The Canal Saint-Martin was built by Napoleon to bring fresh water to a Paris plagued with dysentery and cholera. For 100 years it also served as a shortcut for shipping into the city, bringing in grain and building materials for a rapidly expanding 19th century Paris. Though it seems to me to be an essential part of Paris, its building was funded in a seemingly non-Parisian way: a tax on wine.
Today, the canal is used mostly by students who crowd both banks each evening to drink and smoke and flirt and watch people go by. And, a short walk from our apartment, its also become part of our daily life. Molly and I will read there in the morning, walk along its banks to the Parc du Villette or sit along the water and eat doner kebabs for dinner. We’ve seen everything from Simpsons-themed costume parties to romantic evenings to awkward first dates occur on the concrete walls of the canal, watching as we often do, from the steep bridges that serve as a vantage point.
The canal goes below ground from near the Plaza Republique down to the Bastille, but the parks and greenspace above it are as widely used as the areas north where the water is visible. Playgrounds stretch for blocks where kids run around between the small gated areas and then near the Bastille there’s a large covered farmers market that is open daily during the summer with fish, vegetables, fruit and meat.
Still, even though we walk along the canal every day, Amelie is what comes to mind the most when I think of the Canal Saint-Martin and its series of locks. It was here that she skipped rocks, feel deep into her head and escaped the real world.