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World

Parisians Go For A Swim

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Paris opened a city canal for swimming this summer. And the mayor of Paris is testing the water, so to speak. She hopes the city can eventually open up swimming areas in the River Seine in time for the 2024 Olympics. NPR's Joanna Kakissis sent us this postcard from Paris.

(SOUNDBITE OF WATER SPLASHING)

ZAK BALLENGER: I am Zak.

ALISON BALLENGER: I am Alison.

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: Eight-year-old Zak Ballenger and his 5-year-old sister Alison are doing something they've never done in Paris. They're swimming in a canal. Paris recently opened the canal to swimmers for the first time in recent memory.

(SOUNDBITE OF WATER SPLASHING)

KAKISSIS: Zak dives into the cold, murky water. His mom, Celina Ballenger, is floating inside.

CELINA BALLENGER: We can't go on holiday this year, so we've come here because we can't go out of Paris.

KAKISSIS: American Jenna Bachman from Denver is running low on money after a month in the city with her young son.

JENNA BACHMAN: There's no access to a beach that's very close, so it just makes it really convenient. And it's free, so it doesn't get any better than that.

KAKISSIS: And 28-year-old teacher Kagni Drame says swimming here makes the city feel...

KAGNI DRAME: More breathable, more livable. And it's like you're not in Paris when you're here. You're, you know, at the sea shore or something like that.

KAKISSIS: Lifeguard Jean-Francois Dumont says canal swimming is good for Paris.

JEAN-FRANCOIS DUMONT: (Through interpreter) It gives Paris an image of being a bit less polluted, that it's more green. It took a long time to treat and clean the water.

KAKISSIS: City officials monitor the water every day and closed the canal pools briefly after finding abnormal levels of bacteria, yet the swimmers returned in force when the pools re-opened.

ANNE HIDALGO: (Speaking French).

KAKISSIS: Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo told reporters that she has long dreamed of opening the city's canals to swimming and hopes to do the same with the Seine in time for the Olympics. It's been illegal to swim in the Seine since 1923 because of the water quality and river traffic. And a man drowned after jumping in this June. Freezing. Parisian Julie Pacaud has tried swimming in the river.

JULIE PACAUD: (Through interpreter) There are a lot of places where the current is really strong, so it's a lot more complicated than canal swimming. And anyway, five minutes after we jumped in, the river patrol came.

(SOUNDBITE OF WHISTLE)

KAKISSIS: Photographer Bart Koetsier says he's OK with jumping into the canal pool for now.

BART KOETSIER: Me? I swim every day in the indoor pools. And I just noticed this week this was available, so I'm really, really happy for this.

KAKISSIS: But if those swimming pools open in the Seine, he says he'll be the first to jump in. Joanna Kakissis, NPR News, Paris.

(SOUNDBITE OF EL TEN ELEVEN'S "MY ONLY SWERVING") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.