The veteran New York Times contributing writer and former Paris bureau chief shares her love affair with Paris and the Seine with enchanting anecdotes and insights.
Sciolino (The Only Street in Paris: Life on the Rue des Martyrs, 2016, etc.), who has lived in Paris since 2002, presents more of a voyage than a history, from Burgundy to the sea, traveling the 483 miles on the river’s looping path from the Plateau de Langres to Honfleur and the English Channel. Along the way, the Seine is anchored by Paris and then Rouen, where it widens enough for oceangoing ships to reach the port of Le Havre. The source of the river is the underground springs where the Gauls worshiped the healing goddess Sequana, who, according to the author, is the true symbol of the river. Through the years, the river has been altered many times. Napoleon eliminated many of the islands to ease navigation, and he established the river as the center point for Paris’ street-numbering system. Baron Haussmann transformed the riverfront with bridges, locks, and dams as well as tree-shaded promenades. As we travel downriver with our genial guide, we note that the right side of the river symbolizes money, politics, scandal, and the power of the media while the left signifies freedom, liberty, free speech, and free sex. Throughout, Sciolino provides wonderful, detailed interviews of former barge people, houseboat dwellers, booksellers, and members of the River Brigade, which polices the river. The author also takes us into the world of the impressionists, and in Rouen, once the most important port, we find ancient windmills, Joan of Arc, and the place where Monet obsessed over the light on the cathedral. Then it’s on to Le Havre, the port created by François I in 1517, and finally, Honfleur, which “travel guides often refer to…as one of the prettiest towns in France.”
Francophiles will adore this book, and others may become Francophiles as they read.