27 June 2009

Le Pont des Arts

Originally build in the early 19th century at which time it was the first metal bridge in Paris, the Pont des Arts’ smooth, sparse arches span the Seine from the Louvre to an important looking building that will never be l’hotel de la Monnaie [the mint] no matter how many times I claim it is.

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

The subject of a George Brassens song, Le Vent, the Pont des Arts is classic, timeless, Parisian.

But at night, the bridge comes alive in a less savory way. Teenagers and college students of all nationalities flock its uncomfortable wooden slats for nighttime debauchery. Although it is mostly a popular spot for lycéens [high-school students] and lacks the authenticity of the Canal St. Martin and the class of the quays of the Seine, the crowded and tawdry bridge can still be a lot of fun.

I first visited the Pont des Arts under unusual and random circumstances back in November. You’ll remember the Chinese photography student named Marshall – with his too-skinny legs in his too-skinny jeans and his broken glasses taped together, seemingly par hazard but probably done just so to concoct and idealized artsy imagine – with whom Hannah had, bien sûr, made friends at the European Film Festival. When the last film of the night had been cancelled, Rebecca and I (somewhat reluctantly) and Hannah (inherently less so) took up Marshall’s offer of free entertainment for the evening. We ended up on the Pont des Arts drinking mini Kronenbourg bottles that Marshall had provided while he captured video for some sort of photography-related art project. It was an altogether bizarre but enjoyable evening that introduced us to the Pont des Arts camaraderie (I distinctly remember the blonde-haired, pink-cheeked French youth innocently offering up his white Dixie cup as he requested a bit of beer).

It seems only appropriate that my second and final encounter with Pont-des-Arts nightlife arrived on my final Saturday night in Paris. The experience occurred equally by hazard. I had spent an absolutely wonderful Saturday with friends. The day began at the Champs-Elysees stamp market (featured in Charade) where Rachel and I spent altogether too much money on old postcards. After lunch at Rachel’s place, as rain began to fall, the skies cleared and we met up with Rebecca and Amy for a lazy afternoon at a Marais café. Berthillon ice cream and a stroll along the quays of the Ile-St-Louis concluded the evening. We headed back to Rebecca’s place where she cooked us a lovely Frenchified American dinner. Stuffed and satisfied, we decided to venture back outside for a nocturnal stroll.

That is when, on a whim, we stopped chez Ed, the local épicier [grocer] – this time, we had to supply our own Kronenbourg – deciding to do the trashy American thing and join the crowds on the Pont des Arts. Rachel objected of course, but there was no stopping us. Why not enjoy such a warm summer’s eve among the drunken masses? The girl who puked mere feet before our original resting place on the bridge provided an adequate counterpoint, but we settled in elsewhere and managed to have a good night (plus, what Parisian night is not complete without a little public vomiting?).

With laptops, boom boxes, guitars and other instruments filling the air with the sounds of summer, we settled in to listen and observe. I particularly enjoyed a raucous version of the Cranberry’s “Zombie” and the mother who had brought her young daughter out to dance with the drunken guitarists. We applauded the cunning of Red Cross volunteers who swarmed the bridge looking for donations. We debated once again the function of that domed building that was not la Monnaie. We guessed and remarked upon who was American and who was not picking up multitude accents and languages. And I simply felt a part of something, there on the packed wooden slats.

There among something so un-American, so seemingly clandestine, four quiet, unassuming American girls sat, watched and listened, taking in for one of the last times (at least for me) the carefree breeziness of a Parisian night.

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