12 July 2006

L'été à Lutèce

Piscine Joséphine-BakerIt could be my small-town naïveté, but I have never heard of anything like this. Paris has just inaugurated (slideshow) its 35th municipal public baths. Nothing too extraordinary in that, except that this swimming pool floats on the Seine. It's called the Piscine Joséphine Baker and is moored on the Left Bank, just opposite the Bibliothèque Françcois-Mitterrand. On board this floating marvel, in addition to a 10x25 metre swimming pool, one can also enjoy a pataugeoire, saunas, a jacuzzi, Turkish baths, a restaurant and snack bar and a fitness centre including weight room. There are also two solariums, one on board and one on the adjacent land, where people can relax and get a natural tan. If that weren't enough, it also has an eco-friendly ozone water treatment system that purifies the water from the Seine as it is pumped into and out of the pool. The facility will be operate daily, year round (the roof can be opened or closed in a matter of minutes), and will be open as late as midnight on certain days.

The construction took 18 months and cost 17 million euros. Bertrand Delanoë, the Socialist mayor of Paris, says that the most important thing about this realisation is that it enables all citizens to have access to what is beau and joli. I cannot imagine a publicly-funded project in this part of the world going ahead on that basis. The concept that beauty could somehow improve or enhance our lives and therefore be considered to be a legitimate aim of the state (i.e. if you're already going to build a swimming pool, you might as well put in a bit of
effort and make it interesting and not ugly) is completely and utterly foreign in these parts.

Passerelle Simone de BeauvoirThe Piscine Joséphine Baker is right next to the brand new Passerelle Simone de Beauvoir, an ultra-modern footbridge over the Seine that's due to open tomorrow. It's the 37th parisian bridge currently spanning the Seine and, according to The Independent, Paris continues to boast more river bridges than any other city in the world. Together, the floating pool and footbridge will form the centrepiece of this year's Paris Plages, which since 2002, through the reduction of traffic, the importation of huge quantities of sand and the organisation of numerous activites, has transformed the Right Bank Paris Plage 2004(and as of this year also the Left Bank) of the Seine into a beach-front holiday resort for those not fortunate enough to escape the capital during the summer holiday season. Of course one can access Paris Plages by métro, bus or boat, and there's even a boat service linking the different sites. It all sounds like too much fun. As the self-proclaimed River City of Canada, we should try something similar over here. It will never happen though. The mayor's too busy covering our urban parkland with condos.

As an aside, both Le Montieur and French Duck report that there used to be another floating swimming pool on the Seine called the Piscine Delign
y. The details are a bit sketchy, but it was apparently run as private enterprise and was bulit back in 1805. Depending upon who you believe, it sunk either on 8 July 1993, or sometime in 1995. Meanwhile, Delanoë has promised a second floating municipal pool, to be moored in the 15th arrondissement, just opposite André Citroën Park. It should be ready by 2010 at the latest.

I tell ya, it's a heck of a town. Can you imagine what sort of things they would be coming up with if they had actually been awarded the 2012 Olympics? The mind boggles...