PARIS – It happens every night, and yet it’s so strange every time.
Across the city, with the 9pm curfew approaching under pandemic restrictions, chairs and tables in bars and cafes that typically stay open until the wee hours are stacked and stored.
Parisians accustomed to lazy walks on long summer nights go home. The sidewalks become silent. The city closes as quickly as a window.
At Roland-Garros, where Roland Garros organizes a match for the first time every evening, disturbing announcements sound over the loudspeakers from around 8:30 p.m.
“The doors will close in 15 minutes,” announces a voice pre-recorded in French, then in English. Stalls selling flutes of champagne, pancakes and pain au chocolat are starting to fill it up. A 10 minute warning follows, then a five minute warning, then finally, “Ladies and gentlemen, the doors are now closed”.
“It’s very frustrating,” said Benoît Jaubert, a Parisian who comes to the tournament every year with his wife Anne, of the curfew and the forced exit as he rushed to the exit on Saturday.
Usually, they stay on the field until nightfall and the end of games. This year, even though Roger Federer was on the verge of entering the field, the Jauberts were on the verge of exiting. “We should have the late games and then a party,” he said.
The pandemic began turning cities into ghost towns almost a year and a half ago. There is something particularly strange about this nighttime routine in the so-called City of Lights. It’s a place famous for its 3 a.m. jazz sets, where the Lost Generation fought all night long over the meaning of life in the smoky bars of the Left Bank.
For the handful of Americans here on a business trip (if that’s what you might call a cushy sports writing assignment to cover this elegant tournament), it was like stepping back in time a month or two. We left a country that had started to leave behind masks and pandemic restrictions.
Calling it a night at 9 p.m. is the most anti-Parisian event, especially at this time of year, when dusk doesn’t come until after 10 p.m. and the last thing you want to do when the sun is setting is to go home.
The curfew is no joke though. If you forget to eat and don’t have much in the refrigerator at home, you’re out of luck. There are no late night steak frites. All kitchens, grocery stores and ice cream parlors are, unnatural, locked.
Listen to Thibaud Pré. He runs an Italian restaurant on the Canal Saint-Martin in the northeast of the city. This is where the young people hang out. Think of the northern neighborhoods of Brooklyn, like Williamsburg and Bushwick, or the eastern part of London.
On Friday evening, just before 8 p.m., the cool kids and grown-ups who wanted to do like them drank by the canals and at Acqua e Farina, the Pre’s restaurant, and all the other bars and restaurants in the neighborhood.
An hour later they were mostly gone, rushing home or rushing to the subway, where just after 9 p.m. security guards could start asking for the required pass to exit after curfew. .
As he stacked tables and collected payments from the few customers who lingered until the last minutes, Pre said on a typical late-spring Friday at 9 p.m., 50 people would be waiting for a table. He would keep the restaurant open until 2 a.m. and bring in about five times as much money as it currently is. Without the generous help of the government, his business probably would not have survived.
He said his clients got used to the routine after so many months, showing up earlier, filling their stomachs until regulations forbid staying any longer, then turning into citizens of one of places like Switzerland where the sidewalks become clearer for a long time. before they should.
“For how long it lasts like this, we just don’t know,” said Pre.
It’s been so long, and so odd, that the Pré doesn’t want to bet on the current plan to push back the two-hour curfew on Wednesday, which seems more civilized by Parisian standards, but only slightly.
In July, the curfew could disappear completely and the sidewalks of the Seine could be alive all night again, although nightclubs are supposed to remain closed.
One day maybe, maybe even before the next Roland-Garros, if this great French tennis night owl, Yannick Noah, has his say, these 3 a.m. jazz sets and the real Paris could well come back.