Helping Hands

The flood created a strange kind of intimacy. Police and soldiers showed up unannounced at a stranger's door with supplies. Occupants of a rescue boat or a shelter suddenly became neighbors, and maybe great friends. Men carried women across a flooded stretch of water, bringing into contact bodies that would ordinarily never touch so directly--a soldier and a proper middle class woman, a servant and his wealthy mistress.

Men carried other men on their backs. People handed their children off to complete strangers, if only for a few minutes so that they could reach safety. Often there was no other choice. The work of rescue required bending some of the social boundaries that kept many Parisians separated by status or occupation.