The Seine is filthy and I love her.
I grew up around a lot of water. One of my favourite memories from high school was taking the bus downtown very early in the morning on the way to school – I had a 5 minute or so transfer between busses, and the smell of fresh water rose up from the waterfront. It’s a special sort of smell that I associate so strongly with possibility, with beautiful mornings, with tiredness and enthusiasm in equal parts.
I haven’t smelled anything like it since, and unfortunately for Paris, I certainly don’t smell it here. The Seine is… Well… Sometimes she’s grey, light green, or, occasionally, a nauseous sort of brown, but she’s always beautiful. The Seine is the first major river in my life, at least one that I’ve lived by. I’ve loved the Arno and the Mississippi, the Saône and the Rhône, the Liffey, the Potomac, and the Thames, but I’ve never lived by a river as an adult until the Seine.
There’s something really special about being able to wander down to the river after work or after dinner. Many lazy afternoons have been spent walking along the banks, and for a few months I would commute by bike, enjoying the peaceful ride on the protected track before rejoining Parisian traffic.
Sure, she floods, sure, they regularly dredge up entire scooters from her depths. But you can also picnic on her shores on hot summer nights, squinting into the bright lights of a tourist barge (waving back at the tourists is your call, but I do it in the hopes it makes someone’s night).
Maybe she smells a little funky, and even though you’d never want to jump in after a lost scarf or baguette (two things I’ve seen floating away from woeful picnickers), her heavy-metal laden, waste water beauty is a calming presence on days when the city and the concrete feel like too much to manage.
On days when I need some alone time, some good and solid meditation, I find myself on different parts of the Seine, sitting on a bench built into a bridge, down in the shade on an island park, or flat backed against a rise of concrete on her cavernous embankments. It’s as easy to celebrate on the Seine as it is to reflect, to grieve, to make resolutions and to build, and even though she isn’t perfect, as long as I’m in Paris, the Seine is an integral part of my emotional landscape.