Monday today and we know what that means, don’t we, kids? Yep. Everything is shut. So a walk along the river it would be.
The Garonne experiences floods every year with the river rising 3m every fifty years. Every 200 years, the water level rises by 9m.
Defences have been installed along the riverbanks over the centuries – high walls and flood gates – while the New Bridge (the one that took almost 100 years to finish) revolutionised Toulouse’s bridge building. It was the only bridge to survive a 200 year flood because of its design – arches and holes.
The only part of the river without a high wall is the district of St Cyprien on the Left Bank. Why? Well, it might obscure the view of the dome of the Chapel of Saint Joseph de la Grave and that’s the symbol of Toulouse – an essential part of the skyline… so… tough luck the population then.
I’m not saying that society’s priorities can be buggered up at times but… actually, yes I am.
It’s certainly not clear to me whether additional, alternative defences to raising the wall to 9m have been installed. If they have been, they’re not being shouted about. And while I’m not an engineer, a wander around St Cyprien this evening didn’t give me any sense that the buildings had been constructed in some flood proof way – I would never be able to tell just by looking at them but I didn’t notice any signage either.
Why this short rant?
On the 23 June 1875, the Garonne breached its banks and devastated the city of Toulouse. The district of St Cyprien bore the brunt of the rising water. 200 people died and more than 1,000 buildings were destroyed.
I guess we’ll see what happens in another 50 years.
And the source of the fuss? The Dome? La Grave was the chapel of La Grave Hospital. The hospital, and specifically its chapel, for centuries had been a symbol of refuge (or imprisonment as it had started as plague hospital in the 15th century). From the 17th Century it cared for the impoverished elderly, orphans, prostitutes and people who were viewed to be “deranged”. It was almost a version of Bedlam. As hospital care became secularised, the hospital became a major part of Toulouse medicine and for most of the 20th Century was one of the biggest maternity hospitals.
Further along the river is a group of islands.
On Ile du Ramier, one of the industrial islands on the Garonne, there are grand plans for creating a new park. This is part of a project of improving the land along the river for most of the last decade – creating greenspaces and walking/cycling routes.
For Ile du Ramier this will involve planting around 2,500 trees, restoring the area’s biodiversity and limiting the air and noise pollution created by traffic. Toulouse has just finished two underground metro lines and is pushing the development/improvement of its public transport infrastructure.
Project Life Green Heart (the name of this park development project) is part of a scheme to “re-green” the city, decarbonise transport and improve air quality. Its partner Project LIFE intends to reduce the average local urban temperature by 3°C.
The overall ambition is to create a truly circular economy that goes beyond only recyling. The plans for the island were put in place in 2018 and the project should be completed by 2030.
I headed into town to visit two recommended establishments. First, Flowers where the most delicious brie and marcelin quiche served with salad was followed by a chocolate and raspberry tart. Delicious.
However, I was a little shocked, to say the least, when I was charged extra for having milk in my tea. On a menu where the choice includes English Breakfast how can you not assume that milk automatically is included?
Fair enough, not in a green tea or a fruit tea and I completely acknowledge that it’s traditional for Earl Grey to be served with lemon but Darjeeling, Assam and English Breakfast, come on: milk! It was the closest I’ve ever come to culture shock.
To recover from this ordeal I headed over to the rooftop bar of the Lafayette Galleries – posh department store.
Over a glass of wine (or two) I sat in the sunshine and enjoyed the view over Toulouse’s rooftops. There are worse places to spend an afternoon
And then, as mentioned a few paragraphs ago, it was back to St Cyprien for a wander around the streets and dinner.
There’s a very bohemian feel to the district. I passed jazz dancing classes, a collective designing and making dresses and a bookshop-cafe or perhaps it was a cafe-bookshop.
In the last sunshine of the day, the atmosphere was relaxed and friendly. Families and friends were meeting in the squares… Toulouse is full of squares, usually with a fountain in the centre. It’s usually a central point for bars and cafes but even where there aren’t any, it’s rare that a square isn’t a gathering point.
Here, there were small children chasing eachother around the fountain while parents bought icecreams.
It may be October but it feels like endless Summer here.