When I was in Paris back in May, one of my "must do" items was to go to a particular bridge across the Seine. It’s one that is seen near the center of a photograph I took from the top of the Eiffel Tower in 1993. The photograph remains among my favorites–black and white, taken with a pocket camera from the top platform of the tower by pushing myself right up against the anti-suicide mesh, with the lens of the camera poking through. I developed the film myself and painstakingly printed it on warm-toned fibre-based AGFA photo paper (back when I was an art school student at Concordia University). The print now hangs in my living room, and a scan of it is often the background image on my computer desktop.
The photograph is looking north-east, down towards the Siene. There’s a vacant lot down below, and the shadow of the tower slashes through the image. All around are the Haussmannesque boulevards and buildings of Paris. Just off-center there’s this one graceful bridge that always draws my eye.
So one day I woke up, had breakfast, and headed out in search of the bridge. I walked along the Quai des Grands Augustins on the left bank, past Isle Notre Dame and the quaiside booksellers. Past the Pont des Arts and the Institute de France. Along the Quai Anatole France and past the Musée d’Orsay. At the lavish Pont Alexandre III I paused and wondered if that was the bridge where they filmed the shootout scene early in the DeNiro film Ronin. I continued along to the Pont des Invalides, where I crossed the river to the right bank at Place du Canada, which turned out to be little more than an intersection with a small sign stuck into the ground that says "Place du Canada".
I continued along on the right bank to the next bridge, the Pont de l’Alma, where I discovered to my surprise the Princess Diana crash site, full of flowers, graffitti, and a small crowd of gawkers and hawkers. From there I could see that the next bridge was the one I was seeking.
When I got there I was surprised to see that it was actually quite shabby. A steel-girdered structure in bad need of a paint job, it was underwhelming. On the other hand, it was a pedestrian bridge, so it was very quiet up on the deck. There was a construction site on the other bank, which seemed to divert people away, so even though it was mid-day there were only two or three other people on the bridge, and eventually I was alone.
I grew rather fond of this mutt of a bridge, oddly named the Passerelle Debilly. It reminded me of the magnificent Seal Island Bridge back home on Cape Breton Island. That’s the bridge that started my fascination with these structures, years ago, when my family would go camping at Whycocomagh. From the back seat of the car I knew the bridge was coming up once we passed Boularderie East, and sure enough there it would be, the highest man-made structure I’d ever seen. Tall and gracefull it seemed like the most wonderful thing in the world and I longed to get out of the car and walk across the bridge but my parents would never let me.
That day in Paris, I could see the Eiffel Tower through the girders. I could barely make out the people on the top observation deck, where I had stood eight years earlier, looking in this direction. So I took a picture.