The Flats

IMG_5406“The Flats.”  It’s been the name for the heavy industrial area around the Cuyahoga River, next to downtown Cleveland, since time immemorial.

“The Flats.”  The moniker is apt.  The topography is low and level, perfect for unloading barges and freighters and running railroad track to haul the ore and coal and other raw materials off to Lorain and Youngstown, Akron and Dayton.

IMG_5410It once must have been an extraordinary, crowded bustling place, one of the engines of the American industrial age, chock full of shouting men and whistles, pallets being hoisted into the sky and swung wide, carts and rail cars rolling ponderously past, pellets and cinders and smoke and dust.

“The Flats.”  It’s an area that has been squashed and crushed by countless heavy loads and heavy machines.  Now it’s been left prostrate and depressed by economic forces beyond its control, empty and desolate on a Sunday afternoon, with only seagulls circling overhead, crying out to the scudding clouds.

The Flats.  It’s still there, with its many special bridges that lift far above the water to allow the freighters to glide slowly by, its rusting railroad spurs, its loading areas and piles of slag and cracked, weedy concrete and brick and highway overpasses that loom far overhead.  It served before, and it could serve again.

If you want to get a sense of how the wheels of commerce turned back at the turn of the 20th century and how things have changed since those long ago days, the Flats is a good place to visit.IMG_5412

Cincinnati’s Roebling Suspension Bridge

Among other things, Cincinnati can boast of a very cool suspension bridge:  the John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge that crosses the Ohio River between downtown Cincinnati and Covington, Kentucky.

Roebling designed the bridge, which opened in 1867.  His name may be familiar, because he also designed the Brooklyn Bridge.  At the time Roebling finished his span across the Ohio River, it was the longest suspension bridge in the world.

The Roebling Suspension Bridge is a beautiful, elegant part of downtown Cincinnati, with its graceful lines and gold-topped stone arches that have been darkened by time.  Unfortunately, it’s not easy to get to the bridge.  You have to cross a highway, pass the Great American Ballpark and the Underground Railroad Museum, navigate some construction sites and vacant parking lots, and keep an eye out for sketchy-looking characters.  Although we made it to the bridge, we couldn’t figure out how to get down to the banks of the Ohio River itself.

For an historic river town, Cincinnati doesn’t really do much to make the Ohio River an accessible part of its downtown area.

The Graceful Beauty Of A Colossal Bridge

In my stroll through the Flats area of Cleveland early Wednesday morning, I was struck by this view of the shoreway bridge spanning the Cuyahoga River and the gravel yards and industrial facilities along the riverbed.  The bridge, which has been painted bright blue, is a gigantic construct when viewed from below, but it nevertheless has a kind of graceful, spidery beauty as it curves away into the distance far overhead.

Bridges and other well-designed forms of municipal infrastructure can be as artistic and lovely as the most high-priced piece of public art.

Love Locks

The view from the Pont des Arts toward the Ile de la Cite

The Pont des Arts is a wood-slatted pedestrian bridge across the Seine with a short chain-link fence and hand rail on each side.  It runs from the Louvre on the right bank to the Institute de France on the left bank and offers a splendid view of the tip of the Ile de la Cite.  It is a peaceful pleasure to stroll across this simple bridge, without having to hear traffic rushing past as is the case with other bridges across the river.

As Richard and I walked across the Pont des Arts today, I realized that there were thousands of locks attached to the chain-link fencing.  When I examined them more closely, I saw that they were locks of all shapes and sizes and colors — padlocks, bicycle chain locks, bar locks, and combination locks — and on each lock a couple had written their names.  Apparently the tradition is that the couple puts their names on a lock, affixes the lock to the fence, and then throws the key into the water, so that their names and the memories of their trip remain part of Paris forever.

It’s a cool tradition — and probably a smart one for the Paris tourist industry, too, because I imagine many couples return to Paris several years later to see whether their lock is still on the bridge.  Richard says there is a similar “love lock” bridge in Italy.

I don’t think this bridge existed when Kish and I visited Paris in in 1992.  In any case, we never got a chance to put a lock on the bridge.  Skipper, we will have to come and put our lock on the Pont des Arts someday soon!

At The Water’s Edge

Paris started as a city on an island in the middle of the Seine River, and the river has always been important part of the city and its charms.

Our view from the tip of the Ile St. Louis

Richard and I have taken several walks along the river banks.  You get a wonderful perspective on the city from the water’s edge.  In those areas where there are quays along the water, you find many people sitting, picknicking, and lounging, dangling their feet over the edge and enjoying a sunny spring day.  (Surprisingly to us Americans, where prospective tort liability has caused the landscape to be littered with fences, barricades, and warning signs, there are no railings at the water’s edge.)

Although there are some working boats on the river, the water traffic is mostly tourist boats that make several stops on the journey from the Ile St. Louis to the Eiffel Tower.

The quays also are a good way to get from point A to point B quickly and pleasantly.  Richard and I made very good time walking from the Ile de la Cite to the Musee d’Orsay along the waterfront.  If you walk along the quays, you avoid the traffic light at crossing streets and you don’t encounter nearly as many fellow walkers.  You also see things that other might miss — like the classic carved heads that line the underside of one of the older bridges crossing the Seine.