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'Beach' in the city offers respite for ordinary Parisians

In a working-class area of Paris, a multiethnic crowd gathers along a canal to kayak, practice tai chi, and enjoy the summertime.

The Paris Plage, an artificial seaside stretching along the Seine has kept Parisians cool each summer since 2001.

Remy de la Mauviniere/AP

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This city just kicked off its annual summer "beach resort" on the banks of the Seine – putting down tons of sand and potted palms in a concept called the "Paris plage" now copied in Madrid, Tokyo, Berlin, Budapest, Mexico City, and Amsterdam.

But for the summer beach party many ordinary Parisians now head to La Villette instead. It's in the 19th arrondissement – a slightly tattered ethnic collocation of Asians, Arabs, Jews, and younger French, and Paris's last working-class district.

Many of the laborers who keep Paris going in the annual August exodus live here. The area abuts the Paris banlieue, the largely immigrant suburbs where riots broke out in 2005, and there are some Arab-Jewish tensions here. It's a gritty area where vacations, beach resorts, and boating are seen as luxuries.

Yet for three years the La Villette beach – on the Canal de l'Ourcq – has brought a community together. And its "authentic" quality makes it an urban beach crowded by rank-and-file Parisians – complete with a kayak-distributing boat house.

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