Running at Dawn: When Paris Sleeps


Excessive noise can overwhelm a person.  “A person” ever-so-sneakily referring to me.

As much as I adore my bookstore in the Latin Quarter, where I seek my city peace, I need more than a little corner.  That’s when I discovered running at dawn.  It’s not for everyone.  Given how much I love my sleep, I’m not even convinced it’s for me.

However, if you truly wish to feel as if you are the sole inhabitant of Paris, run at dawn.

Living so close to the Seine, I run along the river, using the Musée d’Orsay and Assemblée Nationale as mile markers.  When tourists crowd the quai, business men and women shuffle around those same gawking tourists, and eager children pull the hands of their parents in every which way, my run becomes more of an exercise in lateral movement.  Sometimes, I find this constant bustling exciting.  If you let it, the buzz of all these people can invigorate you, remind you that Paris offers hope and wonderment to everyone who frequents it. Other times, I just want to shove those people out of the way so I can run in peace.

Rather than express my frustration with violence, I deprive myself of sleep instead.

But the result is beyond worth it.

Before the commuters leave for work but after the clubbers have finally closed their bloodshot eyes, this busy metropolis empties and Paris finally sleeps.  People finally stop accosting the Eiffel Tower with pictures, the Louvre has a chance to recharge, and I, bleary-eyed and grumpy, leave my apartment to encounter an entire city kept quiet and empty just for me.  The glimmering reflection of lamplight along the river and my own labored breathing keep me company.  In that brief half hour, Paris, romantic in its careful preservation of history and culture, becomes my city.  Truly and completely my city, where I can run around the most frequented, stately, astounding monuments and bridges without bumping elbows with fellow tourists.

Alone and quiet along the Seine

Occasionally another runner with a similar idea will pass me, but most of them run along the river itself.  Personally, I prefer the path along the bridges, where uneven bricks don’t try to break my ankles.  The path from above allows for a greater, more spectacular view of the river, the bridges, the monuments–everything that makes Paris the city people can’t help but love.  I could ascribe a million adjectives to my current home.  Beautiful, yes, grand, yes, ornate, yes.  Bu at the heart of it?  Paris is simply different.  It offers this feeling, this Parisian feeling, of contentment, curiosity, astonishment, the French “pfft,” frustration, and some personal flavor that’s special to you, all swirled into one sensation.  And to have that feeling alone at dawn?  Indescribable.

If you ever get the chance, experience it for yourself.  I groan every time I wake up and stare out the darkened window with utter contempt.  But I’ve never regretted the run at dawn along the Seine.

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