There’s Only One Paris #8: Picnics & Surprises along the Seine

Welcome to the eighth episode of our There’s Only One Paris participatory short story series! This week’s story takes us to one of the most beloved places in Paris… the Banks of the Seine River! If you’re new to the project you can read more about these participatory stories here and at the end is a link to all the stories thus far.

Before launching into the story, we have a few acknowledgements. The story involves a picnic, which was a topic suggested by several people when the series was launched back in March, these include Gabie Demers, Zekya Ulmer, Wazzie Hoosein and Mark Jordaan.  A special thank you goes to Jeanie Meyer who sent in some beautiful commentary about the Seine which is peppered throughout the story as is a special comment from Janet Conroy. A big thank you to Dave Riewe and Lyn Barry for sharing some of their photos which are also included below. Lastly, many thanks to Corianna, Zavier, Skyler and Mark for naming the characters, Happy birthday Z!

Stay tuned next week when our story will take us to the east of Paris and to the Promenade Plantée! Happy reading, listening or watching everyone!

Picnics & Surprises along the Seine

Santé!” Echoed five voices as five glasses came together in a metallic ding.

“It’s soooo good to see you guys!” said Skye.

“Yes, finally!” agreed Erin.

“No more virtual apéros for us,” declared Pearl.

“Or at least we hope not!” added Amelia.

“Cheers to that!” said Rose, raising her glass again.

The five friends hadn’t seen each other in months. Since meeting three years ago at the small publishing house they were all working for, the girls hadn’t missed one of their monthly get togethers, but the recent extenuating circumstances had kept the fabulous five apart. The cosmopolitan quintet was made up of an American Midwesterner, a French Canadian, an Irish lass, a South African and a Corsican who adamantly insisted on the regional distinction.

In summer they would always arrange their get-togethers as a picnic along the Seine. This year they were just managing to squeeze one in, a few days shy of the official start of autumn.

September usually featured gorgeous weather in Paris, and this year was turning out to be exceptionally glorious. Since it was Friday, the five friends, who’d all moved on to different jobs,  had snuck out of their respective offices a little early and had arrived at their favorite picnic spot by 6 pm. Well, almost everyone, Rose the Corsican was always late, she rolled up at 6:20 pm.

Their preferred spot was on the Quai de la Tournelle, a section along the Left Bank between le Pont de l’Archevêché, the bridge behind Notre-Dame, and le Pont de la Tournelle, the next bridge to the east. This gave them a nice view towards the elegant Ile-Saint Louis and of the back of Notre-Dame, which, admittedly, was not currently exuding her former splendor, but was beautiful nonetheless. On summer afternoons, this location caught the setting sun at a nice angle, while also being protected from the noise of the traffic above. It was close enough to the apartment of Pearl, the Quebecois, which was in the Latin Quarter, handy in case they needed to use the bathroom.image

Since Pearl lived nearby, she was also in charge of bringing her camping cups, some reusable plastic plates and a blanket, which was now overloaded with the various goodies everyone had brought. The tempting casual feast included several oozing cheeses, a pre-made veggie platter, some mini saucissons made by Rose’s Corisan uncle, some olives, grapes, a few baguettes and a sinful bag of mature cheddar & chive Tyrell chips, which was the first thing everyone devoured, even Erin whose staunch Irish nationalism normally made her snub anything British.

“I knew I should have bought two bags!” joked Skye, the Midwestern, emptying the last of the crumbs into her palm.

“But you’re all in luck…” started Erin, producing a large Tupperware container from her bag. “I got up early… so I could make a batch of my famous brownies!”

“I think I’ve died and gone to heaven!” drooled Rose.

“So, Amelia, any news from Jules?” asked Pearl. Erin shot her the evil eye and made a zip it gesture, but it was too late.

“Nope…” Amelia said, looking out at the Seine. 

“I can’t believe he just plain disappeared like that!” fumed Skye, always the opinionated one. “What a loser! Who breaks up with someone at the start of a pandemic?”

“Are you sure he didn’t get the virus?” asked Erin.

“Yep, he’s alive and well, according to Facebook,” answered Amelia, rolling her eyes.

“Well, it’s probably for the best,” said Rose. “If he can’t handle some bad times, then he won’t be reliable in the long run.”

“True, but still,” said Amelia. “It wasn’t the greatest of times to be alone. At least I had you gals to cheer me up.”

“Cheers to friendship!” said Skye.

“To friendship!” the others repeated, raising their glasses.

“I’ve been trying to find out if my colleague Pierre is still single,” said Rose. “He’s really cute, but he’s a hardcore hypochondriac.” 

“Poor guy, didn’t you say he had serious asthma or something like that?” said Erin. “Cut him some slack.”

“He’s been noticeably happier these days, so I suspect he’s dating someone,” said Rose. 

“Thanks for your offer to help, but I can manage just fine,” said Amelia. “I’ve downloaded a new dating app.”

“Forget about those dating apps,” said Skye. “It’s much better to meet someone in person.”

“Easier said than done!” huffed Amelia. 

“You should really go back to dancing,” suggested Pearl. “That’s where I met Xavier. There are tons of cute guys who come out. Plus, since they dedicate themselves to going dancing at least once a week, that shows they can manage at least a minimum level of commitment, something which Jules certainly didn’t demonstrate.”

“Perhaps…” said Amelia. As much as she loved dancing, she wasn’t so sure if she was all that keen on the idea. That’s where she’d met her longer term boyfriend before Jules, Laurent, and she definitely didn’t want to brush into him and his new girlfriend swirling around on the dancefloor.

“Just think about it and drop me a line if you’d like to join us next week,” said Pearl. “Try something different, be spontaneous!”

“Okay gals…. Who’s ready for a brownie?” asked Erin, waving her Tupperware in an attempt to put an end to their Inquisition of poor broken-hearted Amelia. She removed the lid, releasing an intoxicatingly sweet aroma of chocolate and vanilla. In a matter of minutes there was nothing left of them but a few crumbs.

In spite of the chocolate pick-me-up, Amelia’s spirits had only mildly lifted. She gazed out at the river. The sun was still in the sky and so a golden shimmer sparkled across the Seine’s surface. It was sometimes hard being the only single one in her group of happily coupled-up friends. They’d all seemed to have met their l’ame soeur, their soulmates, and she was left with the castaways, the dancers sitting in the chairs in the corner that nobody else wanted to dance with… who, in turn, didn’t want to dance with her. The river’s waltzing waves didn’t seem to have any answers for her.

Photo by Dave Riewe

“Sorry gals, I’ve got to call it an early night,” said Amelia, suddenly hopping up from the blanket. “I have a lot to do tomorrow.”

Before her friends could object, Amelia blew them all kisses and scooped up her bag.

“I’ll be fine!” She called over her shoulder as she headed east along the river bank. She was planning on walking to the Austerlitz Station where she could catch line 5. This would connect her to line 9 at République which would take her back home to the sleepy 8th district.

By now more people had gathered along the riverbank and a festive ambiance prevailed. Amelia’s eyes wandered over the crowd, small groups of people enjoying the soft late summer air, bottles of wine and each other’s company. Unfortunately, her eyes also fell on several overly affectionate couples. Where or where would she find a new and better ‘Jules’?

She crossed under the Pont de la Tournelle and looked up to the statue of Geneviève. One of the patron saints of Paris, the young nun is said to have saved the city from Atilla and the Huns back in 451 AD. Come on, Geneviève, thought Amelia. Save me from the barbarians of the dating world!

Soon after passing the bridge, the riverbank became the Jardin Tino-Rossi. The south part of this garden had small plots of flowers and bushes, weeping willows and some outdoor sculptures whereas the stretch along the river had few mini amphitheatres. Around twenty feet wide, these half-moon areas were fringed by a few tall steps which descended down to the bottom landing. One of these was currently filled with around a dozen couples dancing salsa.

Maybe I really should take up Pearl’s offer to join them at the dancing club, Amelia pondered as she approached the open-air dancefloor. Just then Amelia’s foot hit a small object which went flying towards the dancers. However, it didn’t make it all the way to the dancefloor… because it hit someone sitting on the steps first.

Oh no! thought Amelia, mortified. What should she do? Turn and run the other way? Pretend that didn’t know what happened? The victim flinched. He reached down to pick up the projectile and turned around. There was no way she could hide now!

A slender man with thick short dark hair stood up, looked at her and raised his hand. Between his index finger and thumb was a wine cork. He smiled.

Je suis vraiment désolée! I’m terribly sorry!” apologized Amelia. “My foot…”

“It’s no problem at all,” said the stranger as he jumped up to the top of the steps and walked over to Amelia. “No harm done!”

“Okay, good, I am really very sorry,” she fumbled.

“Well, if you want to make it up to me, you could join me on the dancefloor?” he said with a twinkle in his eyes.

“Um well, I was just heading towards the Métro…”

“Just one song!” he pleaded. “My dance partner didn’t show.” 

“Well, okay, I guess…” she said, her inhibitions melting away from the warmth of this stranger’s smile. She also had to admit, her cork-victim was rather good looking.

Photo by Lyn Barry

“What’s your name?” he asked.

“Amelia, and yours?” 

“Julio,” he answered. 

Arggh. Julio was very similar to Jules, thought Amelia. Oh well, she couldn’t really hold that against him. He hadn’t chosen his name, nor did he have anything to do with the dreaded Jules. 

“Where are you from, Amelia?” he asked as he swung her around on the dancefloor.

“South Africa, and you?”

“Venezuela,” he replied.

“Ah, that’s why you’re a good dancer!” 

“And perhaps that’s why you shoot corks, you must be from the wine region.”

“Actually, I am!” she confirmed. “I’m from Franschhoek.” 

“Beautiful place!”

“Oh, you’ve been?” she asked.

“No, but I have a cousin who lives there.” he said. “He loves it!”

Their chipper chatter had already taken them into the second song and the third one also flew by. Amelia couldn’t remember the last time she’d had so much fun, she’d completely lost track of time.

At the end of the next song the host went to change the sound system’s playlist. 

“I should really get home,” said Amelia. 

“Oh, what a shame,” said Julio. “Where do you live?” 

“Over near Place de la Concorde.”

“Ohhhh… posh.” he teased.

“My aunt is lending me her pied à terre, she works in fashion and only comes a few times a year,” explained Amelia.

Just then a cruise boat floated by. Its passengers waved to the dancers. Julio looked over and waved, but not to those passengers.

“I have an idea! I’m friends with some of the staff of the Batobus, I know the captain of that boat. The next station is right up ahead. We can get a free ride over to the stop near your place! You won’t even need to take the subway that way.”

“Umm, ahhh…” Amelia hesitated.

“Quick, it’s docking!” he said, pulling her hand.

Don’t be a stick in the mud! Amelia scolded herself. There was no real reason not to go along with Julio and his ingenious idea.

Weaving through the clusters of picnickers, Amelia and Julio darted over to the Batobus dock. There are various boats which cruise on the Seine. Most visitors take hour-long cruises on sightseeing boats like the Bateaux Mouches or longer dinner cruises, but the Batobus, a hop-on-hop-off water taxi, offers tourists and locals alike a unique way to travel around the city while enjoying the sites along the river. Nearing the jetty, Julio waved his arms to get the capitan’s attention who, in turn, waited for them. They scurried on board as the deckhand unwound the rope from the pilings. They were off! 

“Hola!” Julio greeted the captain, who made a little salute back. “This is Amelia. Amelia, meet Marc.”

“Bonsoir!” greeted Amelia. Marc winked at Julio and waved them on, signifying that there was no need to chat, they were in good enough company just the two of them. They’d gotten on the Batobus at its eastern most stop, Le Jardin des Plantes. From here, the boat turned around to cruise back towards the west. The sun was just dipping under the horizon. This must be the last cruising of the day as the Batobus general stops at dusk. Gliding on the Seine at twilight and afterwards can be very romantic as well as memorable. At this time, one can see and get a sense of the evolution of this great city.

Julio guided Amelia to the very back of the boat where there was a small outdoor deck. There were only a handful of other passengers on the boat and these were all seated inside, so Julio and Amelia had the deck to themselves.

“This is a great way to see the city!” said Amelia, beaming.

“Is this your first time on the Batobus?” asked Julio.

“Yes, actually it is!” she replied. “I did take one of those larger boats when I first arrived in Paris.”

“When was that?” he asked. 

“Three years ago,” she said. “How about you? How long have you been here?”

“For just over two years,” he replied. “I came to do my Master’s and I hope to stay as the situation in my country is pretty bad right now. However, it might not be so easy to get papers in order.”

“That’s a bummer,’ she said. “I’m lucky enough to have a British passport, but that’s going to get complicated soon as well.” 

“Do you hope to stay here?” he asked.

“Oh yes, forever!” she said enthusiastically. “And one day I’m going to have an apartment along the Seine, like one of those ones, over there on Ile Saint-Louis. It’ll be just like in La Traviata. I would be singing my heart out as I take my last breath. What a way to go!”

“Well, I hope you can achieve your dream of the apartment, but not the tragic ending, at least not any time soon,” he said jokingly. “So you’re a fan of opera as well as salsa?”

“Yes, if I could sing, I would have become an opera singer.” she said. “I content myself with enjoying it from a seat in the audience instead. How about you?”

“I’ve actually never been,” he admitted. “Caracas has a gorgeous opera house, but times have been tough there for a while. I’ve been meaning to go to the one here since I arrived in Paris.”

“The new season is just starting, we could go together if you like?” she suggested.

“That’d be great!” he said. “Hey the lights of Notre-Dame just came on. Isn’t she beautiful?”

Photo by Dave Riewe

“Yes, it’s a magical building,” replied Amelia. “All of Paris is magic, especially at this time of day.” 

“I agree. The magic of Paris is more undeniable at night and from this vantage point,” he added. ”Did you know that there’s only one Unesco World Heritage Site in Paris and that is the Banks of the River Seine? No historical building alone has that distinction in the city.”

“No, I didn’t know that,” said Amelia. “That’s very interesting.”

“We tend to forget that the Seine is unique to France,” he said. “It begins northwest of Dijon at a place called Source-Seine and flows northwest through Paris and empties into the English Channel between Le Havre and Honfleur.”

“What a special river,” said Amelia.

They floated alongside Ile-de-la-Cité and past the Conciergerie, its turrets and towers harking back to medieval times.  

“Oh look! We’re coming up to my favorite bridge,” said Julio. ”Le Pont Neuf. Did you know it’s the oldest bridge in Paris despite being called the new bridge?”

“No, I didn’t!” confessed Amelia.

“Yes! It was built in the early 1600s,” informed Julio. “It was the first bridge to span the whole river and the first with no houses.”

“Cool!” said Amelia. She craned her neck up to admire the beautifully lit bridge as they cruised under it. “Those faces are a bit creepy though!”

“Yes, they’re a little scary. They’re called mascaron and there are over 380 of them all along the bridge.”

“How do you know all of this stuff?” she asked, puzzled. 

“Well, I used to work for the Batobus, a part-time job while working on my Law degree. That’s how I got to know these guys,” said Julio pointing towards the capitan.

“Ah ok, but there doesn’t seem to be a guide on here.”

“No, there isn’t, but sometimes the host gives out little tidbits of information when he announces the next stop. I’m naturally curious so I learnt up about all the sites we pass along the way.”

“You seem to have many talents,” complimented Amelia. 

“As do you!” he replied, moving a little closer to her. “Great dancer, walking encyclopedia of opera, beautiful smiler.” He took her hand and spun her around. She laughed and the gentle evening breeze blew her long dark, curly hair. She felt so free. Still holding Amelia’s hand, Julio pulled her a little closer. 

“Escale du Louvre. Louvre Stop. Fermato del Louvre. Parado el Louvre.” The announcement interrupted the moment.

“Is this where we’re getting off?” asked Amelia, stepping back. This was crazy, she thought. She’d just met the guy and he’d literally whisked her off her feet. Something had to be wrong… or maybe it was the workings of Sainte Geneviève?

“No, we’ll get off at the next stop,” said Julio.

A few passengers descended and the boat set sail again. They leant back against the railing, silently taking in the enchanting vista. The sky was transitioning to a royal blue. The lights of the monuments were coming on one by one. This was when Paris truly became the City of Light. The Louvre seemed to go on forever on their right and on their left the Musée Orsay, with its two huge glowing clocks, stood guard proudly over the river.

They approached the Assemblée Nationale, the French Parliament, which was straight across from the Place de la Concorde, where the heads of the King and Queen went rolling over two centuries ago. 

“You see these large blocks?” asked Julio as they went under the Pont de la Concorde. 

“Yes,” replied Amelia.

“They were from the Bastille Prison!” he said, revealing another one of his fascinating facts.

“Neat!” exclaimed Amelia. “I always wondered why it was no longer in Place de la Bastille!”

“It’s a nice bridge,” he said. “But we’re actually coming up to the most beautiful one of all, or at least, in my opinion. We’ll be getting off the boat just before. The station is coming up.”

Photo by Lyn Barry

The boat veered to the right towards its dock.

“Ahhhhh… I don’t want the moment to end!” said Amelia savoring the last seconds before they reached the riverbank.

“No need for it to end!” said Julio. “We could go for a little walk along the water, if you like?”

Amelia hesitated. Her mind naturally drifted to everything she’d intended to accomplish that weekend. Would staying out a little longer really hold her back from her to-do list? Did she really even need to do her laundry tomorrow? Couldn’t it wait? Couldn’t she try living in the moment? Just this once. Julio was not Jules. He seemed to be dancing to a very different beat.

The boat hit the dock. Julio grabbed her hand. They had to hurry to get to the exit before they pushed off again.

“Gracias, amigo!” Julio called out to Captain Marc. 

“Merci!!” added Amelia. They hopped off the boat and it pulled away, leaving them all alone on the tranquil riverbank.

“Wow, the bridge is totally gorgeous from here!” said Amelia gazing up in awe at le Pont Alexandre III. Built for the World’s Fair of 1900 and named in honor of the Russian Tsar, the ornate bridge was decked out in candelabrum, lions, pegasuses, water nymphs and other sculptures. It was unique among bridges anywhere and was a particularly iconic landmark in the City of Light.

“You are also gorgeous from here, or from any angle for that matter.” he dared add. She smiled. They could hear the rhythm of the water lapping softly against the péniche houseboats moored nearby. 

Twilight was turning to darkness and the lights reflecting upon the water appeared to be straight from van Gogh’s Starry Night. Nighttime along the river had the most intimate feeling, Amelia thought about the many who’d gone by that specific location over the centuries and for so many different reasons. Life, death, war, escape, joy, despair and wanderlust are just a few of those reasons one could imagine. Lest we forget love.

“I think I’ll take you up on that offer for a little stroll,” she said coyly.

“Great!” he cheered. “Which way would you like to go?”

“Surprise me!” she said, embracing the spontaneity the river and its banks had instigated. She would simply go with the flow, in this case it was flowing downstream, along with the waters of the Seine. He took her hand and they walked, not off into the sunset, but into the twilight, venturing bravely into the unknown.

There’s Only One Paris Episodes

Did you like this story? If you missed the others, you can catch up on them at these links:

Episode #1: A View on the Eiffel Tower

Episode #2: L’Age Mur at the Musée d’Orsay

Episode #3: In Search of Lost Time at the Palais-Royal and the Galerie Vivienne

Episode #4: Our Lady of Hope: Notre-Dame

Episode #5: Aux Folies de Belleville

Episode #6: The Magic of Montmartre

Episode #7: The Secrets of the Catacombs

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