A very strange version of Paris Knight

Paris — It happens every night, and yet how strange it feels every time.

Across the city, as part of the 9 p.m. pandemic ban approaches, chairs and tables in bars and cafes that would normally remain open until the shorter hours are piled up and stored.

Parisians used to laze at home on long summer nights. The sidewalks are quiet. The city closes sharply like a window.

At Roland Garros, where the French Open is hosting a match every night for the first time, ominous announcements via loudspeakers begin at around 8:30.

“The gate will close in 15 minutes,” a pre-recorded voice says in French and in English. Stands selling flutes of champagne, crepes and penne au chocolat begin packing it. There comes a 10-minute warning, then another five-minute one at the end, “Ladies and gentlemen, the gates are now closed.”

“It’s very disappointing,” Parisian Benoit Joubert, who comes to the tournament every year with his wife Anne, said of the curfew and forced exit as he headed to the exit on Saturday.

They usually stay in the field till nightfall and the match is over. This year, even though Roger Federer was about to take the court, Jouberts was walking out. “We should have a late match and then a party,” he said.

The pandemic started turning cities into ghost towns about a year and a half ago. There’s something particularly strange about watching this nightly routine in the so-called City of Light. It is famous for its 3 p.m. jazz set, where the Lost Generation argued about the meaning of life in a smoke-filled bar on the Left Bank all night.

For a handful of Americans here on business (if you can call that a cushy sportswriting assignment covering this beautiful tournament), it’s felt like time is back in a month or two. We left a country that had Masks and pandemic restrictions began to be left behind.

Calling it 9 p.m. is just about the most anti-Paris phenomenon, especially at this time of year, when twilight doesn’t come until after 10 p.m. and the last thing anyone wants to do is go down as the sun goes down. goes home.

The curfew is no joke though. If you somehow forget to eat and don’t have much in the fridge at home, you’re out of luck. Late night steak frites don’t have to be. All kitchens, grocery and ice cream parlors are unnaturally closed.

Listen to Thibaud Prey. He runs a gourmet pizza joint on Canale Saint-Martin in the northeast part of the city. This is where young people hang out. Think of the northern areas of Brooklyn, such as Williamsburg or Bushwick, or the eastern part of London.

On a Friday evening, just before 8 p.m., sober kids and older adults who wanted to be like them were drinking on the banks of the canals, and drinking at all the other bars and restaurants in Acqua e Farina, Pre’s Pizza Place, and Were. Neighborhood.

An hour later, they mostly went home, or ran to the subway, where, after 9 p.m., security officers could start asking for necessary passes to go out and post-curfew.

As he piled tables and collected payments from some customers until the last minute, Pre said there would be 50 people waiting for a table at 9 p.m. on a typical late Friday. He used to keep the restaurant open till 2 in the afternoon and brought in almost five times more money than he is now. Without generous government support, his business most likely would not have survived.

He said his clients got used to the routine after so many months, showing up first, filling their stomachs until the rules said they couldn’t live anymore, then going to one of those places like Switzerland. Citizens have morphed into where sidewalks are thinner than they should be.

“How long this lasts, we don’t know,” Pre said.

It’s been so long and so awkward that Pre doesn’t want to rely on the current plan to push back the curfew on June 9 by two hours, which seems more decent by Parisian standards, but only slightly.

In July, the curfew may be completely lifted, and the sidewalks by the Seine can once again survive all night, although nightclubs must remain closed.

Someday, maybe even until the next French Open, if that great night owl of French tennis, Yannick Noah, has a say in the matter, he might be back to the jazz set and the real Paris at 3 a.m.

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