Dancing On the River

photo: ile st louis, notre dame
Just upstream from the Ile Saint-Louis,
a quai to be developed.

The Future For the Seine?

Paris:- Friday, 28. October 1998:- There is no October I can remember when rain pelted down so endlessly and relentlessly as it has been doing lately, so instead of going out and getting soggy, I'm staying home to write about water.

Although Paris is far from the seas, it has a boat as its official symbol. This does not mean that the city is often under water or that it has a great number of canals, but it does have one big, famous river.

Paris got 'parked' on this river where it is, because it happened to be a place where is was possible to cross it. Also, with its couple of islands, the river provided a cheap moat to its timid inhabitants. In times of trouble, the Parisians of old could abandon their truck farms on the left bank and cross to the islands after burning their bridges behind them.

This did not work against the Romans - who knew how to build unburnable stone bridges - or against the Norsemen who came later - by boat, and therefore did not care a fig for bridges, burnt or otherwise.

Under the direction of Paris' present mayor Jean Tiberi, the city's magazine for residents - 'Paris Le Journal' - has run several features about the Seine in this year's editions. This is opposed to havingphoto: ile saint louis had maybe one feature a year in the past. I think this can only mean it is the Seine's turn as a target for the value-added treatment.

Morning mist adds mystery to the Ile Saint-Louis.

In the latest issue of the magazine, it is noted that bulk shipping traffic has dropped radically over the years, but now is apparently stabilized. But to slice through the 'romance' with a chainsaw, the river is praised for its facility to transport construction rubble to wherever it goes. It is handy for this purpose.

While mentioning the decline in 'loose' bulk freight - such as grain - the ominous word 'container' slips in here; in the sense of 'container' traffic having a future. Just imagine, getting rid of the rubble to have it replaced by container depots!

In places where these exist, it is possible from several kilometres away - to imagine a waterfront piled high with colorful 'Lego' bricks. Up close though, these containers just look like rectangular rubble.

Paris currently has eight ports for handling rubble. It is suggested, somewhat timidly, that this number can be reduced. In the last dozen years, three hectares - about 7.4 acres - of land has been converted to leisure use.

Both rubble ports and reclaimed land are minuscule areas compared to the amount of riverside land actually usedphoto: barges, pont neuf for transported goods - but river transport reduces the need for highway trucks - by an estimated nine million truckloads a year.

Most barges on the river are now residential.

It appears as if once you have planted an expressway on a riverside, it is lost forever. The right bank's Georges Pompidou speedway, which heads into town from the southwest, is here to stay - unless it is decided to dump the surface roadway into a long tunnel and disappear it.

The companion expressway for the left bank was stopped before it started, but the series of roads which glide in a big arc from the Quai d'Ivry on the east to the Quai André Citroën in the west, carry enough traffic to be a major nuisance.

A 12 kilometre-long continuous riverside path is planned to run from the Parc de Bercy to the Parc André Citroën. Another three kilometres are to be opened up on the west side of the Bois de Boulogne too.

At some place the riverside path has to cross the river as the two parks are at opposite ends of Paris, on opposite sides. Two new footbridges are planned for joining the Parc de Bercy to the bibliothèque across the river and another for joining the Musée d'Orsay to the Louvre, by way of the Tuileries gardens.

Already, large portions of the roadways on both sides of the river have only restricted traffic on Sundays. After years of being victims, pedestrians seem to be coming back with a determination to snatch the city away from the automobile and as each year passes, they reclaim a bit more terrain - each year the city extends the car-free zones.

Some parts of the 'Paris' magazine sound like they have been inadvertently written by the chamber of commerce. Thus, passengers using river transport are given as nearly five million annually. However, in the next paragraph, these passengers turn out to be visitors taking rides on sightseeing boats - local cruises in other words. These numbers add up to Paris being the 'number one tourist port' worldwide.

If you gaze at the Seine from bridges, as I often do, you will not see a vast flotilla of sightseeing boats. For most of the year the few you might see, will only have a few passengers. But of course, I do not spend whole days in one of the seat-bays on the Pont Neuf counting heads.

As comfortable as an afternoon ride on a sightseeing boat may be, I think the plans to expand the operations of the commuter boats are sensible - if they are expanded enough to make them practical for use by Parisians, so that their cost can by sharedphoto: river cafe, pont des arts by many more than just summer visitors - and maybe eliminate one more car from commuter traffic along the river.

Most barges, that is, that are not restaurants. In the background, the Pont des Arts.

The idea of coming to Paris in your own boat is not as farfetched as it may seem; in 1997 about a thousand boats came to stay for a few days or pass through. The marina at Arsenal is getting beyond saturated though, so another is being planned for an unknown location.

I don't think it is possible as a marina, but an outfit called the Tourisme Club de France is going to lose a concession it has had since 1933, at the end of this year. This involves about one kilometre of riverside somewhere between the Pont de l'Alma and the Pont de la Concorde, on the right bank beside the Cours Albert 1er and la Reine.

What might not be well-known is that Paris only acquired its bridges in 1988. Before that, they probably belonged to one of Louis XIV's ministries - one that was looking after bridges all over France. If Paris asked for some bridge lighting, then Rodez would too. Result: no lights - and lower electricity bills for city taxpayers.

Since 1994, nine bridges have been tricked up with lights. The plan is for 13 of Paris' 'historic' bridges to be equipped. There are four more to do, plus the short arm of the Pont Neuf; of which the two arms count as one bridge. With these done, all the bridges joining the Ile de la Cité and the Ile Saint-Louis to the riverbanks will be illuminated.

In addition to the 'historic' ones, 18 other 'ordinary' bridges are going to be lit up by the end of 1999; for a total of 31 in all.

Last 5. and 6. September Paris held its first 'Fête de la Seine.' I have mentioned before that having part of the World Cup playoffs in Paris, turned into a lesson about how to organize really big public parties - and the somewhat more modest 'Fête de la Seine' was another trial; although it is now planned as an annual event.

Paris is very determined to be a Very Big Deal - which means 'World-Scale' - for the Year 2000 festivities; which I fully imagine will be continued to include 2001, to satisfy the 'date-purists,' or because big public parties become self-perpetuating.

I'm serious. There is a feeling in the air. There is a current and perhaps it carries a whisper of music - is it dance music? Dophoto: ile st louis people want to turn off the synthetic parties that are current TV entertainment, come down out of their apartments to dance in the streets?

Or, maybe better yet - dance on the quais.

It seems like more and more of this is happening, more and more often. Well then, with all the bridges lit up like Christmas trees, why not throw all the seats on the top decks of the sightseeing boats overboard - and turn them into floating dance floors?

I can see it in my head and I can almost hear the music. The Seine - the world's biggest aquatic dancehall! If this idea does not appeal to you, there are plenty of free berths available on the Caribbean cruises.

Sur les Quais

The biggest public space in Paris, the riversides of the Seine - have an exhibition, showing their history, and their actual state as well as urban plans for the future. At the Pavillon de l'Arsenal, 22. boulevard Morland, Paris 4. Métro: Sully-Morland. Info. Tel.: 01 42 76 33 97.

Ed's Note:Paris' all-important river Seine has been featured as well as mentioned in Metropole many times. A quick keyword search found 364 'matches' for the name. There are fewer features than this number, but there are a fair amount of them - about the river, the islands, the bridges, the boats and the marina at Arsenal. These features can be found by scrolling through the indexes for past issues, or by using keywords with 'Search Metropole.'

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