A Walk along La Seine By Christan Gatto, Travel Writer
There was a time when I traveled to many metropolitan cities around the globe; for these cities, I studied travel books to prepare my day trips with cultural coordinates…
“Bonjour, Je voudrais une baguette et le café, mercie.” I said to the cashier for my order at the café, using my basic French lingo from a guide-book. She smiled and gave me my baguette in a bag with a cup of coffee. I glanced once more at my map and left the café heading in the direction of Île de la Cité, the center of Paris. I noticed a fantastic photo opportunity of the island at a bridge called the Pont des Arts. When I crossed this bridge, and its many ‘locks of love’ that adorn both sides, I saw the postcard image of my guide-book. Before I snapped the image, I paused and placed the camera back in my pocket. I paused because I was completely enamored by the Seine River.
To my astonishment, the picture in my guide-book did not encompass this feeling I received from participating in the action of the moving river, that is, the motion of the people along the streets and banks of this wide and wonderful river of serenity.
This practice of preparation, to see people and places from what I read in those guide-books, ceased with ease when I stepped onto the banks of the Seine River. My map of Paris, crafted diligently with iconic markings of the major attractions, was tossed aside for this ride in the City of Light. The adventure that I chose was to freely walk and wander like a chat noir—curiously covering the mass of the metropolitan amid the Île de la Cité and the Eiffel Tower.
Strolling on the oldest bridge in Paris, the Pont Neuf reaches across the Seine River to the medieval medallion called, Île de la Cité. This island is the center of Paris and is the location of the Cathedral Notre-Dame. Visually, the cathedral is architecturally amazing, the way the flying buttresses pull away from the cathedral’s spiraling minarets that are shooting to Heaven. Personally, I was looking for Quasimodo—peering out from the windows. I recall watching the 1939 movie, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, with my mother when I was young. For a moment, I enjoyed a few surreal seconds of seeing the cathedral (and its surroundings) in black and white. I kept thinking, “If my mother were here right now, she would know precisely where Quasimodo was hiding; she would also be telling me that the gypsy in the Latin Quarter from the night before was Esmeralda.”
I spent a considerable amount of time at Notre Dame when I decided to take a break along the Seine River. At mid-day, the steps leading down to the banks of the river began to crowd with people.
I stopped to grab another baguette (they are just that good, especially in Paris). I sat down, pulled out my flask that contained some red wine and slowly consumed the baguette. I was between consumption and the luncheon I shared with strangers, I felt as if this participation made me a Parisian, if just for this moment.
Feeling good and ready, I walked by the many congregations of conversations on the steps and onto the rue in the direction of the Eiffel Tower. I could hear “Parisian Thoroughfare” by Clifford Brown and Max Roach in my mind, as I ambled more like a traveler than a tourist (no coordinates now; no map to mull over; just the simple act of enjoying the day trip). It was, to say the least, a walk along the Seine River with complete satisfaction.
Broadcasting its creative construction, I could see the Eiffel Tower from a distance that was dear to me, for I was far enough to appreciate its grandeur, and to calibrate the majestic idea by the French engineer, Gustave Eiffel in the 19th Century.
Max Roach’s melodic drum solo moved me to my left, as I branched in drum beats from the Seine River; Clifford Brown’s trumpet transported my vision onto a new status, as I gazed at the Eiffel Tower’s iron lattice.
Standing at the feet of this giant, I stared up, one thousand feet up, and introduced myself, like someone who was going to be rude and crude by gawking at the most beautiful woman in a room. There was no place for this majestic marvel to go, and so I decided to revel at its enthralling vastness. I made my way up to the observation tower and held onto the rail to breathe in the amazing atlas of the city. The charted image of what I envisioned, before I arrived here, was not equal to the visceral involvement I had looking at the panorama of Paris.
Knowing that my path was tied to a stride with the Seine River near the Latin Quarter, I stopped at a kiosk to purchase a crêpe with Grand Marnier and a coffee. I feel like it is my duty, when I take these day trips, to enjoy a sweet dessert. This dessert Français, was the perfect choice to take a break.
After a slow roll on the rue, I made it back to my hotel in the Latin Quarter. I filled my flask with a little more red wine, and then I ambled towards La Seine. I made two stops: I purchased some brie from a fromagerie, and then I bought two sandwiches au poulet at a café close to the steps of the river. As the evening was approaching, I was well situated in my Parisian standards with my wine and cheese, and two savory chicken sandwiches (perhaps my dinner was not entirely French, but it would be soon celebrated as a fine French meal because of my location).
On my way down the steps to the banks of La Seine, and through the many crowds (congregations of conversations anew), I had this metaphysical moment of glory: A person never walks away from the Seine River, you simply navigate to the notes and rhythms of the rivers flow—a flow that feeds your spirit. Troubadours aloft on the bridges and in session while sitting on the steps are placed perfectly, if by their own personal instruction to romance La Seine, with songs for everyone to embrace the evening. At dusk, another natural change occurs when the silhouettes of people become the sights and sounds of the Paris nightlife.
The day trip ended for me, but I knew the next day I would be free to roam without routine. I know my future travels will take me on a search for new terra incognita, where I will learn about cities by simply participating and not such noted details. Intuitively, I received a great deal from this simple day trip along the Seine River, and this feeling will never leave, because Paris never leaves you.