A slice of French life and for us, a chance to travel back in time and brush up on French vocabulary.

In this photo by Ilse Bing, a young French “écolier” (school boy) is playing along the “caniveau” (gutter) with a boat. Hard to date the capture, but this must have been taken before 1968.

Pourquoi?

That’s about the time French schoolchildren stopped wearing the ubiquitous “blouse” (pronounced [blues]} Grey, navy, or black, it meant to protect clothes from the rigors of school life.

Meanwhile, water rushing down a Parisian street is still a common sight in the French capital.

Every morning, “les agents de propreté” (city employees in charge of cleaning streets) turn on the water through the “plaque de fonte” (cast iron plate) you spot by the boy’s feet with a special key — and let the water run down the street.

It will take with it dirt, cigarette buds and debris accumulated the previous day and bring it all down to the sewers. Notice how the direction of the water gets controlled by “un boudin,” (an old rag, or rug often) that can be moved around.

Is this water “potable” (drinkable?) In Paris at least, it’s not.

It comes from a secondary network fueled by the Canal de l’Ourcq (19th arrondissement) and the Seine. That water gets treated in several locations in the city, including the Bassin de la Villette. It will “nettoyer” (clean) streets, “arroser” (water) gardens and parks, or “alimenter” (feed) artificial waterfalls and lakes through iconic Parisian locations like les Buttes Chaumont, le Parc Monceau, or Montsouris.

A Paris, plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

Véronique - France with Véro
Véronique of France with Véro

Véronique of France with Véro

Vero shares her homeland weekly on social media with virtual tours, photo essays, live events and other publications at France with Vero. Learn more.

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