Peep! "Hey! Move it! Hey!" Peep!

photo: bridge arch, kiosque flottant, notre dame

On the 'beach' of the Quai de Montebello.

Another Almost Beach Day

Paris:- Friday, 9. June 2000:- 'Now or never' came and went last week with the weather's brief flash of temperatures above 25 with accompanying sunshine. This week's - even briefer - summer hint was yesterday, which has deteriorated into murky skies today, making it yet another so-so Paris beach day.

This is not as bad as Friday, 10. June 1881 when Parisians woke up to find outside temperatures were two degrees centigrade. I guess it didn't matter as much then, because Parisians weren't in the habit of roasting themselves on the Seine's quays.

I really have it on my brain though. This means it contains nearly nothing else if this is all it has. I gophoto: quai montebello up to Gare du Nord to see if I can find out about London transit affairs, for my pending holiday. Doing this 'tests' the RER connection too, and I find out where not to go when I do the real run.

Everybody has also told me my French driver's license will not be welcome in North America if I get caught doing any 'French-style' driving over there. The métro is fine for the ride down to Cité and the Prefecture is opposite its exit.

More Paris 'beach,' on the left bank just below the Pont au Double.

The 'International License' office is easy to find inside the central police fortress, but it is full of a lot of waiting customers. I have brought all the papers and the needed photo, but if I wait there may be only sunset left on 'Paris Plage' by the time my turn comes up.

Outside, on the Left Bank side of the Petit Pont, a policewoman on traffic duty is putting on a show and I become her audience as armies of visitors troop along the quay or cross the bridge in both directions; their gazes on other horizons.

This would be called 'street ballet' if there were posters and entry tickets for it. The policewoman has a costume which includes white gloves, a whistle, handcuffs, a gun, a radio and a white-topped uniform cap.

She keeps the whistle in her mouth. Without seeming to watch the traffic lights she pivots from north-south to east-west after flashing a 'no-go' glove at the traffic coming across the bridge from the Ile de la Cité.

The whistle peeps and the white glove beckons to the cars, trucks, buses, motorcycles and cyclists waiting on the Quai de Montebello, to go west or turn left into the Rue Saint-Jacques.

The hand with the glove starts to twirl, the whistle peeps some more and if any of the drivers show any hesitation, I hear something like "Hey! Move it!" I can't figure out how she does this without removing the whistle.

When the lights are about to change she steps lightly into the path of oncoming traffic on the quay with a raised glove; then pivots to face the waiting cars on the Petit Pont - gives them the whistle's 'peep' and the 'come-on' signal with the glove, which continues to twirl like a propeller on her wrist.

This whole act is non-stop. There are 10-second periods when the whole intersection is bare of traffic, with only this ring-master in it, surveying her circus, but moving all the time.

I don't see anybody else but me watching this. I watch it long enough to know she knows I am watching, but this doesn't affect the performance in any way.

Knowing I can't use them, I shoot three photos anyway. None of them show the magic white glove hand-twirl - it is hard to capture because this is a very fast act, even though the policewoman seems to be doing it effortlessly.

Unlike in the circus or any similar place, she does not smile - except when a bus passes with a driver she knows. She doesn't smile at this either, but makes eye-contact and puts a special variation into the glove-spin.

This lady is so cool, her act is perfect - apparently well-rehearsed, performed with style and flair; all movementphoto: port de la tournelle, ile st louis kept to a minimum except for the twirling white glove. Yet she is a major player in today's version of Paris' Friday afternoon 'beginning-of-a-long-weekend' rush-hour traffic.

The left bank is for reading books in the shade; the right bank is for grilling.

One block further along the quay, the Saint-Michel intersection is clogged with street roadworks, which are seriously hindering central Paris' major westward traffic flow.

Vigilant drivers from the right bank are using the one-bridge-further Pont d'Arcole instead of the Pont au Change to cross the island - to avoid the jam at Saint-Michel.

Once here, some avoid it entirely, by going up Saint-Jacques to find some other way west, rather than waste time on the restricted left bank's westward quays.

'Peep!' "Hey! Move it! Hey!" 'Peep!' Ignored by visitors, mostly overlooked by drivers who she helps to pass quickly; one of Paris' supremos of the intersections. A couple of kids on the bridge with a portable music-box even add a rap beat to the whistle-peeps.

Painters On the Beach

Opposite Notre-Dame, on the Seine bank called Port de Montebello, below the Pont au Double, there are the portrait painters who have set up their easels here after being chased away from the open space in front of the church.

It is not as bad a spot as you might think. There is a stone stairway down from the bridge. Even where the stone bank is narrow all the way from the Pont Neuf to the Pont au Double, there are several sets of stairs down to it.

Its other plus-points are the Batobus and other bateau-mouche landing stages, which guarantee a certain amount of pedestrian flow. Being in the shade is not hard on sitters. Notre-Dame, opposite, is not exactly an eyesore either.

One monsieur is without a sitter and he thinks I should be it, while I don't. But instead of passing on, I turn on my 'Paris-reporter' mode. It can't hurt being brought up-to-date on the current state of Paris' street-portrait industry.

Here, beside the Seine on the cobble-stoned bank of the Port de Montebello, the artists are not harassed by the police. Identity-checks are also rare. 'My' monsieur is Rumanian.

He comes up from Romania when he needs some cash, but usually only stays for a couple of weeks before going back. He says Romania is peaceful; even pleasant, if there is a little money around.

It is taking a long time for Romania - and the Balkans in general, I guess - to get into synchro with the west, and last winter's flood of the Danube didn't speed anything along.

He says it also didn't help, the western-news media's version of the pollution-spill, showing hordes of dead big fat fish, shot at some unrelated fish-farm. The Danube's few and small dead fish weren't dramatic enoughphoto: painter, seine, ile st louis for our evening TV-news.

We chat until I figure out he is a bit bored with his job here and is ignoring potential custom that is trickling by in a thin but steady stream.

On any halfway nice day, painters are out capturing the scene.

While he gets to hang out here all day I seldom have a half hour to spend in one place beside the Seine. Today I do it to get the feel of this part of 'Paris Beach.'

It is really bucolic, being below the roar of the river of traffic above; until a small fleet of bateaux-mouches all arrive at the same time.

The channel is narrow between this quay and the Ile de la Cité opposite, and some of these sightseeing boats are pretty big barges - it can be tricky if a fat one tries to overtake another one along here.

They make little noise and they are quickly gone upriver, and then it seems to be calm again. A couple of café barges are tied up further along, nearer the Pont de l'Archevêché.

People without deadlines are sitting at tables on their upper decks, watching the day pass by a slow way. A man has not gone to so much trouble, and has laid himself out on a stone bench on the quay for a bit of snooze.

The Ile Saint-Louis' Paris Plage

Going across the Pont de la Tournelle to the Ile Saint-Louis, I can see sunbathers beyond the Pont de Sully, on the riverside bank of the island's upstream tip, beneath the dripping vines of the willow trees.

Walking in that direction along the island's Quai de Béthune with the plane trees arching over it, is almost like being in some sleepy provincial town on a Sunday; with 17th century building fronts on the left and the river on the right, with the big flagstones underfoot.

The Pont de Sully and its island road bit cut off the little park named Square Barye. The stairs down to the riverside are inside this park, to the right. This makes the riverbank around the island's tip a sort of secret place with an obscure entry.

Since there aren't many people walking around, this minuscule part of Paris is its topless beach.

The only thing to mar this idyllic spot with a wide view of the river, are the cries of country bumpkins on the passing bateaux-mouches - which all swing around the island here to start their downriver passage along the right bank.

Every paradise has its insects. Even if they don't show up on the postcard photos, you know they'll be there someplace.

The north face of the Ile Saint-Louis is totally unsuitable as beach-front because it is always in shade except for very early in the morning.

All the same the Quai d'Anjou probably has one of Paris' lesser rates of traffic of any sort, so as a get-away-from-it-all place it probably ranks high. But it is not dead, as I find when I run into a pack of kids released from a kindergarten in the Rue Poulletier.

This is in the almost entirely residential end of thephoto: sunbathers, ile st louis mostly residential Ile Saint-Louis. I have always wondered where its residents to their grocery shopping; and seeing a couple of ladies hauling shopping carts gives me no answers.

The eastern tip of the Ile Saint-Louis is a refuge for all-over grillers.

The island's backbone street Rue Saint-Louis-en-l'Ile changes radically after the crossing of the Rue des Deux-Ponts. It becomes total circus and the only relief from this is arriving at the end of it.

Hanging back a bit, the café with the nickname 'Oasis' has the western end of the island almost to itself. At the right angle it is all by itself, and it should be remembered like this and the last two blocks of the Rue Saint-Louis-en-l'Ile forgotten.

I can do this. In Paris, this kind of jumble is common - jewels in the jumble of the ordinary - which you can see too when you narrow your wide-angle vision to isolate what you came to see.

In case you don't remember to do this, take a photo of it. Few cameras have vision as wide as yours. This can be a handicap out in open spaces, but not in Paris where big open spaces are a bit rare.

From either side of the place where the café is, stairs go down to the river banks, below the Quai de Bourbon and Quai d'Orléans. Both of these are pretty good Paris beaches too.

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