Thursday, August 29, 2013

A River Runs Through It

The Seine at Bougival in the Evening - Claude Monet
The Seine at Bougival in the Evening
Claude Monet

Cleopatra had her Nile. Caesar had his Tiber. Mark Twain had the Mississippi River and Lewis and Clark had the Missouri. The Queen has the Thames. And author Mort Rosenblum has the Seine.

In The Secret Life of the Seine (1994) Mr. Rosenblum, an American journalist living in Paris, tells tales of living on and exploring this river after he bought and moved onto La Vieille, a fifty-four-foot-long, thirteen-foot-wide boat. 

It was not something he would normally have aspired to, he writes, but circumstances aligned themselves. He was forced to move from his apartment on the Ile Saint-Louis and at the same time a co-worker, who owned and lived on the boat, was moving to England and had to sell it. 

This was in 1987 and already the La Vieille was almost 100 years old. She had served in the British Royal Navy at the turn of the century and after World War II was turned into a motor yacht.

I have only dipped into the first 25 pages of the book, but already am looking forward to Mr. Rosenblum's journey from the Seine's source near Dijon to where it merges with the English Channel at Honfleur. All 482 miles of it. 

Having only experienced the river from the quais in Paris and its final destination in Honfleur, I am excited to learn about its wending course through France.

From the beginning, the French soul has bobbed in the waters of the Seine. On its bridges, love blooms; beneath them, lives end. Hardly anyone can tell you exactly where the river starts, or much else about it, but it flows through every romantic's spirit. It nourished Maupassant's pen and watered Monet's lily pond.

Paris was the City of Light long before there were switches to flip. The rayonnement, that radiance which the French have always beamed to the less enlightened, emanates from the pinks and oranges and sparkling flashes of the sun sinking into the Seine. 

People who live in towns or cities on a river are lucky indeed. It gives them an ever-changing scene. My river is the Ohio. What's yours?


  1. Belle, It is a sad day with the breaking news that Nobel prize-winning Irish poet Seamus Heaney has passed away, so reminiscences are not only allowed but encouraged. The river Liffey was my constant companion growing up in Dublin. It was in my day a busy river carrying goods and people(emigrants) to far away places. The Swans floating below the walking bridge looking for crumbs from the passers by, the colour of the evening sky as the river blended into the widening bay towards Howth Head and the Bull Wall Bridge/Promontory (surveyed and proposed by Captain William Bligh of HMS Bounty) it seemed timeless and constant in its witness to the vibrant literary and social life of the city and to the many violent upheavals on its banks. I crossed and re-crossed it weekly, walking or cycling on the same paths taken by some of the icons of literature: Wilde, Joyce, Synge, Shaw, Swift etc. many of whom wrote of their love for "Anna Livia Plurabelle". The Seine, the Danube, the Thames have similar presence and witness in their respective cities and are from what I have seen more pictursque but the Liffey holds a special place in my memory and affection as it does for so many exiles and writers.

    1. Tullik, I too was saddened to hear of Heaney's death. What a wonderful way with words the man had. Fortunately he left many of them for us to remember him by.

      A lovely meditation on your River Liffey. I have not been to Dublin (to my chagrin) but the photos of the waters and the bridges are stunning. Delightful memories for you! As always, thanks for commenting.

  2. I grew up in Cincinnati, so the Ohio should be my river, but it's not. Now that I live in the East, it is a close thing between the Hudson and Connecticut. The Hudson has wonderful scenery up-river, especially around West Point and Bear Mountain. The Connecticut is one of the few major rivers without industrial development at its mouth (terrain not suitable somehow). A small boat trip down through the natural marshes and sandbars never is always delightful.

    1. Aren't you lucky to claim two rivers. They both are beautiful. And, it sounds as if we grew up on opposite sides of the Ohio!