27 February 2019

From The Water To The Port

Three years ago, the Canal St. Martin was drained.  The City of Paris does that about every ten or fifteen years.

In dredgings past (sounds like a series of old therapy sessions!), the "treasures" at the bottom of the Canal included home furnishings, street signs, gold coins(!), World War I shells and even a car.  But the most recent drainage served as a sort of geological record of changes in the neighborhood around the canal--mostly the 10th Arrondissement--and in the City of Light itself.

The streets around the waterway have become the sites of bars, restaurants and clubs.  (The Bataclan, site of a mass shooting during a November 2015 concert, stands literally steps from the canal.)  The area is home to "Bobos"--a term combining "bohemian" and "bourgeois".  They are probably the Parisian equivalent of hipsters. At any rate, they share many of the same tastes with their Brooklyn counterparts.  

They include a thirst for craft beers (French as well as American) and wines.  Empty bottles and cans bearing those labels littered the bottom of the canal when it was dredged. So did another passion of that evanescent group:  bicycles--specifically, those from Velib, the city's bike-share service.

As far as I know, neither of the city's two canals--the Harlem River Ship Canal and the Gowanus Canal--has ever been drained.  Interestingly, the Gowanus--one of the most toxic waterways in the United States--flows, like the St. Martin, through a hipsterizing (Think of it as the hipster equivalent of gentrifying.) neighborhood.  According to an urban legend, the Mafia used to dump their "hits" in the Gowanus because the bodies would dissolve.  

Which brings me to this question:  Could a Citibike survive a dive into a city canal?

Somehow I doubt it would be even as intact as the bike in the photo.  That Citibike, missing since September 2017, showed up in the bike-share service's port at 73rd Street and Riverside Drive, where filmmaker Ted Geoghegan found it.  Its coating of barnacles and mud indicates that it spent time in the Hudson River--which, at that point, is actually an estuary.  

No one, it seems, can explain how it got from the river (or wherever it was) to the bike dock?  Did a thief take it, dump it, feel guilty and dive into the water to fetch it?  That seems unlikely because, well, that's not what thieves usually do, but also because if the thief did indeed dump the bike in the river, he or she wouldn't have found it in the same spot, or anywhere nearby.  The more likely scenario is that some boater or fisher found it and, not knowing what else to do, quietly brought it to the bike port.

That bike is more than likely beyond repair.  Spending almost any amount of time in the water would have destroyed the bike's electronics, and the growth on the rest of the bike indicates that the brackish water has corroded the rest of the bike so that it's structurally unsound, and its moving parts are probably irreparable. 

(Interesting aside:  The Gowanus and Harlem Ship are the only two canals in New York City today. In the 17th Century, however, lower Manhattan was laced with canals. That's not surprising when you realize the area was then called Nieuw Amsterdam, and the Dutch settlers were following a model of urban planning for which their capital is famous.)

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