Photos by Sim Tupa
(Seine river banks with the Cathedral of Notre Dame in the background.)
Last June, I found myself doing one of the most enjoyable pleasures of life, strolling along the river banks of Paris, France. After a hectic day with an organized day tour at the Louvre, I wanted some down time alone with my daughter: To discover the river banks of Paris on our own, to allow ourselves to get lost, to explore and see what was beyond a corner, to view the thousand love locks when we looked down from a bridge, to languidly stroll along the river banks while joggers pass us by, and thinking to myself “I should have worn my rubber shoes so I can join them in their afternoon run”. And when we got tired, to sit on the river banks itself and join the like-minded people who came together with their friends for a drink and a picnic, and to watch the magnificent colors of the Parisian vista as it changed from sharp to subdued lavender and to tangerine hues when the sun started to set.
During that stroll I realized that the river banks and the Seine river were a complete package. Both important ingredients to enjoy and appreciate the other. It is like the Seine was a living, animated photograph whose water landscape was forever changing, each day telling a different story; and its river banks the frame of the photograph from where you perch on to draw your perspective.
In 1991, the river banks of the Seine in Paris along with its bouquinistes (book-sellers along the Seine), gained its prestigious UNESCO world heritage status covering a long scenic walk from the Louvre to the Eiffel Tower, from the Place de la Concorde to the Grand and Petit Palais. It’s a long route and one that doesn’t have to be taken in one go. It is a series of strolls and rests in between, one farther than the one before. It’s free, it’s relaxing and even enjoyable without any set plans, or you could also plan for a determined walk to finish and complete in one go. But I’m warning you, it’s a long walk so put on some sunblock and wear comfortable walking shoes.
(The Bouquinistes are the book sellers lining the left bank of the Seine with their trademark uniform green, metal magazine stands clamped on the stone walls selling old and second-hand collectible books, art illustrations and souvenirs in the river banks of Paris. They have been doing their trade since the 16th century and have been known to have around 300,000 or more books to choose from that is more than enough to make any book lover sigh with pleasure.)
But there is something else that I learned about the Seine river that is better left in the oblivion as it is a little dark and is better off not discussed to the tourists. But I believe that it is worth knowing, and we know there is always two sides to everything. We know that along with beauty, there is also the dark and the ugly side.
When you are walking around in Paris and you take your photos with the River Seine as the backdrop, the regular tourist would never expect that the beautiful river he is trying to immortalize in the photo has two faces: one face, dark and pregnant with stories of tragedies of the past and the other an endless source of happy and positive tales . The history of this river goes too deep and started too far back in history that if the Seine could speak, it will cry a river of tales filled with victories and triumphs as well as endless stories of woes and misery and on top of that, being a favorite jump off point for suicides throughout the years.
Also, being the waterway that transports commercial barges, boats, water buses and tourist boats it is no wonder that during the last two centuries, the water quality of the Seine was found to be high in heavy metals and bacteria considering the many ways that the river has been utilized. But the government is doing their very best to control and treat the river especially that half of the water needed for industry and for human consumption come from the Seine.
When I strolled there in June of this year, I did not see this dark face of the Seine. What I saw was the touristy, smiling, romantic side of the banks of the Seine. I remembered that from the Tuilerries, we walked to the Pont des Arts and there we stood overlooking the bridge full of love locks attached to the side of the bridge, each one carved with two names or initials of a couple, pledging their undying love for each other.
(Pont de Arts)
As we ran and trace our fingers over some of the locks, tourist boats passed by beneath us, tourists waving their hands as if we were their old friends, and we would wave back to return the favor.
Rivers have always determined where people live and congregate. They attract the people from all over to establish where people will live, work, holiday and do business. The Seine has stood the test of time, making it the divine witness to the ebb and flow of life in French history. When we visited this part of the river banks of the Seine, we became part of that story that it weaves daily. As we listened closely, we could hear the river Seine tell these stories to the locals, the strollers and the avid tourists who cared enough to stop and listen.
As we bid it goodbye, we took a piece of it with us in our selfies and in the stories we would tell our friends and families back home. And all because we took a stroll along the river banks of the river Seine in Paris.