Sharing Lunch With Emile

Helm of Rocca IV
The 'bridge' of the vedette 'Rocca IV,' underneath the Pont Neuf.

The First Postcard of the 'Vedettes du Pont Neuf'

eMail from John McCulloch, via the Internet

Dear Ric,

Paris:- Sunday, 12. October 1997:- As a 21 year-old 'let loose' in Paris, I chose to wander and photograph the city and the people.

In the course of these wanderings I made many acquaintances, some for a day, some for a month before they moved on, and a few that lasted through to the end of my stay.

Emile Azam was preparing his vedette - patrol or scout boat - on a damp day in spring of 1962. I was shooting some black and white, and asked Pont Neuf and the 'Vedettes' permission to take a few photographs. Giving permission, he remarked that he had never seen photographs of his boat.

View of the Pont Neuf, the Seine and the location of the 'Vedettes du Pont Neuf'; from the 4th floor of Samaritaine.

I returned a week later with a 24 x 30 cm enlargement of him with his boat. Being a slow day, we talked, with many a reference to the "Larousse Dictionnaire". Even with two years of 'school' French and the six months I had already been in Paris, the language barrier was still formidable for casual conversation.

As a part of our talk, I asked why he did not sell or give postcards of the 'Vedette' to his customers. Apparently expense was a major concern, because of the preparation costs, and the sheer quantity he would have to buy to get them made.

No problem! I came back on a sunny day, shot several angles, and the original postcard, by J McCulloch he chose one he liked. I purchased a box of 100 'carte postal' photo-paper from Kodak, and went to work. In a week, he had 90 good prints; and I had a pass for whenever the boat was not full.

Reproduction of the first postcard done for 'Vedettes du Pont Neuf' - in 1962.

Many days, when in the area of Pont Neuf, I'd get some bread, butter, milk, and cheese, and wander down to the quai and we'd have lunch, chatting about the river, and the city.

The next year, probably in May, I re-photographed the quai and the 'vedette' with color transparency film.

Many of the young tourists I'd meet expressed unhappiness with the tours given by the larger commercial boats, so - of course - I'd advertise, and sometimes - especially when they were young ladies - escort them to the Pont Neuf.

The view from this close to the water is considerably different than that from the higher decks of the large boats. Traffic permitting, Mr. Azam would often 'double back' to allow passengers a second 'better' shot. I wonder of this would be permitted today.

Friendliness such as his, and from many others, completely dispelled the warnings I had been given Emile Azam, in 1962 regarding the 'negative' attitude of Parisians towards Americans. I met a few nasties, but on the whole, a much warmer reception than in some of the American cities where I'd been a visitor.

Emile Azam, on board one of the original 'vedettes.'

Do I love Paris? - Yes!

Have I been back? - No.

Why not? Mostly work and available time, but also a caution about the memories. Changes in the city are certain; a quick 'vacation' visit as against two years living there - make me wonder how I'd feel.

Will I go back? Flip a coin!


Text, photos of the 'vedette' and Mr. Azam: John McCullock©1997

Things Have Changed a Little and Some Things Haven't
Dear John,

Paris:- Friday, 17. October 1997:- 'Vedettes du Pont Neuf' began in 1959 with the wooden-hulled 'Simoun:' which had 40 seats and no windows. It was built by Emile Azam and a Mr. Girardot at La Varenne.

The cruise on the Seine, which started from the Quai du Louvre, went downstream to the Pont Alexandre III, back the stairs down the Square Vert Galant park up and around the Ile- de-la-Cité, and then returned to the quai. The cruise lasted about 40 minutes and there was no commentary, as most passengers were Parisians.

Behind the stature of Henri IV, there are two sets of stairs going a long way down to the Square du Vert Galant.

Sometimes, in good weather, there would be as many as 250 waiting for a ride, grouped in a semi-circle around the parasol shading the ticket sales booth on the quai.

The first year was a big success and an 84-seat steel-hulled 'vedette' with a windshield, was built and put into service as the 'Rocca I' in 1960. The following year, there was a brief, unamplified commentary in French about the principal monuments along the route.

The 'Rocca II' with 120 seats was put into service in 1963, and this was about the time you were in Paris. This 'vedette' - which had amplification and heating, for fall weather - ran down to the Pont de l'Alma. This boat can still be seen at the 'Vedettes du Pont Neuf' pontoon.

In 1965, the 'Rocca III' was added to the fleet. The location of the pontoon,which was built in 1966, was moved across the river to the Square du Vert Galant because of the construction of the speedway along the Quai du Louvre.

In 1968, the 'Rocca IV' replaced the 'Rocca I.' This is an all-weather vedette with 120 seats, and by this time half of the passengers were visitors to Paris and there was appropriate commentary for them.

The fleet continued to grow, with ever-larger and more elaborate boats, with 350 or 550 seats, full-disco sono; boats suitable for day-trips or evening cruises or receptions - enlargement of the pontoon, and the opening of another docking location in Nogent-sur-Marne, in 1993.

Emile Azam is now 82 and I was told he continues as president of the tour company. He occasionally comes down helm, Rocca II to the pontoon at the downstream end of the Ile-de-la-Cité, to make sure the 'Rocca II' and 'Rocca IV' are still securely tied up; and ready to go if the crowds become greater than the capacities of the larger boats.

This is the helm of the 'Rocca II' with the pillars of the bridge in the background.

The two older boats have very bright, white, paint jobs and look like they are ready to slip their moorings at a moment's notice.

If you come down here, you can stand on the pontoon and see these boats, with the Pont Neuf as a backdrop, and not see any of the newer boats - unless one happens to be passing under the bridge.

Heads or tails?

Regards, Ric
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