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Sometimes in Paris, a little rain must fall. No matter when you’re visiting the City of Light—and light sprinkles, don’t forget to pack a parapluie. The weather here can change at the drop of a Schiaparelli hat. While showers don’t typically last long, I recommend toting a compact “parapluie” (umbrella).
Make it rain
“Never carry an umbrella in Paris! There’s a law,” says moon-eyed Audrey Hepburn to Humphrey Bogart in Billy Wilder’s 1954 classic, “Sabrina.”
Well, Sabrina, that’s not quite true. In fact, it was the French who invented the folding parapluie (literally, “rain protector”).
Though umbrellas have been around since the time of the pharaohs, they originally served as protection from sun, not rain (“umbrella,” after all, means “little shadow”). The folding waterproof umbrella didn’t make its splashy debut until 1709. Jean Marius, a master purse maker (“maitre boursier,” who also happened to invent the portable harpsichord), came up with a design that was water-resistant, lightweight, and practically overnight, terribly chic.
Made in France
Marius quickly launched history’s first publicity campaign for a fashion accessory, landing product endorsements from other notable bigwigs, including Ben Franklin (who even hated hair pieces). Soon it became one of the most highly sought-after French souvenirs.
But what would an 18th-century Cheapo do?
Those early parapluies were indeed stylish and sturdy, but hideously expensive. Ah, but rest assured, the Cheapos-of-the-day weren’t left empty-handed. Like today’s Vélib’ Bike Program, umbrellas could be rented by the hour at tourist hot spots and bridge crossings throughout Paris.
Don’t leave home without it
And you won’t either, dear Cheapo, if you pay attention to some famous Paris films before you pack.
For example, in “The Last Time I Saw Paris,” heroine Helen (Elizabeth Taylor) loses her umbrella not once, but twice, before finally succumbing to pneumonia. Not you!
By the way, bringing a “little shade” with you can be a lifesaver on those hot summer days, too.
If you forgot to pack an umbrella, you can pick up a relatively cheap (and pretty) one at Monoprix. Selling everything from groceries and wine for your picnic, to sunglasses, band-aids, and cute skirts, it’s one-stop shopping for all your strolling needs.
If your umbrella goes bust
Umbrella broken? Don’t throw it out! Instead, stop by PEP’S (223, rue Saint-Martin, Passage de l’Ancre in the Marais), one of the last surviving umbrella repair shops in Paris.
This atelier is worth a visit even if your umbrella is in fine working condition. Repairing up to 10,000 umbrellas a year, PEP’S won’t stick it to you. An average repair costs just 10 to 15 euros, less than an umbrella. Good for the planet and your pocketbook.
“Petit ou grand, we’ll fix it. We’re not snobs,” said the resident “docteur des parapluies,” Thierry Millet, with a wink. “Elegant women always have beautiful umbrellas.”
About the author and photographer: Theadora Brack is a writer working in Paris. Her fiction has appeared in more than 30 literary publications, including 3AM International, The Smoking Poet, Beloit Fiction Journal, Mid-American Review, and the Haight-Ashbury Literary Journal.