Jeanne Koré Salvato

We had a famous Wordsworth professor who would say, “My glance fell upon such and such in a Wordsworth poem,” as his way of opening a lecture.  I would like to borrow his words to say that this morning my glance fell upon a book on my shelf called, How to Live or A Life of Montaigne, a biography by Sarah Bakewell.

I believe I owe something of my blog writing approach to this professor, because one’s glance falling upon something can lend itself to the subject in surprising ways.  I wanted to talk some about that famous river, La Seine. Now how can Montaigne help that?  He was born after all in 1533. One thing is this:  the Seine loops around, with something called meanders.  What if I meandered a bit myself ? 

The idea of meandering, of one’s glance falling on something, can be a whole digression unto itself.  I admit that I am now going around with my glance falling on things.  I glanced out the window at a very wide, very green tree.  And on the Cezanne print I love with a blue decanter and orange gourds taking up most of the foreground and some cypress trees sketched in at the back.  There must be a window in the painting there somewhere.

Where are we going with this glancing.  Are you glancing off a subject as yet to be named?

ME: Yes.

If I may answer the question, How to live, dear Reader, a large question, with one idea, which is to at least include travel.  And travel to France and visit the Seine.

Whew.  I thought you were going to get all philosophical.

We are not out of the woods yet, on that score.

Once we get to Paris, the book title might be extended to How to Live it Up, which is at least a subset of the larger question.  You may remember that French students have to come up with a version of a question they’re asked in writing a paper.  That version is called a problematique. The main question is, How to Live, and the student would ask a related question, How to Live it Up.  Now, the great fear is that the student would go off in the woods someplace in their thinking, and the teacher would write, hors sujet, which means off the subject.  Little do students realize that hors sujet is where things get interesting and fun. (Note: by that stage, interesting and fun are things of the past as seniors frantically try to get their baccalaureate.) So to live it up may be off topic for a discussion of how to live, but just maybe we have meandered into something!

Ah, living it up in Paris. We are on terra ferma.  Visiting museums, churches, café, restaurants.  Walking about.  These are things we don’t do so much on the home turf. Plus, there is an art to living it up that is not always easy.  Jay Leno, for example, went to the beach, settled in on his blanket, sighed deeply in relaxation, and spent a wonderful hour listening to the surf.  He looked at his watch.  Five minutes had passed.  Ha ha!

Yes, well, notice that you left something out, namely, the source of the Seine. There it is, the lovely river, wandering around the city of Paris, or the city wandering around it.  What do we know about the Seine? We tourists take a boat called Le Bateau Mouche, really to see the sites and not so much the river.  An Irish friend told me a story about a pair of Americans on said Bateau Mouche. One said to the other, “What do these French words mean?”  And her friend said, “I don’t know about “Bateau,” but “Mouche” definitely means “boat.” From Internet: “Bateaux Mouches translates literally as ‘fly boats’ (‘fly’ meaning the insect); however, the name arose because they were originally manufactured in boatyards situated in the Mouche area of Lyon. These boats are popular tourist attractions in Paris.”

How do you say it?
Rhymes with wren [Sen]
Brits say [sane] Please don’t.

Is the Seine a river?
No, it is a fleuve. If you look up fleuve in English, you learn it is a river. But, this is one of those times that French is more precise than English.  Here’s the French definition: « Le Fleuve est un cours d’eau important, long et au débit élevé, comptant de nombreux affluents et se jetant dans la mer. »  The fleuve is an important stream of water, which begins in an elevated position, and is composed of numerous tributaries and throws itself into the sea.”

Why does it meander?
A bit of geology from our friend Google:  “Incised or Entrenched Meanders are very deep and wide meanders that can be found cut in hard rocks. Entrenched meander normally occurs where there is a rapid cutting of the river bed such that the river does not erode the lateral sides.” Now the Seine is described as having semi-entrenched meanders, which are less defined.

How long is it?  483 miles

What’s in a name? 
The Romans called the Seine Sequana, expanded river trading dramatically, fortified the settlements along the river and built up the Gallic city of Lutetia, the ancient forerunner of today’s Paris. Sequana is a river nymph, maybe? Here’s Google: “The name Seine comes from Gaullish Sēquana, from the Celtic Gallo-Roman goddess of the river, as offerings for her were found at the source.” There is a sculpture of a river nymph there.

Here it is!

Where is the source of the Seine? 

Google: “The Seine emerges from the earth in a remote spot called Source-Seine, in the Burgundy wine region of northeastern France.” It is nineteen miles from Dijon.

Is it polluted?
Very.  Was. 

Are the Olympics going to be held with swimmers in it?
Yes.  I read that somebody was worried that the swimmer might grow a third arm.  My daughter, who grew up in France, laughed.  “We always thought the Seine was radioactive.”

Modern Uses
I just saw a clip on LinkedIn where the Seine is now being used to cool buildings.


Whenever visitors came to France, I wanted to make a bee-line with them to an English bookstore.  Eyes widened in disbelief.  So now, plan B.  Let’s go find the source of the Seine. 

That’s how to live and even how to live it up!

The vagabonds would like to cede their moment to Montaigne, with whom they (and their maker, Samuel Beckett) have a great affinity.  “I cannot keep my subject still,” he says, according to Ms Bakewell.  “It goes along befuddled and staggering with a natural drunkenness.” Good thing my glance fell upon this book, How to Live or A life of Montaigne. Kindred spirts.

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