Saturday, 4 June 2011

Row, Row, Row Your Boat

Row, Row, Row Your Boat, originally uploaded by Paris Set Me Free.

You'll be surprised how often you see the number 1910 as you wander around the Paris streets. What can it mean, you might ask yourself.

This photo was taken as I strolled along one of the more obscure and less inviting stretches of the riverbank, not far from the Port de l'Arsenal, making its unexpected discovery all the more satisfying. As you can tell from the angle of the shot, it was a good way above my head, and there are several of these to spot as you under along the Seine.

They always seem to be popping up in fact, and I discovered another one for my collection just last week, around the corner from the Musée d'Orsay. '1910', it said. Always this cursed 1910. This time it was around thigh height, as most of those in the city streets tend to be.

1910? If you'd been in Paris 101 years ago, chances are you'd have got around faster - and certainly drier - in a boat than just your boots. And as for the metro, well if deep sea diving's your thing I guess you could give it a go. For 101 years ago, you see, Paris was under water. Big time.

If you look at any official Parisian building or structure you'll probably see something which looks like a boat with sails, often accompanied by the words FLVCTVAT NEC MERGITVR (to make it look fancy). These are the symbol and motto of the city, the latter meaning that she is tossed by the waves but does not sink.

Although metaphorically you could say this is both appropriate and true, as the city has come through a large number of political upheavals and revolutions 'relatively' unscathed.

Literally, though, the weather of 1910 put that cocky little motto to the test. Books of incredible photos of Paris swimming from a century back attest to the surrealism of the whole event. It's worth pausing for a moment as you stroll along at street level and look way down to the river below that in 1910 you'd have been up to your neck in flood water.

Historically, these mega-inundations go in 100-year cycles. So any year now the Town Hall's jolly little annual 'Paris Plage' (Paris Beach) initiative could suddenly seem just a little more realistic. Don't forget to scream! (Armbands could prove useful also.)

(A Paris iPhone street photograph by Sab Will for the 'Paris and I' photo blog @ )

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