Hawaiian Shirt Days, Bis

photo: footbridge, canal st martin

The lock on the Canal Saint-Martin, near Récollets.

Third Summer Shirt Day in April

Friday, 18. April:- Yesterday was identical to Wednesday, but it was a Café Metropole Club day, so my water tour took in no more than the Pont Neuf and the Square du Vert Galant, which is not a 'square' but more of a green triangle on the downstream tip of the Ile de la Cité.

This is an important water look-out, with the Seine on both sides, the Pont des Arts to the west, the Louvre diminishing towards the horizon on the right bank, and the golden dome of the Institut de France on the left bank. To be more in the middle of the Seine, in the middle of Paris, would not be easy.

The 'square' itself is a fenced park with grass, trees and there are park benches available for long-term lounging. Just outside the park on the north side, there are refreshments available from the boat dock of the Vedettes de Pont Neuf - there is even a café on the dock.

Also outside the park, there is the stone quay around the island's tip, for those who find park benches toophoto: cafe la marine, footbridge civilized or don't have small children to care for. There are other fine places to watch the sun go down, but this is one of the best. It is also only about a five minute walk to the club's café, La Corona, on the Quai du Louvre.

One of the canal-side cafés, with a typical footbridge.

Today's weather is identical to yesterday's and Wednesday's. This three-day faux-summer in April almost outdoes any three-day period I can remember in July or August, so I intend to be out in it in case it is the only summer of the year. Yesterday's Le Parisien said it was 'already' summer in the middle of April.

On a whim I decide to 'conserve' my antique Hawaiian shirt even though I have two of these rare birds, and wear one of my old faithfuls, which is no less colorful. I fret all winter while not wearing these shirts, and then get shy about it in summer. Well, it is only April, even if it is summer today.

The paper says a high is installed from the Baltic to Italy, keeping the nasty old Atlantic at bay. The temperature has set records equalling those of 1968, for both lows and highs. Last week it was colder than usual. The thermometre will tumble again at the weekend.

On Wednesday I decided to get as much water as possible into the photos. Then it was fountains and pools, yesterday a bit of river, so today it is going to be a canal - the Canal Saint-Martin.

A lot of it is lying under daylight in the 10th and 19th arrondissements. For me the Bassin de la Villette in the 19th is a bit too open and vast so I ride the métro up to the Gare de l'Est, and walk the two blocks to the canal along the Rue des Récollets.

At the corner of the canal and the Quai de Valmy there is a triangle with cafés on two sides, with the water on the third, and there is a footbridge over the canal with the Récollets locks beneath. High trees overhang everything except the cafés.

It is like a fragment of a stage set representing the universe of the whole canal in the city. Built by engineers and opened in 1825, the canal is 4.5 kilometres long, and has nine locks and two swing-bridges.

There are four canals in the Paris area, plus the Ourcq river and some lesser ones. These supply non-potablephoto: lock, canal boat water to the city for road cleaning use, although the Canal de l'Ourcq is supposed to have fresh water. But the canals are mainly useful for freight, dealing with one to two million tons annually - mostly gravel, sand, cement and demolition wreckage - per year.

One of the frequent cruise boats, just before it gets lowered three metres.

The Canal Saint-Martin isn't used much for freight these days, but is capable of handling barges with a capacity of 350 tons. One of these is equal to the cargo carried by ten 35-ton highway trucks - trucks that don't have to use Paris' streets.

Paris was fairly built-up when the canal was constructed. Then Baron Haussmann came along and wanted to put in some wide streets, so it was decked over from Rue du Faubourg-du-Temple to the south side of the Place de la Bastille, where it opens out to the Arsenal marina.

The canal gives pleasure craft access to the other canals and to the Seine, and many of the cruise boats use the canals as well - so traffic may be less industrial, but no less constant.

But the beauty of the Canal Saint-Martin is that it is right in the city, in a heavily urban area with very little in the way of open space. From Récollets to Temple, the canal runs between the quay-side roads of Valmy and Jemmapes, lined with parks or paths on either side, and mostly lined with trees.

There may not be fountains or sprinklers, and the water looks like pea soup, but there is a lot of other green - and on a day like today there is a lot of blue sky over it all.

I have a hard time getting away from Récollets and its collection of all the canal elements. Boats come through the locks, the lock fills and the boat rises or falls depending on the direction it's going. The canal workers do their chores and the boat captains do theirs.

Idlers like me can watch this from a few centimetres above the water level, or from above on the arched iron bridge. From the bridge other locks can be seen, and other people on other bridges overlooking them.

Meanwhile, pedestrians are going on their errands, constantly crossing the canal by way of the bridges, or waiting patiently until a boat has passed and one of the turning-bridges has closed. Cars wait for the bridges too, and pass up and down on both sides of the canal.

Then there are the loungers on the terraces of the scattered cafés beside the canal, and the momsphoto: canal, cafe le pont tournant watching their kids in the little fenced-in play areas right near the watersides.

In places there are wide stone-block pavements lined with benches, and with today's weather all the benches are occupied. There is a low iron railing too, and a lot of sunbaskers are sitting on it.

Another canal-side café, near one of the swing bridges.

The feeling is more 'neighborhood' than at Trocadéro or in the Tuileries. If your nearby tiny apartment is hot and airless, here is a slice of fresh air, blue sky and breezes in transit.

I walk down the east side from Récollets to Temple and get hung up watching a bigger tour boat coming through the locks. The 700-odd metres takes me about 90 minutes. The locks are a slow process but I do not have any urgent destinations.

I have a feeling I'll never take one of the canal cruises. Once on a boat you do see all the locks and the slow operation of each one of them, and get to hear the amplified commentary. On foot, it is possible to take a break in a café - or even wander off to have a look at the Saint-Louis hospital, which isn't on many tours.

After the Rue du Faubourg-du-Temple the canal is covered over. Standing near the entry, the air is cool and water tunnel-damp. Beyond there is a strip of unexciting park in the centre, which turns into an open-air marché in the mornings close to Bastille.

I leave this path and go west over to République and take the Boulevard du Temple, which turnsphoto: arsenal marina into the Boulevard Beaumarchais halfway to Bastille. There are interesting shops along here, and if they aren't interesting enough, the Marais lies just to the west.

The sizeable marina named Arsenal, between Bastille and the Seine.

Reaching Bastille, I may not have covered much ground, but I have been standing up the whole time. I take a look at the Arsenal marina - which is the last bit of canal before the Seine - through the scratched glass of the métro line one's eastbound platform.

Then I cross back to the westbound platform and ride to Châtelet where I switch to the Porte d'Orléans line. As I walk up to Rue Daguerre with all the other lightly-clad commuters in the mild air, I think it has been a really fine three-day summer in April this week.

Even though I am not superstitious, I carefully put away all of my summer shirts - in a handy place where they can be quickly found and put to use again in a jiffy. You never know when - or if - summer may suddenly happen here.

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