STUDY Paris through the bridges and you have a mosaic of the city's history and architecture.

There are 35 bridges crossing the eight-mile span from one end of Paris to the other, starting at the Pont National upstream to the Pont du Garigliano, the last bridge as the river moves towards the sea.

[The number is 37 if you count the Boulevard Peripherique, the utilitarian highway that rings the city and crosses the river upstream at Charenton/Berey and downstream at Saint Cloud/Issy].

VIEWING them is like getting a lesson of architecture and history and romance.

Sometimes, when sleep eludes me in the dark hour before dawn, I make my way to the Pont de la Tournelle, the 400-foot bridge that links the IIe Saint-Louis to Paris's Left Bank.

I plant myself at its midpoint, face west and wait. Before me is the skeletal back of Notre Dame, shrouded in darkness.

I watch as the sky moves from blue black to deep blue to soft gray, then light blue. The delicate architectural details of the cathedral gradually reveal themselves, until finally, the early morning sun bathes them in warm orange blues.

The back-side of Notre-Dame is the creation of Eugene Emmanuel Viollet le-Duc, the young architect in charge of the cathedral's restoration in the 19th century. It looks nothing like grandiose main entrance, whose hundred of medieval stone carvings make it one of the most recognizable images of Paris around the world.

The view from behind it is different from what it was just a few months ago. During the great fire of April 15, the cathedral lost the spire that Viollet-le-Duc erected, and sections of the roof are hidden under protective scaffolding.

But the structure still shows its splendor at night, the flat, dark silhouette of its flying buttresses visible through the trees.

I am never alone when i come here. Sitting atop a tall, stark pylon on the southeastern bank of the bridge is the 1928 statue of St. Genevieve, the patron saint of Paris. The fifth century saint is portrayed as as a young woman, her hands on the shoulders of a child who represents the city.

During her life time, Genevieve predicted that Attila and his Mongol hordes would spare Paris massacre and destruction; after she was proved right, she was heralded as the savior of Paris. These days, she looks out on the water - and perhaps down on me - like a silent protector.

The Seine begins to awaken at dawn. The first barges of the morning move downstream. The river police begin their patrols in fast-moving inflatable boats. The garbage trucks rumble along the quays picking up the refuse from the revelry the night before. Dogs bark. Crows caw.

I have found on the Pont de la Tournelle a special place and time in which to make Paris my own.

All that contemplation whets my appetite, and from here, I walk along the quay to the Left Bank until I reach Le Depart Saint-Michel, a 24 hour cafe brasserie. A touristy place to avoid at lunch and dinner, it is a great place for people watching over an omelet and an espresso at an early rush hour and a fitting way to savor the magic of a Seine River bridge at dawn.

The Honor and Serving of the Latest Operational Research on Travelling & Sight Seeing great places, continues. The World Students Society thanks author Elaine Sciolino.


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