Saturday, 15 October 2011

Sab's Top Ten Paris Signs of War: No.2 ~ "Woody War Veterans"

POSTED IN:  ~ PlacesTop 10 ~ War ~ Signs

Sab's Top Ten  Paris Signs of War
No.2: "Woody War Veterans" ~ Introduction 
by Sab Will,  wannabe offbeat Paris street guru

'Fluctuat nec mergitur' is a motto you'll find carved and crenelated widely around this fair city.

It's Latin for something along the lines of 'Is shaken by the waves but does not sink'. Which is perfectly representative of the history of Paris through the ages.

Paris has been attacked many times but, unlike  many great cities, has never really been 'destroyed'. You can read 2000 years' worth of history in these speckled stones and more, but that doesn't mean the current capital has escaped unscathed.

Far from it, in fact, but you need to know where to look, and indeed feel like looking, in order to unearth the real signs, the lasting scars, which are witness to what these streets and stones have endured down the centuries.

'Signs of war' is my chosen theme for this particular 'Top Ten', but it's a top ten of sadness and suffering, as well as simple historical interest, which serves as an essential reminder of what has gone before. Unsung, forgotten heroes fighting to save or instaure what we take for granted today call to us from the plaques and paving stones of the streets.

Sometimes, perhaps no less tragically, the signs are simply a testimonial to the heights and depths the human spirit and its attendant stupidity or immaturity can attain, as we scrabble towards some sort of mutually acceptable sanity in this world of inequality and mutual incomprehension.

Let's look at a bunch of buildings and battle signs to focus our minds on something tangible for a bit...

Sab's Top Ten Paris Signs of War
No.2 ~ "Woody War Veterans"

Like the mists of time slowly softening and confusing the facts, I can't quite remember where I learnt about this particularly poignant Paris sign of war.

We lament the loses of violent conflict, for obvious reasons, but less often do we think of other types of collateral damage, such as that inflicted upon plants, animals and even the buildings which bear silent witness to man's latest excesses.

Some of you may recognise where this is, but some of you may not, for these rather battered immigrants are only brought out in summer, over-wintering indoors, as their tropical constitution demands.

Oh how cute... look! Someone's carved a lovably lop-sided little heart into this old palm tree.

Except that it's probably not very green to go carving up nature these days. If you tried carving up these particular trees you'd probably end up spending a long time in an unfriendly police cell and paying a large fine, and, well, the real story isn't as lovely as all that.

We're looking at World War 1 veterans here folks. If they weren't an intrinsic part of the Jardin de Luxembourg's estival scene they'd be propping up the ward walls at Les Invalides, which was specially built for looking after those incapacitated in the call of duty.

Imagine shrapnel flying out from a hundred grenades or heavy artillery fire ripping through these pour souls as the machine guns bark. That's what we're seeing here, and similar reminders of Paris' poignant past can be seen on scores of walls all around the central part of the city, which I'll show you in another Signs of War posting.

Of the eight brave survivors, I counted three or four who had suffered similar gouging.

So spare a thought for those who perished in the first and second world wars on your sunny Sunday stroll, and remember, the past is never very far behind you in this neck of the woods. Or Paris ain't always a beach, if you prefer...


Discover all my Paris signs of war... 


* Sab Will runs Photo and Curios Tours in Paris, and also manages a variety of Paris and photography-themed sites and blogs. He writes an illustrated Paris Chronicle every day, runs a Meetup group for Paris lovers, interviews Paris personalities and reviews Paris books (on this blog), and even contributes to the city's street art (shh), so feel free to browse some of the links below and in the right-hand column to find out more about what he gets up to out there...

© 2011 Sab Will / Paris Set Me Free - Suggestions, questions, requests and offers always welcome!

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