Les pieds dans l’eau

Le zouave is not happy. Not only are his feet getting wet, he’s up to his culotte in the Seine, whose levels have risen to dangerously high levels this week after torrential rains causing flooding in Paris and nearby communities.

‘Le zouave’ is the statue of a North African soldier, erected by Napoleon in 1856 in commemoration of the victory at the battle of the Alma in Crimea. It seems the zouave holds a special place in the hearts and minds of Parisians. Located at base of the Pont de l’Alma, this brave fellow acts as a warning: when water levels rise high enough that his feet get wet, it does not bode well.

The Alma bridge gets a lot of attention. It is near the famous tunnel where Princess Diana died in 1997. Here it is, along with some other famous Paris bridges, in drone images of the flooding.

And here’s a graphic that shows various dates and water levels of the zouave for the history buffs and technical types. (Of which I am neither. I like the story part. The rest flows in and out of my brain like the Seine.)

‘Crues’ means floods; ‘pics’ are peaks. Note that the bridge was reconstructed in 1974, placing the zouave 80 cm higher.

If all goes well, water levels should go start going down in a few days. Unless we get more rain, that is. And it’s pouring this morning.

Those who live in Villeneuve St. Georges and other suburbs near Paris have entire neighbourhoods underwater. Many have been evacuated and those who are sticking it out are braving it with no electricity.

It’s also a problem for les péniches, the iconic houseboats and restaurants along the Seine. I would have thought that during a flood a boat was the safest place to be but it seems that when the river is too high, they can break their moorings and end up crashing into a bridge. Like the Alma.

Attention, Monsieur le zouave!


  1. phildange · February 1, 2018

    We can only hope the level will stop rising before the catastrophe . Yes “le zouave du pont de l’Alma” is famous in French mind (don’t know why exactly), to the point it appears in several popular songs as a familiar expression . Maybe you could specify that it was erected by the fake Napoleon, Napoleon III, the one Victor Hugo called “Napoleon le Petit” .

    • MELewis · February 1, 2018

      Oh dear, thanks for pointing out there was more than one Napoleon! 😉 History is really not my forté…and any mention I make of it here is at the risk of embarrassing myself. As for the zouave, I must have been living under a rock as this week was the first time I heard his name! Maybe all this time I thought they meant ‘suave’…

      • phildange · February 1, 2018

        I suspect you didn’t indulge in enough late evenings in French pals’ homes, speaking of all and nothing .. It is the only way, AFAIK, to have a chance to meet the mental background of a people..

  2. francetaste · February 1, 2018

    Some friends who had just been in Paris were saying it’s overblown, that the water in Paris is only along the river itself and that the rest of the city is normal. Not so elsewhere. And it’s only February 1!

    • MELewis · February 1, 2018

      Clearly it’s outside of Paris proper that the worst flooding is happening. People forget so easily that there is a whole country beyond the capital. I should have posted pics from Normandy, which I understand is getting the worst of it now. Let’s hope for a drier month in Feb — or colder temps that bring snow. (Although I know that’s not a popular wish around here, I am missing the light that the white stuff usually brings.)

  3. midihideaways · February 1, 2018

    Yikes – my thoughts go out to the poor people who have their homes flooded!

    • MELewis · February 1, 2018

      Me too! I have never lived through that but can only imagine how awful it must be….and to be damp and without heat in all this cold!

      • midihideaways · February 1, 2018

        There’s no escaping from water, it always finds a way…

  4. Kiki · February 1, 2018

    I thought it was higher from the photos I saw…. I also watched that vidéo when it was released and felt terrible for all the people in the vicinity, who, it has to be said, are suffering the consequences of Paris’ letting the ‘too much’ water flow unto their properties.

    We had the original stone wall of our property broken and ‘washed’ away. It’s blocking our street for 10 days already and the insurance company tells us it’s all our fault…. It’s certainly not as bad as being flooded in one’s home but it is ruining us anyway!

    • MELewis · February 1, 2018

      Our dear, sorry for your troubles! Not sure where you’re based but if it’s anywhere near the Seine you have my sympathy. Fingers crossed it gets taken care of by the insurance!

      • Kiki · February 1, 2018

        Hi Mel, no we are far enough from the Seine, in fact we’re JUST still on Ile-de-France BUT we won’t get a penny from the insurance as per the visit of the expert…. Trust them to take your money and not deliver afterwards! (Sd I sound a tad bitter, this may be the case, just today….)

      • Kiki · February 2, 2018

        Dear Mel; it is confirmed, we are the CULPRITS, only us…. it seems that in the 1930th when the town council (mairie, Gemeindebehörde) decided to enlargen the road, they also firmly placed the responsability for the stone wall in the hands of the owners …. Hero Husband has a meeting with a lawyer nxt wk but our hopes are less than nil. We just have to accept it, or get seriously depressed. And NOTHING IS WORTH THIS – IT’S ONLY MONEY – ESPECIALLY WHEN ONE DOESN’T HAVE IT! 🙂

      • MELewis · February 3, 2018

        Sorry to hear this, Kiki…the mysteries of legal responsibility defy all logic at times. You had no way of knowing this would happen, or that it would be your fault. You are right — it’s only money…not worth making yourself ill over it! Courage! x

    • coteetcampagne · February 1, 2018

      That’s just awful. We feel for you

      • Kiki · February 1, 2018

        Thank You!

    • Heide · February 1, 2018

      Oh no, Kiki! I’m so sorry to read your sad news. I’m angry at your insurance company for rejecting your claim but hope another program (municipal aid perhaps) will help you rebuild your stone wall.

      • Kiki · February 1, 2018

        Heide, it’s true – for now my moral touches base…. although of course this is NOTHING in comparison with the poor, poor ppl whose homes are flooded. It’s just not what we would have wished for right now…. but then it never is and I would have felt terrible if we had sold the house and the buyer would have been ‘punished’ with a wall falling down ….

      • Heide · February 1, 2018

        What a generous soul you are to consider the misfortune your buyer would have faced, had you sold the house! You are an admirable person, Kiki.

  5. Osyth · February 1, 2018

    I was in Paris last week and it was clear that the flooding was going to take a hold if the rains didn’t relent. They didn’t. I have friends whose homes were flooded two years ago in Britain and it is really a dreadful fate. They describe the smell after the water has left and the ruination of things that you wouldn’t even consider. Water, like all her sister elements is to be respected and when she unleashes the consequences are dreadful. My heart goes out to all those effected.

    • MELewis · February 1, 2018

      You are so right! Although I’ve never experienced flooding personally, I can only imagine the force that so much water has to damage and destroy. Some poor souls are living through this for the second time in less than 2 years! I wish I understood the politics behind why this happens and/or why places still get built in areas where it is known to be a risk.

  6. Heide · February 1, 2018

    Great post! As others have commented, my friends in Paris are giving the typical Gallic shrug and saying “no big deal,” but you’re so right to point out that others in France are being truly and seriously affected by the flood. I will encourage the aid organizations I support to take note.

  7. memoirsofahusk · February 2, 2018

    Goodness, saw pictures in the paper but didn’t realise how bad it was. But 1910 – crikey! Fingers crossed for some sun…

    • MELewis · February 2, 2018

      I think the levels are gradually coming down but yes. Quite the floods then and now!

  8. Kiki · February 2, 2018

    I’ve found a gr8 article in a BBC ‘newsletter’ (me thinks) with some really impressive photos – I don’t know if the French authorities were afraid to publish them – but thank you Beeps

    • MELewis · February 3, 2018

      Thank you, Kiki. A picture is definitely worth a thousand words!

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