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"Joie de vivre' on a Paris beach

(ran Beach edition)

Sure, the Pinellas beaches have long been popular among Europeans. But step aside, St. Pete Beach, Madeira and Indian Rocks. There's a new beach on the block.

Paris Beach.

Yes, that's the Paris. The landlocked one in France.

"Hmmm," said Pass-a-Grille tourist George Collins, assessing the news as he cut himself another bite of syrup-coated toast Tuesday morning on the beachfront deck of the Seaside Grille. "I wonder if they serve French toast."

Those crazy French.

Socialist Mayor Bertrand Delanoe has spent $1.52-million to transform a 2-mile stretch on the right bank of the river Seine into a beach getaway. With a few truckloads of sand, 300 beach lounge chairs, 150 parasols and 80 palm trees, he has transported the French Riviera (located hundreds of miles away) to a Paris strip that faces the Ile de la Cite.

"I'm having a fabulous time. This is great," one American sunbather, Andrew Gentry, gushed to the Associated Press. "Can you imagine? I'm in Paris, France, I'm on a sandy beach, I have Notre Dame in front of me. . . . I'm a happy guy."

But are the French playing fair?

Stack up Notre Dame, the Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower next to local equivalents Church by the Sea, the gazebo on hole No. 16 at Madeira Beach's Smuggler's Cove and the spinning restaurant atop St. Pete Beach's Holiday Inn, and one conclusion seems obvious:

Gulf Boulevard is no Champs Elysees, even though they both have a McDonald's.

And the piece de resistance? The French also have Euro Disney, which is closer to Paris than the Pinellas beaches are to Disney World.

"We've got to become more competitive because everybody else is becoming more competitive with us," said Debbie Stambaugh, executive director of the Tampa Bay Beaches Chamber of Commerce. "We're not just competing now with God-made things; you're competing with man-made things, too."

(Not that the Pinellas beaches are exactly, pardon our French, authentique. Most beaches between Belleair Beach and St. Pete Beach's Upham Beach have been enhanced with offshore sand at a cost far greater than the fake beach in Paris.)

Paris Beach is only temporary. Opened Sunday, it will be in place until Aug. 18, when the palm trees-in-boxes are removed and the street reopens to traffic. It was created to give Parisians a holiday without leaving home.

In the meantime, Paris Beach allows no swimming in the polluted Seine. "You'll break out," the mayor told Agence France Presse.

Pinellas had few swimmers this weekend, as well, because a Red Tide outbreak was washing ashore dead fish.

"I would think the water here is cleaner," said St. Pete Beach tourist Angela Collins of Austin, who visited Paris just months ago. "I wouldn't go in their water."

The British press, ever competitive with the French, reports that the "beach" is "more like a giant children's sand pit."

Perhaps the beach is always sandier on the other side of the world. Carol Gannon, out for her morning walk in St. Pete Beach on Tuesday, said her former employer had sent her to a training seminar where she met a colleague from France. She told him how lucky he was to live in a beautiful city.

"But he said, "It's dirty. Florida is beautiful,' " Gannon recalled. "It's all relative."

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THEIR SAND: Children play in sand on the banks of the Seine river Sunday as they take advantage of "Paris Beach," a project sponsored by the city of Paris to create a coastal atmosphere in the heart of the French capital. With traffic prohibited from the road alongside the Seine, 2 miles of riverbank was decorated with palm trees, umbrellas and lounge chairs.

OUR SAND: Zane Sever, 4, yells for his brother, Bailey Sever, 7, to get out of the hole they made while playing on Treasure Island on Monday morning. They were vacationing with their parents, Scott and Roni Sever of Sarasota, and sister Grace, 2.

THEIR WATER: People resting on lounge chairs sunbathe on the Seine riverbank Monday. Paris Beach was designed to resemble a tropical destination, but the water is so polluted that swimming is prohibited.

OUR WATER: Here's one thing Pinellas beaches have on Paris: Beachgoers can play in the water. Here, Rudy Montiel, his 1-year-old son Leonardo, his wife, Merideth, and daughter, Brittany, 3, cool off in the water Memorial Day weekend at Upham Beach.