National Geographic : 1972 Jul
Baggage-burdened Frenchman makes his way through Gare Montparnasse. The sleek railway and subway station is part of a pro gram to update and expand Paris's mass transit system. The subway opened in 1900. Today 16 lines form a 145-mile network. An express route now under construction will link western and eastern suburbs. Le Moine, and I recalled that someone had told me, not without a measure of exaggera tion, that the river was only 50 percent water. "Certainly the canal's polluted too, but the Seine's worse. These fish, they came from farther up the canal, and when they swam into the water of the river-fini!" Another canal serves as a highway through the city's northeastern outskirts: Scrap-iron dumps, junk heaps, foundries, glass factories, and oil tanks crowd the banks. I had a close look at these industrial sub urbs one day on Michel Bonnetain's barge. "Not for me," he said, as we passed fac tories and more factories. "The people work ing there can have their dinner only when a whistle blows or a bell rings. No, not for me. "I like the barge life," he continued. "It's a metier specialist; I learned it from my father, and he learned it from his father. I own this boat. I own my life." High Rents Trigger Migration I think that most Parisians have a sense of owning their lives, in a city that has always seemed impervious to change-but many believe that evil days are upon them. One feels a centrifugal force trying to pull the old Paris apart. With the aroma of coffee and Gauloise cig arettes lacing the air along a street near the Louvre,* I stopped one morning to chat with a street sweeper. He used a twig broom right out of the Middle Ages. "Where do you get the twigs?" I asked him. "From the trees in the Tuileries Gardens," he said. "One batch lasts for three days. Long er than some things last in Paris. I came from Tunisia. My family is still there. There is no place for them here because it is more and more difficult for the small man to live." I went, then, to the Rue du Cardinal Le moine in the Latin Quarter to see Daniel Jun qua, an assistant editor of a Paris newspaper. "Yes, it's true," he said. "Paris is losing its little people-the butcher, baker, and grocer. There used to be four grocery stores right around here. Now there's only one. Same thing's happening to the other little places where we get meat, bread, wine-anything. "They're all disappearing," he went on, "because the people who've always lived in this neighborhood cannot afford the rising rents, rents that have just about doubled *The June 1971 GEOGRAPHIC featured "The Louvre, France's Palace of the Arts." See also "Ile de la Cite, Birthplace of Paris," May 1968.