National Geographic : 2014 May
the seine 133 Boat over trouBled waters “The seine is the most beautiful avenue in Paris,” says eric Piel, the retired head of psychiatry for the hos- pitals of central Paris, who lives on the Orion. “I thought, Why shouldn’t others experience it, especially the mentally ill, who are the most excluded in everyday life?” He envisioned a floating psychiatric clinic: open yet protected. Doctors, nurses, and patients collaborated with an architect, and four years ago the Adamant—a structure with walls of glass—was launched. Pa- tients come for coffee, a snack, to confer with the medical staff, create art, or simply enjoy the view. From the first day aggression evaporated. Why? No one can explain, clinic director Jean- Paul Hazan says. “Perhaps,” suggests Jacqueline Simonnet, the head nurse, “it’s the rocking of the boat.” “Traditionally the psychiatric hospital was hidden away,” Hazan says. “You disappear be- hind locked doors. Here instead of closed, all is open. These are very sick patients, but there has been no violence.” He pauses. “I think it has changed us too, but I can’t say how.” Four mulberry trees on the quay mark the seasons. Yellow in fall, bare in winter, pale green in spring, dark green in summer. A cormorant swims by, hinting of nature’s grace. The river’s reflected light dapples the interior. The layout is open. The space, Simonnet says, is fluide. Glass erases the divide between inside and out. It also, metaphorically at least, blurs the boundary between them and us—between the marginalized mentally ill and the presumably normal. “We are all in the same boat,” Gérard Ronzatti, the architect who designed it, told me. Space, like water, is mutable, changing with the flow of time and events. “After the revolu- tion, many monasteries were used as jails,” he said quietly. “In the same space you can have freedom. Or confinement.” A building, a room, can confine or release, allowing the spirit to ex- pand into the space provided and beyond. In designing the floating clinic, Ronzatti opted for the latter. The Adamant is as beautiful and fluid as the river it floats on. j French kiss: Romance and the river converge on the Île de la Cité. The Pont des Arts is in the background.