June 2018. It was dusk in Paris. I joined the scores of people who sat along the banks of the Seine on the Quai de la Tournelle. Notre-Dame on the Île de la Cité bared its photogenic backsides to all. A Batobus slipped under the Pont d l’Archeveche. Its passengers waved at us and took photos. A few of my riverbank mates waved back. On a pleasant Parisian summer evening, everyone and everything was part of a postcard-worthy backdrop for selfies.
I always spent the last night of my visits to Paris on the same spot. Inasmuch as visiting the Jardin du Luxembourg steadied my bearings upon arrival, lingering along the Seine behind Notre-Dame relieved my melancholia before leaving. The swift currents bid adieu to the heart of Paris sans sentimentality. I could count on the river to drain my emotions about Paris that could sometimes rise to the point of being mawkish.
I’m always an American tourist in Paris – one reared on afternoon matinees of old film classics as a kid in the Philippines. The technicolor images of Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron slow-dancing to a Gershwin tune flashed non-stop in my memory each time I sat on one of the benches at the Port de la Tournelle. But, as if on cue, the music from a party boat nearby would jolt me out of my reverie.
When the floodlights illuminate the buttresses of Notre-Dame at nightfall, the quay transforms into party central. Ten years ago, young professionals in business attire queued to get on a boat for a fête thrown by the accounting firm KPMG. This evening, a hefty gentleman inspected the backpacks of a t-shirt-and-jeans crowd boarding a party barge leased by a paintball park. The difference highlighted a shift in who’s in and who’s out in the new economy.
A fun time was briefly interrupted by four gendarmes with their fingers on the triggers of assault rifles. They strolled along the quay, scanning the line of party-goers and riverbank watchers. Times have changed indeed when the sight of men in camouflage brought sighs of relief instead of hints of trouble.
Just as the party was about to heat up, I abandoned my post. I would’ve lingered longer in the past. But the gendarmes’ constant presence was beginning to unnerve me. I rued this change. A long glance at Notre-Dame reassured me, however, that some things would stay the same. She would be there when I returned.
After a ritual last look at the windows of the iconic Shakespeare and Company bookshop nearby, I was ready to leave Paris, depositing my last bits of sentiment along the banks of the Seine. À la prochaine (See you later).