Canal St Martin, Paris 2020

Like most people, you’ve probably asked yourself this question: “What do Napoleon Bonaparte and Amélie Poulain (the heroine of the Jean-Pierre Jeunet film Amélie) have in common?” The answer, of course, is this canal — the Canal Saint-Martin. Napoleon ordered it built and Amélie enjoyed skipping stones across it.

It’s not a particularly big canal; less than three miles long. While it was an important source of clean water and convenient for commerce in the 19th century, by the 1960s it was so little used that the city of Paris actually considered emptying it, filling it in, and paving it over to create a highway. Happily, they remembered they were Parisians and abandoned the idea. Nobody loves a highway; everybody loves a canal.

The Canal St. Martin. Impressionist Alfred Sisely painted it, the chanteuse Édith Piaf sang about it, the mystery novelist Georges Simenon set a murder in it, Amélie Poulain skipped stones across it. We’re glad Napoleon had it built, we’re glad Paris didn’t destroy it, and we’re glad David Pattinson photographed it.

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