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I'm Swimming in the Seine (well almost...)

Updated: Jul 10, 2020

Back in 2016 we accidentally invented urban guerrilla fountain swimming in Paris, following the cancellation of a race in the Seine.



It’s not every day that you find yourself in a Paris fountain performing a comedy water ballet routine in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, watched by crowds of international tourists. But this is a protest. And while the many Parisian protests down the centuries have taken place in the squares and boulevards of this historic city, ours is taking place in the Trocadero Fountains. And we may just have invented urban guerrilla swimming along the way!


To understand why we felt the need to storm the fountains of Paris, we need to rewind to a few days earlier when we first discovered that a unique swim down the River Seine we had entered, had been cancelled by the overzealous Parisian authorities. In recent years, several swims have been resurrected along the rivers of some beautiful cities, from Amsterdam to Copenhagen and New York to Hong Kong and Paris was set to be the latest.



We were incredibly shocked to discover that just a few days before we were due to travel to France, that the swim had been cancelled.

River races were once popular in Paris, but pollution prevented both fish and humans from enjoying the waters of the Seine for almost sixty years. Things started to improve back in the 1980s, when Jacques Chirac as then Mayor of Paris, promised to clean up the watery artery of the city and to swim in it himself when this was finally achieved. There is no evidence he ever actually took the plunge before going down for embezzlement, but at least the water is cleaner. There are now at least 33 varieties of fish in the Seine compared to just 3 in 1975, while it is believed the water is now as clean as it was 150 years ago.



With this in mind, myself and a group of ‘wild swimming’ friends were incredibly excited to hear that the Paris swim was being resurrected, especially as we would be passing some iconic landmarks like the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre and Notre Dame. We’d also be swimming under all the famous bridges, including Pont Marie, Pont Neuf, Pont des Arts and Pont Alexandre III.


And with this in mind, we were incredibly shocked to discover that just a few days before we were due to travel to France, that the swim had been cancelled. The authorities apparently had concerns about both water quality and the disruption of boat traffic, even though the swimming leg of a triathlon had taken place in the very same waters just a couple of weeks earlier. Merde!


So, we decided to take things into our own hands by organising a protest swim! If we can’t take the Seine (there is rather a large fine if you get caught) we would take the fountains!.Viva la Revolution!

A petition by the 5000 swimmers who were travelling from all over the world fell on deaf ears, leaving us with planes and hotels booked, but with nowhere to swim. So, we decided to take things into our own hands by organising a protest swim! If we can’t take the Seine (there is rather a large fine if you get caught) we would take the fountains. Viva la Revolution!



Image © 2020 Henrique Ferreira


We started to put a plan together in our rather wonderful hotel, The Pullman Paris Montparnasse, which is an upmarket hotel in the heart of the historical, commercial and cultural Left Bank district. The likes of Lenin, Trotsky, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Eliot and Matisse once hung out in the cafes of this area, so at least we were continuing a noble tradition of creative thinking.


A word of advice…never arrange to meet anyone under the Eiffel Tower. Eight million tourists visit it every year, making it the most popular tourist attraction in Europe and an almost impossible place to find anyone, even if they are wearing union jack swim hats.

We would meet under to Eiffel Tower at 10am, wearing union jack swim hats (and in my case a tutu) and practise our routine. Then keeping a look out for Gendarmes, we would jump in the fountains, while my long-suffering boyfriend Aaron filmed it so we could send it to the swim organisers to register our protest and to prove they hadn’t dampened our spirits!



Some sort of disturbance under the Eiffel Tower caused all the police to head in that direction, providing us with an unexpected window of opportunity.

A word of advice…never arrange to meet anyone under the Eiffel Tower. Eight million tourists visit it every year, making it the most popular tourist attraction in Europe and an almost impossible place to find anyone, even if they are wearing union jack swim hats. That said, after quite a few laps, we finally bumped into Queenie and Lala, who would be my water ballet buddies. More people had said they were coming online, but we later found out they were victims of a late night drinking session in a Parisian bar.


Some sort of disturbance under the Eiffel Tower caused all the police to head in that direction, providing us with an unexpected window of opportunity. Within seconds of getting into the frigid fountain waters, a crowd of people had started forming including my Mum (she must be so proud) and Queenie’s partner Kate. Our synchronised swimming won’t win any medals at the next Olympics – although if they finally do let men enter, sign me up. However, we did have a huge amount of fun, including the point where our cameraman Aaron got completely drenched (and almost colonially irrigated) when one of the fountains unexpectedly turned on.



After a victory drink, it was then time to do some proper tourism, kicking off with a boat trip down the Seine to enjoy views of those iconic sights we had missed. We hopped aboard Bateaux Parisiens which leaves just in front of the Eiffel Tower for a wonderful one hour sightseeing cruise with commentary. Paris is definitely one of those cities that is best seen from the water and the romance of the bridges, architecture and friends and couples enjoying glasses of wine on the banks in the sunshine in undeniable.


Another top tip is to grab yourself a Museum Pass which gets you free entry to over 60 museums and galleries across the city without queuing. That includes some must-see tourist attractions including the Arc de Triomphe, the Louvre and Notre Dame. My love of the film Amélie also meant a pilgrimage up to the charming district of Montmartre, perched 1,400 feet above the city, with suitably romantic views.


Image © 2020 Alice Donovan Rouse

When all is said and done, how could we possibly hold a grudge against gay Paris for a cancelled swim when it offers complimentary views like this to accompany your glass of vin rouge?

The area was once separate village to the main city and as such didn’t incur the same high taxes on wine and spirits. As such it started to attract the starving artists of the day, like Dali, Picasso and Monet, who would frequent the likes of Le Chat Noir, the Lapin Agile and the Moulin Rouge. The winding streets still reveal some charming cafes, ideal for watching the sun set over what looks like an intricate model of this beautiful city glittering below us.


When all is said and done, how could we possibly hold a grudge against gay Paris for a cancelled swim when it offers complimentary views like this to accompany your glass of vin rouge? So we did our bit for Anglo-French relations, forgiving the city with a toast. And as the bottles started to evaporate, we started planning our next urban guerrilla swim™. Where would it be? The Trevi Fountain? Trafalgar Square? The Bellagio? Watch this space…


Here's a video of our adventures!



Images © 2020 Aaron Kitts, unless otherwise stated.