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FROM PARIS TO NORMANDY ON THE SEINE – STROLLING THE STREETS OF PARIS

FROM PARIS TO NORMANDY ON THE SEINE

This is the second in a series of articles about cruising on the Seine

STROLLING THE STREETS OF PARIS

By Charles N. Stevens

Photos by Dolores Seidman

In the attractive lounge of our ship, I sit in a comfortable chair looking out at the Seine rippling by. The day is a mix of sun and clouds punctuated by brief rain showers. Across the river stand blocks of eight-story apartments done in the typical French style with sweeping Mansard roofs, dormers and ranks of chimney pots. Cars stream by on a low road just barely above the water line of the river. With gasoline at seven or eight dollars a gallon all the cars are small and fuel-efficient. There are no SUVs or gas guzzlers as is common on American roads. Many Frenchmen drive the Smart Car, a diminutive automobile only large enough for two people. The French call them “Swiss Watches” or just “Swatches”, but they are great on gas and are perfect for Paris’s perennial parking problems. Barges filled with piles of sand and gravel are docked along the edge of the river.

A yellow balloon with a long string attached to it bobs along the Seine, riding the current. I can imagine some child sobbing at its loss. The barge “Androque” slips by, low, gray and green. Near its bow a table with chairs is set up, apparently the family’s dining table. A tourist boat, the “Gavroche” glides by. Through its large windows I watch the passengers having lunch at white-clothed tables as they gaze at the sights along the Seine.

We note soon enough that everything in France is very expensive. High taxes boost prices into the stratosphere, but these taxes pay for free schooling, including college, long vacations, pensions and health care. Our guides tell us that the people would fight if any of these were ever taken away from them.

In the afternoon we stroll on the nearby streets, beginning with the local railroad station where frequent service takes people wherever they want to go, especially into central Paris. We walk in a great loop up Rue de la Convention to St. Charles then back on Rue Zola, just looking. As we stroll the streets we note how jammed the parked cars are on the streets, wondering how a driver could ever extricate his car from such compactness. We tarry at a window in a candy shop and patisserie admiring the colorful rows of candy and the glazed fruit tarts that glisten in the light. Some sort of fowl turns on a rotisserie, and other birds neatly fill the window display, some with their feet and heads still attached, apparently for authenticity. In one bakery a small white poodle dog waits patiently on the floor as its owner shops, perhaps hoping for a little snack. In another window are small cakes so delicately decorated that I don’t see how the buyer could get them home in one piece. To the French, cooking and baking are an art, pleasing the eye being very important.

We watch people too as we walk. All the young Parisian women dress stylishly, their clothes blending perfectly with their slender bodies. Most wear shoes or boots with high heels, their rhythmic clicking on the sidewalk a common sound. An overweight woman or man is quite rare. Our guides had admitted that they loved rich foods, but always consumed them in small portions.

We raise our umbrellas as a soft shower drifts down, other strollers popping theirs up too. A woman carries a long baguette by its middle, trying to keep it beneath her umbrella. The rain brings out the fragrance of the plane trees planted along the street. Nothing seems unkempt or run down, all the shop windows sparkling and the walks clean. Drugstores are marked by large green neon crosses so that a person can spot them over a mile away.

At night our ship cruises down the Seine especially for us to see the lights of the city. We pass under several bridges, our ship barely fitting beneath them, the lights from our ship illuminating their undersides. Many of Paris’s building and monuments are floodlighted at night lending an ethereal quality to the city. We glide by the Palace de Invalides, the Hotel de Ville and Notre Dame Cathedral, all bathed in soft amber light. The lights of the city, the special lights on the bridges, the sparkle of them on the water is magical. Tourist boats pass illuminated like the sun, people inside dining at tables in luxurious surroundings, wine glasses gleaming.

As a fitting climax to this special trip the Eiffel Tower begins its sparkling on the hour, hundreds of twinkling strobe lights scintillating from its base far up to its top. It’s like dessert after a feast of a day.

This small white poodle in a bakery waits patiently for its owner.

This small white poodle in a bakery waits patiently for its owner.

Smart cars are the answer to Paris' parking problems and the high cost of gas.

Smart cars are the answer to Paris' parking problems and the high cost of gas.

The Eiffel Tower sparkles on the hour each night.

The Eiffel Tower sparkles on the hour each night.

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