One evening, a Parisian poet-friend invited me to walk along Canal St-Martin, where we met up with another fellow poet, an engaging eccentric who wrote me a verse on the spot. I wrote him one in return. I’ve lost touch with him, but I still have his poem.
A tour boat passing through one of the locks:
The 19th-century grisette haunts me. She’s the low-paid working woman: street vendor, factory worker, seamstress. Think Mimi from La Bohème. Some grisettes resorted to prostitution. It could be a hard life.
The type of the grisette could be molded to entertain a fantasy of “old Paris,” in which lower class women were viewed as being readily available as lover or literary inspiration. The 1911 statue La Grisette de 1830 near Canal St-Martin is, to be sure, a sentimentalized portrait.
Even so, her countenance betrays desperation, not the eternally cheerful muse that later generations made of her.
Bassin de la Villette
The largest artificial lake in Paris functioned as a reservoir.
Bassin de l’Arsenal
The underground part of Canal St-Martin flows into the marina of Bassin de l’Arsenal, which flows into the Seine. In the distance is the Colonne de Juillet at Place de la Bastille.