The Eiffel Tower was closed. The city forbid large trucks from using the highways and encouraged people to stay home. Hundreds spent the night in the airport or in a train station. I stopped short of trying to achieve my calorie goal.
By Thursday there was sun but still freezing temperatures. I could sense the extra strain on our apartment’s heating system in the colder weather. Some sidewalks became passable, some almost clear. Others remained slushy and slippery.
The flood waters are subsiding
Down by the river the walkways were thick with ice and treacherous. At Place Saint André des Arts I nearly fell several times walking across the slippery brick surface. The flooding that surged into Paris a couple weeks ago seemed to be subsiding, though the roads and walkways beside the Seine are still covered in water. The Crimean War statue called Le Zouave, the city’s unofficial flood gauge under Pont de l’Alma, was outfitted with a life vest. Though the water level looks about 2 feet lower than it was at its peak, perhaps the citizenry still fears for Le Zoave’s safety as this new storm moves through.
The days are getting longer. Soon all this will pass and spring will be here.