THE WEATHER IN PARIS in early November has been quite exceptional, more like late summer than late autumn. It’s the ideal weather to stroll around Paris and search out places I haven’t been to for a while, places like the Canal Saint-Martin in the 10th arrondissement.
Stretching from the Place de Stalingrad to Porte d’Arsenal, the canal was born in the mind of Napoleon I as a means of supplying much needed fresh water to the city. The building of the canal was funded by a tax on wine – a case of turning wine into water then!
As well as supplying fresh water, the canal was also a working thoroughfare supplying Paris with grain and other commodities. The canal trade eventually dwindled and the canal came close to extinction but today, the canal and the surrounding area, is a vibrant, rather chic place to be.
The Hotel du Nord, on the Quai de Jemmapes, stands close to the canal. The hotel has been here since 1885 but it’s perhaps best known as the star of the film of the same name. The 1938 film, directed by Marcel Carné and starring Annabella, Jean-Pierre Aumont and Louis Jouvet, was shot on location here.
Standing in front of the Hotel du Nord today it’s very easy to slip back in time to 1930’s, black and white, Paris. Inside, with the zinc bar, the white tiles on the walls and the black and white mosaic tiles on the floor the feeling is enhanced.
Inside the Hotel du Nord:
Today, the Canal Saint-Martin is a waterway largely for tourist boats. The canal has several locks to be negotiated, which ensures that no journey along the canal will be made in a hurry.
Navigating the locks is usually watched by people who gather on top of the bridges and it was on top of one of these that I recorded the process.
Navigating a lock:
The process is simple. The lock fills to allow the boat in and then empties to allow the boat out at a lower level. The lock gates operate by hydraulics and the water operates by gravity. Today, no heavy-lifting is required, it’s all done at the push of a button.
And I can reveal that in this neck of the woods the earth moves! Well, not quite, but the roadway certainly does.
At the locks where the road is at the same level as the boats, one of them has to give way to the other and the road always loses this contest. The traffic is stopped and the road swings out of the way.
Once the boat has passed, the road swings back into place … at least until the next time.
A walk along the Canal Saint-Martin is always interesting at any time but especially so in an unusually sunny November.