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IN BRIEF

Nonfiction

July 17, 1994|DICK RORABACK

THE SECRET LIFE OF THE SEINE by Mort Rosenblum. (Addison-Wesley: $12; 290 pp.) The title is arbitrary. It could have been "The Secret Life of Mort Rosenblum's Houseboat"--its valves, its neighbors, its overhauls, its disappearing cat, its encounters with mind-blowing flotsam, its expense. In the main, though, it's about the Seine, hardly the world's most alluring river but one of its best loved. Rosenblum is a lover, the latest of a long line of lovers from the ancient Romans, who worshiped at her source, through Monet ("The Impressionists revered light, and she personified it"), to the clochards --the bums--who sleep under her bridges: "We feel more at home here. One's dreams have more distinction."

So forgive the author his highly personal take, generous and quirky. Rather, applaud it. The Seine itself is a highly personal river, generous, too, in its way, and very, very quirky. Wail with Rosenblum as he blots up the river's unspeakable filth. (Elsewhere, one asks a fisherman how they're biting. Here, it's "Are you going to eat that? " Smile with him (a lot, in this book) at the Abbey of St. Wandrille, still functioning after 12 centuries, whose monks wear beepers under their cassocks; at the mysterious Seine-side address where "Hugo took a few hits" but "Balzac didn't inhale."

But never, never commiserate with Rosenblum, a correspondent for the AP and former editor of the Paris Trib, when he tells you how tough and expensive it is to live on a houseboat in the Seine. It's a ruse. He's got it made, and he's made us all wildly jealous. Next time you're in Paris, drop in on him. Serve him right for spilling the beans.

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