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OFFBEAT

French beaches open pop-up summer libraries

Going to the beach can be tough work, but if you need a break from all the gruelling swimming and sunbathing this summer, a trip to one of France's pop-up seaside libraries could be just the thing.

French beaches open pop-up summer libraries
People read books outside a library, open during the summer, in Etretat, northwestern France. Photo: AFP
Lulled by the gentle cries of seagulls in the distance, flocks of readers have been heading to the book-filled beach huts that authorities have opened along the coast of Normandy in northern France and elsewhere.
   
“It's a perfect break for reading and relaxing between two dips in the sea,” said 52-year-old hairdresser Isabelle from her deckchair at the library in Etretat, a Normandy resort famed for its dramatic white cliffs. 
   
“Since I'm not going away on holiday, this is my treat every afternoon,” she said, before diving back into a detective novel.
   
Etretat is one of 12 local resorts where authorities have set up library beach-huts this summer. Open from July 7 until August 26, each of the wooden huts has been filled with 1,000 books.
   
Normandy launched its “Read At The Beach” scheme in 2005 with three huts and by last year was welcoming more than 38,000 bookworms along this stretch of the coast.
 
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 Photo: AFP

The idea has since taken off elsewhere in France, with the Herault region in the south attracting 21,000 readers to its own beach huts last year.
   
Similar schemes have also been launched in other countries including Australia, Bulgaria, Israel and Spain.
 
Poetry and gentleman-thieves
 
In Normandy, anyone is welcome to dip into a book, with no registration needed — but readers must stay in the deckchairs provided, rather than taking them down to the sea to get sand between the pages.
   
This year 400 chairs are up for grabs around the region at the beach huts, which are open every day between 2 pm and 7 pm, with some books in English, German and Italian provided for foreign readers. 
   
On a recent sunny afternoon in Etretat, a dozen readers — aged between nine months and 70 — come to transport themselves to other worlds from the hut, overlooking the sea.
 
Photo: AFP
   
“We need more of this kind of place,” said Romain Mace, an engineer on vacation from the city of Rouen, enjoying a volume of poetry as his baby slept beside him — a rare pleasure for sleep-deprived young parents.
   
Since the books cannot be taken off-site, the hut's two librarians will happily put aside a novel you've started so that you can pick up the story where you left off the next day.
   
Corinne Ait Amar, 47, had returned to delve back into the thrilling exploits of gentleman-thief Arsene Lupin while her daughter was engrossed in a Japanese manga comic. 
   
“It's perfect,” said the nurse, on vacation with her family from the eastern city of St Etienne.
   
“My daughter and I have been saying to ourselves that we might meet up with the rest of the family a little later than planned…”

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OFFBEAT

France’s mystery rooftop panther stolen from zoo

A black panther rescued from rooftops near the northern city of Lille last week has been stolen from the zoo where it was taken after capture, officials said.

France's mystery rooftop panther stolen from zoo
Photo: AFP/ Sapeurs Pompiers du Nord

The feline was seized overnight from the zoo in Maubeuge near the Belgian border, the city's mayor, Arnaud Decagny, told AFP on Tuesday.

“This animal was the only target,” Decagny said, adding that “considerable efforts” were made to force locks and avoid security systems.

Zoo personnel are worried about the young panther's health, “which is rather delicate because he lacks strength,” the mayor added, saying the animal was just a few months old and weighed between 25 and 30kg.

The panther after its capture. Photo League Protectrice des Animaux de la Nord de France/AFP

The panther was going to be transferred to a centre specialised in rehabilitating wild animals that had been domesticated.

Firefighters caught the cat last Wednesday as it roamed rooftops in Armentieres after escaping through the window of a private apartment believed to have been its home.

The panther's owner is thought to have escaped through the same window, for fear of being charged with illegally harbouring a wild animal.

Police have not located the fugitive owner, who could face charges of endangering the public, which is punishable by up to a year in prison and €15,000 in fines, Decagny said.

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