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The Dark Side of Paris in November

November 30th, 2011 · 2 Comments · Abu Dhabi, France, Paris, tourism


I would still rather be in Paris than just about anywhere, but for those of us who live near the tropics, we do have one … oh, let’s call it mild complaint … about Paris in late November/early December.

It’s dark.

It’s also a bit cold. By Abu Dhabi/UAE standards, most definitely cold. Around 50 Fahrenheit, for the highs, at a time when Abu Dhabi is at least 85 every day.

However, we know that in most of Europe and North America, 50 is nothing. Hardly worthy of note, except in a positive way. (A former colleague noted today that it was a “balmy” 45 in Chicago, and anyone who has visited Chicago this time of year knows that his comment was not meant to be ironic.)

Paris is not remotely as cold as most of North America, but the city lies further north than anywhere in the U.S. that isn’t Alaska. And being further north, means Seattle, Minneapolis, Detroit, Boston … all get more light than does Paris.

So, how dark is it here in Gay Paree?

This dark: On December 1, the sun will rise here at 8:22 a.m. and set at 4:56 p.m.

That’s barely 8.5 hours of light. If you work 9 to 5, it’s barely light when you arrive at the office and it’s already night when you leave. Hmmm.

Plus, a fair chunk of that 8.5 hours of “light” is actually twilight, as the sun struggles to get above the southern horizon.

The weather can make the “light” issue even worse.

We arrived in Paris on Friday; the sun did not show its face until Wednesday — five days later. Not one moment of sun for five full days.

We did, however, take advantage of the sun shining through a cloudless sky today (note shadows in photo, above) to march over to the Ile de la Cite, to the tip of the island, to my old jogging haunt, just east of the Notre Dame Cathedral, a little park named after Pope John the 23rd. (French name: Square Jean Xxiii.)

The afternoon sun pours into the park for two reasons: 1) The rows of plane trees that provide shade during the height of summer are nearly leafless; and 2) the park is flush up against the southern branch of the Seine, so the nearest sun-blocking buildings are more than 100 yards away, on the Rive Gauche.

Thus, a star that is barely above the horizon can cast its light on the square. Ahhh. Nice.

The little square is a perfect place to sit in the sun and soak up the most intense natural light. Which Leah did for the better part of an hour as I did 20 slow laps of the grounds.

Forty minutes in the sun in the UAE would, of course, be tantamount to suicide, but in this part of the northern hemisphere, on the last day of November, it is a blessing.

Locals and tourists, adults and children, were planted on the west-facing benches and basking in the illumination of that seemingly weak and distant star. Some kids took further advantage by running over to the three bits of play equipment placed on a rubberized foundation — a swing, some bars and a tilted spinning wheel.

Some even stripped off the outer layers of clothes. A scarf here, a wrap there, an overcoat over yonder. And they pitched their heads at an angle, so that the sun would hit them flush in the face. Everyone was smiling.

I am told, by those who have lived for years here, that even a half-hour dose of direct sunlight, no matter how feeble, can help banish the doldrums that the days, weeks, months of sunless gloom can wreak on the human psyche.

We certainly were cheered by it. Even if it still hadn’t reached 55 degrees. Endorphins, or something.

During the brief bit of light, we even saw a couple of brave accordion players take up spots on the little bridge that connects the Ile de la Cite to Ile St-Louis. I gave 50 cents to one of them for braving the cold.

One upside to short days? A long, long Paris night, when the whole City of Light thing can really come to the fore. Say, on the Champs Elysees which has been decorated with blinking lights, for the Christmas season. And another: An evening sitting in the neighborhood bistro can be a six-hour affair even before the stroke of midnight. As opposed to June and July, when you get maybe one hour of night before midnight … and then you’ve really cut into your sleep cycle.

But if you’re not soaking up the night, and the short days are beginning to play hob with your brain … if you see some light here, you go to it.


2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Karl // Dec 1, 2011 at 5:41 AM

    Been visiting Paris vicariously…thank you. Have only been there once…thought it would be unpleasant…not remotely close to that. An enchanting experience that I would love to do again.

  • 2 James // Dec 1, 2011 at 11:27 PM

    I love that park … and the Paris nights, be they dark or bright.

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