Many Parisians don’t know their neighbours as life in the French capital is often an anonymous one. The majority of the population live in six storey buildings with no names on the apartment doorbells to indicate who lives inside. However, there are a few places where the residents can claim to live in contact with their neighbours like in a village and be close to nature.
Paris has about 150 berths for house boats located on the river Seine and they are highly sought after. Potential houseboat owners must be patient and sometimes have to wait up to 15 years to get a home on the water.
Designer Philippe Guyot lives with his family in Champs Elysees harbour and is well aware of how lucky he is. “My son was born on this boat and my partner grew up on it,” says Guyot who lives on the converted freight transport boat, the Djackoo.
The Djackoo is tied up with 46 other house boats close to the Place de la Concorde with a view of the Eiffel Tower. The boat is 80-years-old and some of the Djackoo’s neighbours are even older.
Hardly any of them ever move from their berth and most have spent decades tied up in the same spot on the Seine. “Each morning I get up to enjoy a unique view and life with nature,” says Guyot who cannot imagine living anywhere else.
Most of the houseboat owners have been living on the water since the 1970s, according to Guyot. At the time the big wish was to live “differently.” Residents include doctors, businessmen and architects.
“We’re living in a friendly atmosphere. If you decide to live on the Seine you have done so to get closer to nature.” But, without wanting to mention exact figures, Guyot also says living on the water is not cheap.
The harbour is about a kilometre long and can only used by houseboats. Residents appreciate the fact that the city authorities cannot change anything here. The reason their hands are tied is because the UNESCO world heritage title was given to the stretch of river bank between the Pont de Sully and Pont d’lena bridges in 1991.
The living space in the two Parisian canal harbours is slightly smaller but no less modest. Just in front of the Seine island of Saint Louis the canal divides with one arm heading into Arsenal harbour. Just like on the Seine, houseboat owners live side by side and have good contacts with their neighbours. The harbour is also right in the middle of Paris and yet the pace of life of much different.
There are 180 boats docked at the 500-metre-long pier close to Place Bastille. Most of the houseboats here are yachts that tie up for short, but regular, periods. A few are permanent fixtures that have been at the pier for over 10 years.
Jos Reinarz and his wife from Rotterdam have been renting a spot in Arsenal harbour for the winter months for the past three years.
Just like his father and grandfather before him, Reinarz was a captain on a ship on the river Rhine. It is no surprise to learn that he feels a strong connection with water and after he retired he built a yacht. Reinarz and his wife enjoy their cultural visits to Paris when they dock the Kairos in Arsenal harbour. During the summer months the couple take their yacht out to sea.
But the residents of Champs Elysees harbour are less impressed with life in Arsenal. Philippe Guyot would rather not say anything about it except: “There are no waves in the yacht harbour. That’s not a real life on water.”