13 December 2017

Whenever They Drain The Canal...

I remember hearing about it when I was in Paris last year:  the Canal St. Martin was drained.

Even before the neighborhoods lining it became fashionable, I enjoyed walking along its banks, or cycling the streets that ran alongside it.  The old houses and industrial buildings that stand beside it made it seem more like the Paris of my imagination than the sites along the Seine did.

The canal connects the Seine with the Canal de l'Ourcq, which in turn connects with the Marne River north of the city.  From what I understand, St. Martin is drained every fifteen years or so.  I've often thought the detritus found at the bottom could tell some interesting stories.

It was drained in January of last year and, the last time before that, in 2001.  As the millenium began, the 10th Arrondissement--through which much of the canal runs--was in its transition from a working-class neighborhood to an area full of some of the most interesting galleries and trendiest cafes in the City of Light.  (Indeed, it was this area that suffered the November 2015 terrorist attacks.)

In this country, we call it "gentrification."  But to the folks who cleaned out the canal, it meant more and different kinds of refuse.

As for "different kinds", you only have to think of one thing that Paris had by 2016 but not in 2001:

Unfortunately, in the early days of Velib--Paris' bicycle share program--a number of the bikes were stolen.  Guess where they ended up?

Now, bicycles have been dumped in the canal probably since, well, there were bicycles in Paris.  So have motorbikes, house furnishings and even an old camera or two.  But if some archaeologist or historian were to study St. Martin's detritus, what would they learn from finding Velib bikes?

Probably the same things they'd learn from comparing the wine bottles tossed into the canal in one period with those of another.    One thing is for sure: You don't see any of it in Amelie or any of Alfred Sisley's paintings!