The flooding here in Paris is heavy with memories.
Whenever the Seine rises, Parisians think of the notorious flood of 1910, which not only saw the river overflowing nearby streets, but farther away sites, like the Saint Lazare train station or the Grands Boulevards. Iconic images of bygone residents getting around by rowboat float into our minds.
There is more that ties the current flood, which is supposed to reach its highest point tomorrow, to the one in 1910: the date. As I was researching this post, I was surprised to find out that the Seine was at its highest level on January 28, 1910 — what will be exactly 108 years ago.
The present-day flood also evokes other, more recent ones, like the one that happened in June 2016. It’s often referenced on the news when people are interviewed about preparations, how they’ve improved flood protection or plans for their businesses, and so on.
The June 2016 flood is tied to something personal for me. My mother had come to visit while my husband was away on a long trip. We were supposed to take a ride in a bateau-mouche, but the high water made that impossible. Still, we headed to the center of town to look out over bridges and see just how high the swirling brown water really was. Then, my mother walked easily beside me and my son. Her post-chemo hair was, I often told her teasingly but truthfully, like a sophisticated professor’s — short, curly, gray, and perfectly balanced by the long earrings she liked to wear.
Today, she sits in the home she shares with my brother, sister-in-law, and niece, sicker and weaker, recently out of the hospital again, her hair growing back after another procedure. We’re not standing together, staring at a flooded Parisian river, but surrounded by different sights, separated by an entire ocean.
This afternoon, I went to see the flooded Seine- this time with my son and my husband. The water level looked similar to what it was in June 2016, and according to reports, it is, more or less. The level of 1910, so legendary it’s inscribed in many places in Paris, is still unmatched.
Older now, my son was more impressed by the sight, and stared through the railings of the Pont d’Arcole at the rushing water not so far below.
Thoughts of my mother drifted to me from time to time, like the twigs or pieces of wood that occasionally floated unexpectedly over the smooth, rippling surface.
I held back tears. A river and an ocean are enough water for now.