Paris 2006 - The Seine

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On Friday night we had a group visit to the Louvre. We had to find our own way to the meeting place under I. M. Pei's ugly pyramid. I decided to walk there and back rather than take the bus. It was not far, only 30-40 minutes or so up Blvd. St.-Michel, over the river Seine on any one of a number of bridges, then along the right bank of the river to the museum. On the walk to the museum, I took this picture from Pont Neuf, looking east upstream. Île de la Cité is on the left, an island in the middle of the river where the Gaulish tribe of the Parissi first settled the city in 250 BC. The Rive Gauche, or left bank, is on the right. This picture was taken in the late afternoon, between 5 and 6 pm. The next bridge you see in the distance is Pont St.-Michel, with Place St.-Michel at its right end and Blvd. St.-Michel leading down into the Latin Quarter and my neighborhood around the Sorbonne. The area in the foreground on the right is the northeast corner of St.-Germain-des-Prés, the 6th arrondissement.

While we were in the Louvre, a major violent thunderstorm passed overhead. It was so bad, I heard that water began to run down the inside walls of the museum behind the paintings. (I wasn't in any of the rooms where this was happening at the time.) I don't know if this happens often, or if it was a unique occurrence. In any case, I was lucky that the downpour had ended by the time I left shortly after 9 pm. This picture of the full span of Pont Neuf was taken from the next bridge downstream on my way home. You can see the remains of the roiling thunderstorm clouds above. The Rive Droite or right bank is on the left, with the tip of Île de la Cité in the middle and the Rive Gauche or left bank on the right. Notice the scaffolding at the left edge of the bridge. This is the end of a project to restore Pont Neuf. They have been repairing one arch of the bridge each year, starting in 1994 at Rive Gauche and working left to Rive Droite, at a cost of about $3 million per arch! This is one of my favorite pictures.

Pont Neuf was built from 1578 through 1607 during the reigns of King Henri III and King Henri IV. It is Paris' oldest surviving bridge, even though its name "Pont Neuf" means "new bridge". It was the first bridge in Paris which did not have tall houses lining both sides blocking the view of the river.

When I had crossed over to the left bank, I descended the stairs to the river bank and took a long stroll up the river, taking pictures along the way. This is a pretty shot of Pont Neuf from below. In the restoration project, each one of the heads ("mascarons") you see above the arches had to be repaired. Many of them were so badly deteriorated that they had to be replaced. You can see in the close-up shot below that each one of them is unique. I think the stonemasons and sculptors did a great job - it looks as good as new to me (or perhaps I should say "as good as old?"). The round places off the pavement at the top have benches where people can sit and watch the river and the other people taking promenades on the bridge. Each one of them was rebuilt using massive cylinders of reinforced concrete.

This picture looks back towards Pont Neuf and Île de la Cité across the river. You can just see a little bit of Pont Neuf on the left, with a group of buildings on the island above the trees. The busy street level is above, and the peaceful cobblestone pathway along the river bank is below. At the left you can see the stairs leading down from the street to the river bank. If you look closely, you can see a few people sitting on benches enjoying the view as dusk falls.

People enjoying dinner on a river boat cruise. The boat is about to go under Petit Pont. The next evening, I took such a cruise with about 70 other people from the conference and enjoyed a wonderful traditional three course French dinner, complete with rather too much champaign and wine and dancing to awful disco music blaring over loudspeakers. These boats are called "bateaux-mouches", which literally means "fly boats". One conference participant who was fluent in French and knew Paris well claimed sarcastically that the name is supposed to represent the flies splattering against the windshields of the boat. This was just a joke. The actual origin of the name is not well understood and is the subject of some debate, I understand. Another fellow and I thought that the boat trip reminded us of the romantic movie "Before Sunset" with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, where the two reunited lovers spend much of the movie on a boat like this one on the Seine.

A picture taken from beneath Petit Pont, with Notre Dame cathedral in the background. This is another one of my favorite pictures, with the dark arch of the bridge, the cruise boat, and the light dancing on the water.

Another shot across the river, closer to Notre Dame, whose towers you can see rising above the tops of the trees. A few days later, I climbed to the very top of the tower on the right. At this point I ended my stroll, ascended the stairs back up to street level at Rue Lagrange, and made my way back to my hotel. This walk on the Seine is heartbreakingly beautiful. As one web site I found on the net said in French, "Une visite de Paris ne serait pas complète sans une promenade en bord de Seine." ("A visit to Paris would not be complete without a walk on the bank of the Seine.")