Emerveillement at Seine flooding while, on higher ground, Buffon’s Gloriette calls for secours

PARIS – For a moment this weekend, the savagery of nature, so cyclical, seemed to bring everything back to normal. As opposed to the stunned fragility that predominated in the days after November 13, the Parisians and tourists I found myself among Sunday on the Ile St. Louis and the bridges surrounding it taking pictures on both sides of the Ile and both banks of the river of the trees up to their branches in water and the stalled boats seemed to be in thrall to a respectful humility. All the terror and the fear of terror, all the sectarianism, all the squabbling and maneuvering, all the presidential parries on both sides of the Atlantic, even the omnipotence of the Internet and the cacophony of the TwitterFaceGooglesphere seemed doused by the sobering sanctity of nature, as did the temporal measures by humans to dominate the indomitable, the caprices of the climate and the reversion of the Seine from the decorative basin of the most civilized city on the planet into a wild river inspiring not fear but wonder.

A young girl in rain-boots frolicked whimsically in the new shoreline at the base of the ramp below the Quai d’Orleans, kicking up crystals of water as her long frizzy hair rose and fell with her fillips. A tall thin Chinese tourist on platform shoes dipped her stilettos into the frothy waves. Across the water on the Left Bank, where the lower-lying sculptures of the outdoor sculpture garden were now, like the Batobus sign, half-submerged, curiosity seekers blissfully stepped through, around, and over the metal and ribbon police barriers to get as close as possible to the gently lapping tide. No public authorities were in site – it was as if we’d been given a temporary furlough from all the (well-meaning) interdictions. (Up the street towards the Metro St. Paul, a sign outside the Maison Europeen de la Photographie announced that free Wednesday evenings had been suspended because they produce a line, i.e., crowd, outside the ancient hotel particulaire.) And – like the gatherings after the November 13 massacres – hardly anyone was talking. We were all there to marvel, the subdued mood perhaps also influenced by the sky which, after a week, remained maussade or gray even when it wasn’t raining. The stillness reminded me of the ambiance after the Great Blizzard of 1996 that stopped traffic on Fifth Avenue and throughout New York. The boats were arrested in the water, the mighty trawler Bethane suspended before a bridge, as if it had butted into its trellises. The air felt cleaner too, no doubt because the river now completely covered the traffic periphery that borders the Seine. Abreast this freeway, a half-submerged No Parking sign was comically irrelevant.

On the Ile, I pointed down to the bank facing Notre Dame, now obscured under 10 feet of murky waters, and indicated to a fellow witness, “That’s my picnic bench somewhere under there.”


Heavy Metal Classic: Buffon’s Gloriette, the oldest metal object in Paris reigning from its roost atop the labyrinthe of the Jardin des Plantes since 1788, is now closed for repairs, with a public campaign underway to gather funds to help pay for its full restoration.  Image of the 1850 print “Le Labyrinthe – Jardin du Roi – Jardin des Plantes” courtesy and copyright the Bibliotheque Centrale – MNHN. 

Seeking high ground back on the Left bank, en route noticing the water spurting geyser-like through holes in the concrete wall onto the now closed RER tracks, even covering them at some point, I decided to climb up to the gazebo that overlooks the Jardin des Plantes on one side and the green tiles of the Mosque of Paris on the other, where I’ve been taking my thermos mint tea for 15 years, only to find Buffon’s Gloriette – the oldest metal object in Paris, constructed of seven different alloys in 1786-88 – surrounded by a wooden picket fence and a closed for repairs sign. I grimaced. These cordons sometimes endure forever. A sign announced that a campaign for donors to save the Gloriette had been launched, meaning there would be no recourse to state funds to restore this historical monument. A monument not just to technological achievement – the metal construction having been ahead of its time – but to free-wheeling inter-class debate, a “Night Debout” avant l’heure. In its first years, the gazebo was home to a circle of “intellectual libertinage,” where libertines of all classes met, identities protected by their masks, for intellectual rather than sexual discourse, to freely discuss sometimes controversial ideas. (Checking the Jardin’s website later, I was encouraged; why and how to save the Gloriette have apparently beeen carefully thought out, as has been the subscription campaign to pay for the renovations. For a succint explanation of the Gloriette’s importance and how it will be restored, check the video. )

Descending to the Metro line 5 at the Bastille – after noting on exiting the line 1 that the banks of the Bastille arsenal which leads from the Seine to the Canal St.-Martin were also submerged – and noting a small puddle of water on the platform, I looked up nervously to discover a tiny leak in the ceiling.


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