Jun 3, 2016

Paris, Underwater: Pavé du Tarn


We first moved to Paris in mid-August, staying for a few days in a place right in the tourist zone next to the Eiffel Tower. Needless to say, almost everything was closed, and after 48 hrs here, the girls complained, "You said there would be treats everywhere in Paris!" Well, normally there are, but it literally took us till our third day to find a bakery that was open. That's how it feels to us now when Pippa and I try to find a spot to eat our picnic in central Paris. But this time, it's due to rain: Large chunks of Paris real estate have simply disappeared.

The parks are largely closed off because of the lightning storms this past weekend and the fact that 11 people, most of them 9-year old children, were struck by lightning and injured in a Parisian park. Since there is pretty much nothing but more rain and more thunderstorms predicted, I can understand that Paris wants to play it safe. But even in the middle of a non-rainy day, three parks we try are all locked up and we end up eating our picnic at home.

We would normally just walk down to the quay along the Seine, which is a lovely place for a picnic. Except at the moment it's under water. Very far under.

I've never seen the river so high, which makes sense given that this is the 2nd rainiest month in recorded history in Paris (so glad I wasn't here in July 2001, but even then the Seine didn't rise so high).

We can't get down there, and even if we could, there's no "down there" along the quay left to enjoy. Let's just say that I've had to re-route my morning walks. It's hard, even for long-time Parisians, to recognize spots. Here is the park at the tip of Ile de la Cité.

And the quay where my friend and I start our morning walks in the 5th, just across from Notre Dame:

This is Ile Saint Louis (left) and the road next to Hotel de Ville (right):


If you look at this picture and think, "No boat could fit under that bridge!," you're not too far off.


In case you need a reference, this is what the bridges usually look like:

Side by side, before and after:


Needless to say, there are no tourist or cargo boats plying the river at the moment. I see the occasional tree and furniture floating by, at a rapid pace.

The only boat I see on the Seine is a police boat -- low to the water level and, even then, choosing its path gingerly.

This big houseboat may look like it's about to try something stupid, but in fact, it's just tied up in the same place it normally is, at the edge of the quay. It's just that now, everything in the foreground of the picture, which would typically be cobblestone sidewalks, looks like more of the river.

During our first winter here, when Pippa was just six, there was a particularly rainy patch in the winter, and the river levels rose, though nothing like this. Crossing the bridge back to Ile St. Louis, where we were living at the time, she once asked with genuine concern, "If it keeps raining, will our island float away?"

Ha, ha! How adorable. Only it doesn't seem like such a joke now. Frankly, it really does look like the islands will float away. It seem like the bridges are under attack, with the water moving quicker than usual (I'm told 18 knots). The levels of the water are closer to the tops of the walls that serve as river banks than I would have ever imagined they could be.


Not only have all the quays disappeared, so have the river-side roads. They are so deep under, it's hard to tell they even were (are) roads. You can take the high road -- in fact, you have no choice -- but the road closures down below are making the traffic noticeably worse. So is the fact that the rains have also closed certain train and metro lines. And others are closed by ongoing strikes.


Besides the roads, the quays, the bridges, and the parks, the weather is also causing the disappearance of the Eiffel Tower, leading to about the only horizontal photos of the tower I've ever taken.

If you think I'm exaggerating, you should know that as I write the first draft of this, the Seine is 4.3m (that's around 15 feet) higher than usual. The Louvre and Musee d'Orsay are both closing so that they can evacuate artworks, mainly those stored in the basements. But that's not even the peak. Just 24 hours later, it's up to 6m. Supposedly, this is its highest point, and it should start to recede soon. Here is the same lamppost photographed 24 hours apart.

It does seem that the dam systems, put in place since the flood of the century in 1910 (when the Seine breached the banks), will prevent a repeat. If the blog continues after this, you can assume I haven't floated away.

THE CHEESE: Pavé du Tarn

Pavé du Tarn is an organic, raw goats' milk cheese from the Teotski Farm in Tarn, a department, in the region now called Languedoc-Roussiloon-Midi-Pyrenées.  The artisanal cheese is made from milk collected from local farms every morning, and then aged up to 15 days.

Pavé du Tarn is a classic, beautifully made goat cheese, with a gorgeous soft, silky texture. The flavor is bright, sunny, and tangy, without being harsh. It also comes in ashed varieties, which are a beautiful bluish gray.


The Tarn is a famous river, with a famous bridge over it.

 photo from: http://www.gettyimages.fr/detail/photo/parc-naturel-regional-des-grands-causses-millau-viaduct-by-photo/128510242
photo from: https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Viaduc_de_Millau

It would take a lot to flood the Tarn river valley right up to it, since it's way down in southern France in a gargantuan valley and is one of the highest bridges in the world. In fact, it's the tallest bridge in the world, with the highest summit at 343m above the base. And it's also the 17th highest bridge deck in the world, with 270m from the road to the ground beneath. Though Paris's bridges are, admittedly, nowhere near that tall, even my native Parisian friends are stunned by the Seine's current level and by how close the water is to the bridges. Nobody alive has ever seen anything like it.

The pavé that the cheese is named for refers to the cobblestone, like those that normally line the quays of the Seine, though you'll just have to take my word for it, since currently (pun intended) you can't see them underwater.


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