Life on the Seine

A message from Life co-author, Helen Stephenson
I went to Paris with my school. It was my first trip abroad and my first trip to a big city. I remember the River Seine very clearly. It was a big part of the “Paris experience”, together with Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower, the famous shops and, of course, French food!

We’re in Paris, on the Île de la Cité, in front of the Cathedral of Notre Dame next to the River Seine. This is point zero. The distances from Paris to all parts of France are measured from here. And at the heart of Paris is the Seine. ‘For Parisians the Seine is the way to know where you are in Paris,’ says the art historian Marina Ferretti.

I love my boat
One day 34 years ago, Claude Tharreau was walking along the Seine looking for an apartment to buy when he saw the Cathare: a 70-foot-long boat built in 1902 and for sale. It was Sunday. On Wednesday he bought the boat. ‘Afterwards I noticed it was a boat with no electricity or water,’ he says. He has lived on it since then. It’s one of the 199 houseboats in Paris.

Instant beach
The beach-on-the-Seine was the idea of Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoë. Every summer, the road on the Right Bank of the river is closed for four weeks. The project manager Damien Masset lists the ingredients for an instant beach: 5,500 tons of sand, 250 blue umbrellas, 350 deck chairs, 800 chairs, 250 loungers, 200 tables, four ice-cream sellers, eight cafés, 250 people to build the beach and 450 people to work there.

River rules
It’s a hot summer day. You can see the heat rising from the road. The river looks cool. ‘Can you swim in the Seine?’ I ask the head of police Sandrine Berjot. ‘Non,’ she says. ’38 euros.’ That’s the fine for swimming. ‘What about your feet?’ ‘No, you can’t put your feet in.’ Here are some other things you can’t do: go waterskiing or tie your boat around a tree with rope. And if you see  a person in the water you mustn’t jump in. You must call the police. This is serious: the fine for jumping in may be 75,000 euros and five years in jail.

The river
All kinds of objects float in the water: plastic toys, balloons, cigarettes, empty bottles. They float past the famous architecture of Paris and the river changes all the time. The painters Claude Monet and Henri Matisse had studios on the river. In their paintings we can see the changing and dancing light on the river.

houseboat (n)  a boat that people live on permanently
deck chair (n) a type of chair that folds. Used outside.
lounger (n) a type of chair you can lie on. Used outside.


cool (adj) a bit cold, but nice
danger (n) if you are in danger, it is possible that something bad will happen
empty (adj) with nothing inside
fine (n) money you must pay if you break a law or rule
historian (n) someone who knows a lot about history
ingredient (n) a thing you need to make something
painting (n) a picture made with paint
Parisian (n) a person who lives in Paris
studio (n) a place where an artist works
toy (n) a thing you play with

Listen to a recording of the text: 

Reading comprehension: 

Read the article and choose the correct option.

1. Which statement is true?
Parisians don’t know the Seine very well.
The river is an important part of Parisian life.
The Seine is cleaner now than it was in the past.

2. Which statement is true?
The river goes around the outside of Paris.
The Seine is changing all the time.
You can do different water sports on the river.

Read the article again and choose the correct option.

3. According to the first paragraph ...
distances to places in France are counted from the Île de la Cité.
the Seine goes through the centre of France.
you can get to all parts of France on the Seine.

4. What did Claude Tharreau want to do?
buy a place to live
find a place to work
go on a trip on the river

5. What is the Cathare?
a houseboat
an apartment
an area next to the river

6. The Cathare ...
didn't have electricity.
wasn’t for sale.
was built 34 years ago.

7. According to the third paragraph ...
beaches are built at different places along the river.
both sides of the Seine become a beach.
Parisians can enjoy a month on an artificial beach.

8. Which statement is true?
You can only swim from the beach.
You can’t go waterskiing on the Seine.
You mustn’t jump in the river.

9. If you see a person with problems in the river, you should ...
go in a boat to the person.
jump into the river.
tell the police.

10. According to the final paragraph, Monet and Matisse ...
painted Parisian architecture.
painted the river.
shared a studio.