'Don't look down', the saying goes. Well I'm about to ask you to do exactly that, not once but ten times.
Maybe you already have, as you've wandered the streets of Paris, wondering at all the wonders and occasionally tripping over something somewhat strange underfoot without knowing quite what it's about.
Readers of the Da Vinci Code, and the inevitable film, may well be familiar with at least one of the curious metal plaques you'll find lurking down there on the pavement, or the sidewalk as our US friends might prefer.
It turns out that there are quite a few of these things, and I don't mean quite a few copies of the same plaque; there are quite a few completely different metal plaques on the streets of Paris, each with its own story to tell. So let's see what's been under our very feet all this time without our even realising it. If you know of any others which would fit right in to my Top Ten Paris Pavement Plaques series, I'd be delighted to hear about them!
Sab's Top Ten Paris Pavement Plaques No.3 ~ "Rose Line Ramblings"
This mysterious metal plaque has been part of my Parc Montsouris quiz for a while now, and we rediscovered a couple of them in that same park on a beautifully sunny autumn walk just this weekend, but I digress. So, just what is this strange little disk which crops up in a strangely linear fashion about 135 times throughout, or rather across the city in a singularly one-dimensional fashion.
You might have seen one or two of these even if you've never been to Paris actually. Think a little... If you've seen The Da Vinci Code film, you'll remember Tom Hanks running wildly through the city looking for these things which are supposedly laid upon something called 'the Rose Line', along with the bit of brass in the Saint Sulpice church leading up to the Gnomon itself, but if you don't have the slightest clue what I'm talking of I appreciate that and will get on with this Perplexing Paris Plaques article!
The 'N' and the 'S' are probably not too difficult to work out; the other members of that set would be 'E' and 'W', which is probably not news to you ;~S
Because, of course, this fictitious line these plaques lie along is indeed a north to south meridian which used to denote zero hour and is also supposed to be punctuated by the genuinely intriguing mire du sud just a few metres hence in the aforementioned park and another such obelisk to be found in a private garden in Montmartre in the north of the city. Curiouser and curiouser.
There's even one of them right next to the Louvre pyramid - the big right-side up one - see if you can find it next time you're passing through the Cour Napoléon.
Who was this Arago anyway, you may well be asking, and by what right does he have his name cast under my feet 135 times as I wander the streets of this plaque-paved city.
François Arago was a 19th century astronomer, mathematician, physicist and politician. He was into all sorts of things actually, from the pressure of steam and the velocity of sound to the banning of naval flogging and the abolition of slavery in the French colonies.
The aspect of his work referred to inherently in these plaques, however, is his valuable studies relating to measuring the earth and longitude in particular. The plaques themselves are a work; the work of an artist; the Dutch artist Jan Dibbets.
Dibbets decided to distribute plaques exactly along the north-south Parisian meridian to honour the great man, whose original statue had been melted down by the Germans during the second world war. All that was left of it was a small pedestal on... Boulevard Arago.
As the base stood on the imagined line already the sculptor decided to eschew the request to reproduce the original statue and resolved to try something different. Hence what we can all have fun spotting all over town today. How many can you find?
~ Sab's TOP 10 PERPLEXING PARIS PAVEMENT PLAQUES ~
* Sab Will runsPhoto 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...