Letter from Paris: August 9, 2023 News Digest

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Letter from Paris: August 9, 2023 News Digest

You’ve heard about the plan to hold the Summer Olympics swimming events in the Seine. There’s been a lot of media attention about the giant river clean-up project that aims to make the Seine swimmable again. But a recent open-water swimming event that was planned as a test was canceled because the low water quality could’ve compromised the athletes’ health. As reported by the Associated Press, “water quality falls below acceptable standards when rains cause overflows of untreated waste into the Seine. France’s capital city is spending massively on water-management projects that officials say will make pollution caused by storms less frequent.” The hope is that when this infrastructure is fully in place next year, polluting incidents such as this can be completely avoided.

A bouquiniste on the Quai de Montebello. Credit: Benh LIEU SONG/ Wikimedia commons

In other Olympics news, there’s been controversy over the decision by the Paris Police to remove the bouquinistes from the Seine during the Summer Games. These booksellers are part of the Parisian cultural landscape; the book-filled stalls have lined the river quays since at least the 17th century. (For more information about these iconic green stalls, see our photo essay about this important symbol of literary and historic patrimony.) Now the bouquinistes are in an uproar about the decision to relocate, which officials claim is necessary for security reasons.

As reported by The New York Times, “the booksellers… have said they will not budge, calling the order issued by the Paris police chief last week an affront to the French capital’s history and soul. ‘Paris without the bouquinistes is like Venice without the gondolas,’ said Jean-Pierre Mathias, 76, who has had a stall along the Seine for about four decades. Mr. Mathias, a former philosophy teacher who sells works including an essay on Brigitte Bardot and a reprint of a 1781 book by a French barrister, said that he and other bouquinistes were signing petitions against the proposal. If that fails, he said, they will barricade themselves in front of their stalls to stop them from being dismantled.” Stay tuned for more news about the battle over the largest open-air book market in Europe…

Engraving by Jean Henry Marlet after Adrien Victor Auger, Bouquiniste quai Voltaire 1821. From Wikimedia Commons

Looking for a great summer read? For The Guardian, journalist Agnès Poirier recommends Metropolitain, “a potpourri of a book on the Paris Métro” by Andrew Martin. (You may have seen the Bonjour Paris newsletter where our editor raved about Pure, Miller’s historical novel about the demolition of the Cimetière des Innocents and the transfer of bones to the Catacombs.) She writes: “I naturally chose to read Metropolitain on the Paris Métro, which added some relief and piquancy to the experience. Martin, whose dad worked for British Rail, developed a fascination for le Métro: its smell, its “unified vision”, its lighting, carriages, vaults and tunnels, for its names and colours, all of which were designed as the antithesis of London’s tube. “The London Underground was the world’s first metro, and Paris, having taken a long cool look at it, decided to do the opposite.” There would be no entrance buildings; it would be built much closer to the surface; much denser, all Parisians would live within 500 metres of a métro station; airy and large, carriages would feel tall to passengers, to avoid claustrophobia; and with binary directions, and easy connections, there would be no risk of losing oneself in a subterranean maze.” Read the full review here.

Bastille métro pavilion entrance (demolished in 1962). Photo © Scanné par Claude_Villetaneuse, Wikipedia. Public domain

In April Parisians voted to ban electric scooter rentals from the capital, a law that will go into effect on September 1. The rentals were criticized for safety concerns after numerous road accidents with cars and pedestrians. Paris will become the first European capital with such a ban in place. What will happen to all the scooters that currently crowd the sidewalks? (The number is estimated at 15,000 rental trottinettes.) TheMayor.eu reports that the three mobility operators (Dott, Lime and Tier) will transfer their fleets to other cities where they currently operate, including Copenhagen, London and even French cities like Bordeaux.

Scooters on the sidewalk in Paris. Credit: EHFXC / Wikimedia commons

It’s been four years since the fire ravaged Notre-Dame, and the restoration is on track for completion at the end of 2024. Highly trained artisans have been using ancestral techniques to repair the beloved cathedral on the Seine. Recently a team of carpenters completed the 19th-century spire, which was hoisted onto the roof. CBS News went behind the scenes to show off this impressive feat.

Lead photo credit : La Seine. Photo credit: Rinat Abdullin/ Flickr

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BP's expert editorial team includes some of the city's top English-language journalists.