Stepping back into the river

Hello again. Rebonjour.

Our sabbatical from blogging lasted a year. We are uncertain about how and how often we will continue, but we did want to say hello to our readers (if you are still there) and post an update.

Over the course of the year, while keeping up with work and family commitments, we pursued our research. Norman continues to study the technology of communications with and among the blind; Philippa is investigating the story of a peculiar early-19th-century inventor called Charles Barbier (don’t  bother looking him up on Wikipedia, because the information there is wildly inaccurate).

We visited Paris earlier this year, arriving a week after the fire at Notre Dame. We did not go to see the site; it seemed more respectful to stay away.

We were also in the city for the annual May Day parade, which passed under the windows of our rented apartment. May Day is France’s Labour Day and the parade celebrates working people and unions.

We saw a few scuffles between marchers and the police (who were present in large numbers), but for the most part, it consisted of a vast mass of people walking, waving flags, sometimes singing, and generally enjoying a day off work in nice weather.

Some wore gilets jaunes, some wore silly costumes. This fellow had both.

There were banners and flags and slogans. Not all were aggressively political; here are two we spotted in the evening after it was all over.

(The one against the tree says “It takes 47 muscles to frown and only 13 to smile” and the one on the ground says, “Sometimes one needs someone smaller than oneself.”)

The marchers took about two hours to pass the intersection where we were watching them. Then the police took off their riot gear, piled into vans, and went home, and the men in green came out to clean the streets and tidy up the rubbish and that was that. Life on the boulevard continued.

The preparations for the parade were as interesting as the parade itself. Over the days before the march, everything movable was taken away – chairs were piled up inside cafes; cars, bikes, and scooters were parked on side streets; even the local bottle bank disappeared. Panes of glass were removed from bus shelters along the route. The windows of public buildings were boarded over.

Temporary bus stops were dumped in a heap with some scooters on the pavement behind the police cordon.

The temporary stops were there because the bus routes were in flux. Construction on the RER underneath the boulevard Montparnasse had led to the re-routing of traffic lanes, and buses could no longer stop at the usual places. The same was true of the stops around the Bastille, where traffic is permanently snarled as the circle is reconfigured into a U-shape to allow more space for pedestrians in front of the opera house.

Ceci n’est pas un bus stop. Most Paris bus stops have seating, lighting, shelter, maps, and a place to recharge your mobile phone. Parisians accustomed to a more stylish way of waiting must find the crude replacements deeply dissatisfying.

Meanwhile, the city has rearranged the entire bus system of Paris – the first time since the 1960s. Those handy books filled with details on the routes and the stops and the interchanges are now obsolete.

Of our two local routes, one was extended, one was curtailed. The 91 used to link the Gare Montparnasse with the Bastille; it now goes all the way to the Gare de l’Est and the Gare du Nord. You have to watch your shins because it seems nearly every passenger has a suitcase. The 83 from the Porte d’Ivry no longer crosses the river to the Right Bank.

On the one Saturday we spent in the city, transit was even further disrupted because of the weekly demonstrations. We went with a friend to an exhibit at the Fondation Custodia (a delightful art gallery that even some Paris residents have not yet discovered). The bus that should have taken us there stopped several streets short of our destination and we then had to cross a police cordon. The police officers were helpful and moved the barrier to let us by. We spent a happy afternoon in the gallery, which was filled with visitors, but quiet and peaceful.

Change, destruction, chaos, and flux. In the midst of which one finds oases of tranquillity and space for memory. Paris is not only divided by a river, it is a river. One never steps into the same Paris twice.

Text and photographs by Philippa Campsie.


About Parisian Fields

Parisian Fields is the blog of two Toronto writers who love Paris. When we can't be there, we can write about it. We're interested in everything from its history and architecture to its graffiti and street furniture. We welcome comments, suggestions, corrections, and musings from all readers.
This entry was posted in History of the blind, Paris civic functions, Paris streets, Paris travel and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to Stepping back into the river

  1. Philip Jeune says:

    Welcome back – you’ve been missed.

  2. Salli Zimmerman says:

    We too were in Paris at the same time and although May 1 was lovely it was generally cold and wet for the 3 weeks we were there. We spent a lot of time warming up and drying off in cafes and museums. Paris is livable no matter the weather.

    • One day we were soaked to the skin when we had ventured out without an umbrella. We usually find a vin chaud is all that is required to make us feel better!

  3. hodgie2014 says:

    Rebonjour to you, too. Nice essay, especially the summation. As Young Philip said, your blog was missed. I’m so glad you provided a brief portrait of your activities over the last year. I had no idea that Norman’s interest so closely paralleled mine as a blind rehab worker in the pubic schools in the US. “Norman continues to study the technology of communications with and among the blind”, explains how I came across one of your earlier blogs about the little musee, Musee Valentin Huay, near the School for the Blind in Paris. Thanks to your efforts I read about the musee and took my friend for a visit when we traveled to Paris together. She is blind and loved the displays as much as I did. I believe the woman who worked at the musee has since retired, but she was lovely to us both. And mercifully her English was much better than my French language skills. I also loved your blog on the porcelain plates with the rebus expressions. I hope you continue to share your experiences in one of my favorite cities. Coule la Seine, indeed.

  4. Linda Prinsthal says:

    It is nice that you are back. I have missed your blogs, they are always informative, entertaining, and a pleasure to read.
    Paris is a river, Life is a river. Always changing, interesting if we but look.
    Thank you for your renewed efforts for all of us, your readers and fans!

    • You are quite right. Life is a river, and Paris is only one way to experience that river. The blog helps us to look at things carefully, and along the way, we may help others look carefully, too.

  5. Jan Whitaker says:

    So glad you’re back!

  6. Heather Franca says:

    I’m glad you are back. Xoxox

  7. Ellen A. says:

    Welcome back! Your fine research and clear and touching prose elevate the blogosphere. I learn something new every time. Will now seek out the Fondation Custodia…

  8. Berenice McDayter says:

    I’m delighted you’re back; you were missed! I’m sending this post to my Paris-loving friends to file for future reference.

  9. Dierdre Duewel says:

    How great, how grand, to read one of your delightful posts again! You have been much missed.


  10. marniekm says:

    Glad to read you again. Your stories of Paris are so keepable! Then I want to do them too.

  11. Susan Anderson says:

    I join with the other commenters in thanking you immensely for your wonderful stories of Paris!
    So delighted that you are back. Please stay awhile longer. Kind regards.

  12. Marilyn Goebel says:

    I too am happy to read your postings, even if infrequent. Your research is unique and provides an interesting view of Parisian history, as well as your comments about current life. I was in Paris in January and dismayed about the mayhem caused by the yellow vests, but by May it sounds like it is becoming business as usual.

  13. Marg Powell says:

    I have missed you, welcome back. Marg from Brisbane

Comments are closed.