Hearing French and not English, Chinese or Russian at the Eiffel Tower sounds weird. Or at the Arc de Triomphe. Even at the Louvre! Even stranger is visiting these iconic monuments of Paris calmly, without pushing or nudging, without mobile cameras preventing you from seeing what you have gone to see. Without having, in short, to plan the visit months in advance and make reservations for impossible times. The coronavirus epidemic is a disaster for the tourism sector of the most frequently visited city in the world. But for those who can or have to stay this summer, or for the few tourists, especially nationals, who come to the City of Light, it is a unique opportunity to discover a Paris whose magic is often diluted among crowds that overflow its crowded streets.
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Like so many French, Bruno and Nedelec have decided to stay in the country this year. Residents of Cannes, the beach was not what they most wanted, so they took the opportunity to see Paris again. "This is the ideal time," says Bruno as he queues to enter the Louvre. Although there is already a long line at 9 in the morning, it moves quickly and is far from the usual kilometer-long waits. You have to make a prior reservation, yes, but there is no problem to choose the time or day. "How strange not to see Japanese, or Americans," he says. Just 20 minutes later, they are lost in corridors that for once do not seem like rush hour on the subway instead of the most famous museum in the world.
Since it reopened after confinement, on July 6, the gallery has received 200,000 visitors, 10,000 daily, more than half of them French, according to its own figures. It sounds like a lot, but they are only a quarter of last year. In 2018, the museum celebrated a record 10.2 million visits.
The definitive proof that this summer everything is different is on the first floor, in the Italian painters' room, where the most visited painting awaits, the Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci. Normally you have to get very close and wait even longer to be able to glimpse, just fleetingly, among hundreds of raised hands with mobiles (when will it be prohibited to take photos in museums?), The small portrait of Lisa Gherardini with her mysterious smile and that look that seems chasing you around the room full of other magnificent paintings by contemporaries - there are masterpieces by Titian, Tintoretto or Veronese - often ignored by those who only come to take a selfie in front of the ultra-famous Gioconda. That has not changed. Few of those who this August have the luxury of being able to contemplate for once at their ease the magnificent works of the Louvre stop to look for a few seconds even at the painting that has led them to make another - now brief - interior queue. Why, there will be time, if anything, when the selfie that shows that she was there is published on the networks, although that there matters less than having been.
The luxury of visiting a Parisian museum is easily repeated in the impressionist Musée d'Orsay or the Georges Pompidou Center for Contemporary Art. And at the Arc de Triomphe, the Sacré Coeur or the Eiffel Tower. To visit this icon of Paris, you usually have to book at least two months in advance. Tickets can now be purchased the same day.
The French "have the impression that the Eiffel Tower is, at the moment, a little bit for them," said Patrick Branco Ruivo, general director of the company that manages the monument. Of the current 11,000 daily visitors - 23,000 last year - 72% are French, when before the pandemic 80% were of foreign origin.
A boon for visitors, but a disaster for the hospitality industry. In 2019, Paris and its surroundings received 50.6 million tourists that generated almost 22,000 million euros of income, according to the Regional Tourism Committee. So far this year, 16 million visits and 7,000 million euros have already been lost. And the summer, with one in two hotels closed, and a 35% occupancy rate, doesn't look like it's going to save the season. Also the informal economy generated by tourism is desperate. In the surroundings of the Eiffel Tower, the trileros hardly manage to attract a tourist who swallows the scam of the ball. Sub-Saharan immigrants do not fare much better, since they cannot find someone to buy them reproductions of the famous tower in all sizes and colors.
Unaware of this drama, María and Abiud rush their last hours in Paris. This couple from Barcelona has spent four days of their honeymoon in the City of Light and has given them time to visit everything they wanted. The only setback: a guided tour of the Palace of Versailles was canceled at the last minute. Not enough people had signed up.