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A pool on Paris' banks of the Seine: the closest you'll get to taking a swim in the river?
A pool on Paris' banks of the Seine: the closest you'll get to taking a swim in the river?
Martine Valo

PARIS - The event was supposed to start on September 2 at 7 a.m. at the Josephine Baker swimming pool in Paris, on the banks of the Seine River. More than 3000 participants had signed up to take part in the swim that would take them up the Seine to the André-Citroën Park, west of the city.

But a few days before the race, Paris’ Prefecture of Police suddenly cancelled the event. “There is something quite brutal about this decision, and its reasons are unclear,” laments Laurent Neuville from Paris Swim, the race’s organizer. “Our idea was to reinstate an event that was very popular at the beginning of the 20th century; we had been working on it since December 2011. There are thousands of similar races in London, Amsterdam, New York… Swimming down a river like the Seine, which has many access points leading to its banks, is safer than swimming across the Bosphorus, isn’t it?”

The Police Prefecture claims to have held several “inter-service meetings” before making its decision. The navigation on the Seine River -- which would have been affected during four days -- was one of the main issues. The Prefecture then turned towards the Regional Health Agency (ARS). The agency judged the event too risky for the health of the participants, stating that the quality of the water was still too low for swimming, despite recent improvements. If the Prefecture let the Paris triathlon take place in July, it was only because it had not received the ARS notice in time.

The event organizers tested the water underneath Bir Hakeim Bridge on August 9 and showed the Prefecture their results -- which were in line with sanitary standards -- but the Prefecture wouldn’t budge. Will we ever be able to take a swim in the Seine River? The Prefecture’s answer is “no” and says their refusal is a “a principled position” that will apply to all similar requests.

This shows how polluted the water must be. How bad is it by the way? Don’t expect the ARS to tell you: while taking a swim in the river is forbidden in Paris, the Seine River’s water quality is not as closely monitored as France’s most touristic rivers, like the Dordogne or the Lot in southwestern France. And since the Seine’s water is never tested … swimming is very likely to remain forbidden.

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Coronavirus

Chinese Students' "Absurd" Protest Against COVID Lockdowns: Public Crawling

While street demonstrations have spread in China to protest the strict Zero-COVID regulations, some Chinese university students have taken up public acts of crawling to show what extended harsh lockdowns are doing to their mental state.

​Screenshot of a video showing Chinese students crawling on a soccer pitch

Screenshot of a video showing Chinese students crawling

Shuyue Chen

Since last Friday, the world has watched a wave of street protests have taken place across China as frustration against extended lockdowns reached a boiling point. But even before protesters took to the streets, Chinese university students had begun a public demonstration that challenges and shames the state's zero-COVID rules in a different way: public displays of crawling, as a kind of absurdist expression of their repressed anger under three years of strict pandemic control.

Xin’s heart was beating fast as her knees reached the ground. It was her first time joining the strange scene at the university sports field, so she put on her hat and face mask to cover her identity.

Kneeling down, with her forearms supporting her body from the ground, Xin started crawling with three other girls as a group, within a larger demonstration of other small groups. As they crawled on, she felt the sense of fear and embarrassment start to disappear. It was replaced by a liberating sense of joy, which had been absent in her life as a university student in lockdown for so long.

Yes, crawling in public has become a popular activity among Chinese university students recently. There have been posters and videos of "volunteer crawling" across universities in China. At first, it was for the sake of "fun." Xin, like many who participated, thought it was a "cult-like ritual" in the beginning, but she changed her mind. "You don't care about anything when crawling, not thinking about the reason why, what the consequences are. You just enjoy it."

The reality out there for Chinese university students has been grim. For Xin, her university started daily COVID-19 testing in November, and deliveries, including food, are banned. Apart from the school gate, all exits have been padlock sealed.

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