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PARIS, FRANCE (HawaiiNewsNow) - Palm trees in the breeze above miles of golden sand. You might imagine a beach here in Hawaii. But no - it's central Paris, and "Paris Plages." Halfway across the planet they bask in the sun on a man-made beach along the banks of the river Seine. What they teach there might surprise you too. Malika has more from Paris in the first of our week long French Connection stories.
Paris in the summertime. A place many come to vacation, but over the last 9 years people come here to go to the beach. As Parisian Marite La Petite explains, "When the weather is good, it's nice. There are no cars, no pollution, we can breathe, we can relax. You can watch the boats, there are shows. It's cool."
Eleven months of the year, this is a busy highway. But in late July that all changes when the banks of the river Seine are transformed into a tropical paradise. It takes six hundred people to install and create the scenery on the Voie Georges Pompidou and La Villette. Over thirteen hundred tons of sand, palm trees, parasols and activities for the whole family. Millions flock to "Paris Plages" each year.
Arnaud Babin was sort of impressed, "I thought the idea was pretty cool, but I thought we were able to go for a swim or something, but actually not."
That's right, there are a couple of things you can't do. Swimming in the Seine is strictly forbidden and don't even think about tanning topless. But Parisian's can also do things they may have never dreamed of - like learning to play the ukulele.
"People are drawn to the ukulele because it's a small nomadic instrument that's easy to travel with. You can take it anywhere. The ukulele evokes images of beaches, vacation, palm trees and of course Hawaii," said ukulele instructor Phillipe Krouk. Ukulele lessons are in their fourth year at Paris Plages. Instructors Phillipe and Renault estimate they introduced close to two hundred people to the instrument this year. Renaud explains, "The pleasure I once had that someone gave me a little key and a vast world was opened up to me. I hope that when I teach people to play, I give them that same desire."
Ukulele lovers in France can continue their studies. The "Ukulele Club de Paris" has monthly jam sessions - they call it their "Paris Ukulele Hui." Through the club, Phillipe even got to interview Hawaii's own Jake Shimabukuro. He says of Jake, "French people love him because he has such a big heart. At the same time he's also a virtuoso of the instrument. So we love to listen to him play and to have the pleasure of meeting him was very special."
When the month's festivities come to an end, the sand is shipped out and overnight they break everything down, the deck chairs, the palm trees, the next day it's open again to cars.
A brief moment of escape from the hustle and bustle of the City of Light that Parisians appreciate but perhaps makes them long for more. Parisian Arnaud says, "Well if I had a choice right now I would rather be in Hawaii than in Paris Plages. So hopefully one day I will go there. Maybe you will bring me back with you?"
Click HERE for a link to the Ukulele Boudoir website.