Book Review - The Seine : That River That Made Paris by Elaine Sciolino.

Although I've written books about Paris or set there, I've never researched the Seine and so never knew some of the many things that Sciolino tells us :

That the ''team'' who lit Paris bridges, monuments and boulevards with surgical knives of illumination in the 1980s was led by a single genius, Francois Jousse.

That Paris spends more than $15 million a year on public lighting. That scores of people celebrate a fish festival every September on the island best known for Georges Seurat's masterpiece ''A Sunday on La Grand Jatte'' [the inspiration as well as for Stephen Sondheim's musical ''Sunday in the Park With George''].

That the coat of arms of Paris the image of a storm-tossed ship and the Latin words ''Fluctuat nec mergitur'' [''She is tossed on the waves but does not sink''] which became slogan of resistance after 130 people were killed in 2015 during the terrorist attacks on the Bataclan concert hall and other sites.

That the first Paris quay was constructed in 1312. That a monument near Rouen commemorates the transfer of Napoleon's ashes to a boat that carried them to their final resting place in Paris at Les Invalides.

That when Roman Catholics slaughtered Protestants in 1572 and dumped the bodies into the Seine, the river turned red with blood.

Sciolino tells us, almost incidentally, about the places that have claimed to be the source of the Seine; about the songs, movies, poems, and paintings devoted to the river; about the bridges and its history in World War II; and about the origins of the name Paris, Seine and Lutetta.

[The Parisii were the first permanent inhabitants of what is now the LIe de la Cite; the Seine is named after a pre-Christian healing godess, Sequana, and Lutetia, the Roman name of Paris. is perhaps a version of a Celtic phrase that means ''houses midstream.'']

Along the way, we learn that Sciolino has a husband of more than 30 years named Andy and, among other personal tidbits that she once wrote about pork belly futures as a reporter in Chicago.

But Sciolino is a true journalist, more interested in her subject than herself. She isn't snobbish and is as likely to cite Doris Day as Francis Poulenc, to learn from an old sailor as from a historian, to discuss the ''hedge warfare'' fought against the Germans in Normandy as to relay Napoleon's opinion of the steam engine [''a child's toy''].

I suppose everyone, French or foreigner, is predisposed to love Paris. Yet most Parisians scornfully reduce their lives to ''metro, boulot, dodo'' [subway, job, sleep]. Many tourists [especially the Japanese, apparently] suffer a form cultural shock called ''Paris syndrome,'' extreme disillusionment that can result in dizziness, hallucinations, a persecution complex, even vomiting.

People expect Paris to be romantic, dreamy, maybe friendly; the thousands of lovers' padlocks that were fastened to its bridges as a pledge of fidelity [before government ordered them sawed off] attest to these expectations.

Whereas New Yorkers reputedly will walk out of their way to help visitors find their destinations, a French study years ago revealed that when foreigners asked Parisians for directions a considerable number deliberately sent them the wrong way. That's considered funny in France.

In any event, most people love Paris, and deservedly so. They're awe -struck by its beauty, and marvel in its perfection of le luxe and recognize that its museums are among the very best in the world - and that its subways really do work.

The list is endless. As a well informed Parisian cultist, Elaine Sciolino has laid one more beautiful and amusing wreath on the altar of the City of Light.

The World Students Society thanks review author Edmund White.


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