Island in the Sun

Ile St Louis, western end
Here's the island, up front, but cold around the corner.

Light and Shadows on the Ile Saint-Louis

Paris:- Friday, 13. February 1998:- Riding on the train from Saint-Cloud, I check my weather station from the moving train window above Suresnes, and it looks great. I can toss away my 'lucky' rabbit's foot and uncross my fingers. We still have fake spring.

After Wednesday's scampering around I was sure we'd lose it, but it is still here. The papers say Paris had Pollution Level Two yesterday, but it looks too clear for it. Not yet, anyway. The radio was warning of a 'Grand Depart' with the school holidays starting today, so there will more traffic than usual this afternoon.

I run my possible route around my head, to try and calculate the least métro stairs, the least walking and the least need for métro tickets. In this way I change the way I will do it three times.

What I do, I just ride to Hôtel de Ville, buy my paper and hit the city's reception office to pluck their stands of all useful brochures and magazines. I also ask the Berthillon no 1 ladies there if they have anything hidden away I should know about but all they have is stuff I got last time. The only new thing is a who's who in the Montparnasse cemetery.

Out in front of the vast city hall, I am surprised to see the ice skating rink is still open and clogged with skaters. Probably people not going to winter holidays later today. In fact, a sign says it is only closed for rain. It won't be closed today unless a heavy low moves in fast.

One of the more famous shops in the rue Saint-Louis-en-l'Ile: Berthillon.

The Pont d'Arcole gives me a mysterious view of today's subject. I reckon it is about 260 metres from the bridge to the tip of the Ile Saint Louis, but it looks much further away.

There is blue mist somewhere between the bridge and the island and it looks like a dream; some sort of Flying Dutchman, ready to pass downstream right under my feet - except it is attached to the banks and the other island.

I make my way along the quai aux Fleurs. There is a bit here, where the rue des Ursins and the rue de Chantres touch the quai and it is hard to get past it. It's one of the corners in Paris that seems to deserve at least 60 minutes, or more.

Looking over at the island, it has popped off its blue mantle. From the deep green of the river to the quai wall, to the top of the facing row of buildings, it says... It probably says, 'I am warm on this side where the sun quai d'Orleans is coming around, but my stone on the north side never ever feels its touch.'

Talking buildings. Indeed! But so it is, on the quai Bourbon, the sun never shines. It is always cool, even on the hottest day.

The quai d'Orléans - curiously sans sunbathers.

Of course this is mid-February and the sun has no right to be shining at all; and it is not quite as bright as one February I remember about seven or eight years ago. That day, it was one of a rare thousand. But that is why I remember it and always hope it will come back again. So far, it hasn't quite done it, but there have been four or five days like today. There were two or three Februarys when it didn't happen at all too.

The pont Saint Louis is one of the uglier bridges anywhere; it doesn't even look like a bridge when you are on it. It has sidewalks and a wide roadway on which there is no traffic and it has railings of some sort. It is okay to look off it when you get close to the island side, but anywhere else brings no sights, not even from the river below.

The brasserie, the 'Oasis,' has its usual horde of sun fanatics. The café is set in such a way so that its terrace fully faces the sun. I secretly believe the people who have filled every seat I can see, are the same ones who were in them seven or eight years ago.

Like me, they watch the weather closely on TV in mid-February, then get up at six and listen to the radio news. Then they have to wait until about 7:30 for the sun to come up for confirmation - and if there's fog or mist, this could put off the certainty for a while longer. By about 9:00 they should be pretty sure, and I bet they're in their seats before the sun comes around the building on the quai d'Orléans. It must be cool until it does.

They are really glued in there. How sweet life is. The waiters are in a good mood, the clients are in a good mood, their pets are in good moods too; and there will be no afternoon lull.

Me, I have to 'cover the island.' There's the nearly black canyon of the rue Saint-Louis-en-l'Ile to go down. It's not so much that I have an urge to sit on the terrace, but I don't really want to leave the sun.

One of the regular readers once asked me if I knew of his favorite restaurant; a half-cellar kind of place. I don't know it but at least I'll keep an eye out for it. The shops lining the rue ladder, quai d'Orléans Saint-Louis-en-l'Ile seem unchanged from 20 years ago. Oh, they are well-painted and kept up, but they stay the same. They are very tidy, as if it is all a historical monument.

Well it is and it isn't. The Ile Saint Louis is mostly residential except for these shops and some bars, cafés and restaurants, so the street is the village.

There's a fellow on the bridge looking for sunbathers too.

There are no public housing estates on the 720 metre-long island, so I expect the shoppers can afford these shops. If they can't, the walk to rue de Rivoli on the right bank is not too far; maybe 50 metres closer than the marché at the place Maubert on the left bank.

I go beyond the rue des Deux Ponts, which is the main cross-island street. I want to hit the south side to get a long view of all the sunbathers on the quai side walk, just above the Seine's waters. But where I come out on the quai de Béthune, it is just river below.

The pont de la Tournelle is not really fancy but it is a lot better than the other one. Somebody must have been annoyed with Louis and the Bourbons.

But first I have to take some liquid. At the corner of the bridge and the quais and the rue des Deux Ponts the café there has 'best pot for 1994' or something similar on its awning and although it is not fancy on the outside, it is pleasant enough inside.

Inside it is also lunchtime and it is pretty full. It does not seem to be in any frenzy though and there are no other stand-uppers at the bar.

It is very bright with the light-surfaced bridge out in front, so I doubt anybody cares overly that there is no terrace. I seem to remember coming by here once, not so long ago, and there were people on the quai side pavement. The sidewalk is a narrow one, but if they could get rid of a couple of parked cars they could set up on the street of the quai d'Orléans without being in any particular danger. Somebody didn't think of it in time this morning I guess.

Out on the quai I see the 1910 highwater mark and then I spot an iron stairway going down and I take it. It was made for people with short feet and it is a fair way down.

By now I know the usual crowd of sunbathers must have already left for the mountains. Either that, or they are over in the Luxembourg, taking in the sights there.

Two English-speaking young ladies, who do not look like nuns, sitting on a concrete bench, have shopping bags and clear plastic cups with red stuff in them. A French chap is chatting them up, and I get a sneer when I ask if they are having a picnic.

It's just a pause for a bit of grape I guess because they seem to have no food; and they all move off after a short bit, seeming to have run out of everything. The ladies go up the iron stairs and the guy pushes his bike down the quai.

This pretty much leaves me with the river, the bridges, the quai and the sun and I look at all of this for a while. I'm not in a hurry but I don't sit down, and soon I am moving down the nearly deserted quai.

Near the end, where the ramp goes up, there is a nice confusion of angles with the down ramp, some up stairs, and a bit of further on quai-path that curves around the downstream end of the island. I am a little low on film and give it up. It's not going anyplace and there will be another day - morning would likely be better anyway as it is all very bright island in the sun now and it would probably just look like a lot of well- illuminated stone.

The Island; here comes the sun.

I do go over to the quai Bourbon to see if it looks blue in the shadow there. It doesn't, but the river is fairly still, running full, and there is a lot of sky in it and the bridges are making good shadows. It doesn't really mean anything; it is just one of those moments when it looks good. It'll probably be over in five minutes.

Down at pont Marie I shoot the wine bar on the corner. There is one of these drugstore cowboy jeeps in the way and it's too high to shoot over so I have to take an angle I don't like, and later I will see that the one-hour photo print got its colors wrong. I can probably fix them, but I can't fix the angle. Why can't these cowboys get low sportscars instead of these idiotic city four-wheelers?

And that's it. I take the pont Marie without looking back and head the 350 metres to Saint-Paul where I get the métro and ride up to George Cinq. Even on the Champs-Elysées this is a dud week for posters.

After leaving in the film, I shortcut across Pierre Charron and then go down George Cinq towards Alma to look for Gérard Depardieu's agent. In their reception, they have some really good film posters from the late thirties. Then I remember I have to pick up another film that's ready, out at La Défense.

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