Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Sab's Top Ten Perplexing Paris Pavement Plaques: No.4 ~ "Asterix, Par Toutatis"

POSTED IN:  ~ PlacesTop 10 ~ Pavement ~ Plaques

Sab's Top Ten Perplexing Paris Pavement Plaques
No.4: "Asterix, Par Toutatis" ~ Introduction 
by Sab Will,  wannabe offbeat Paris street guru

'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 Perplexing Paris Pavement Plaques series, I'd be delighted to hear about them!

Sab's Top Ten Perplexing Paris Pavement Plaques
No.4 ~ "Asterix, Par Toutatis!"

Some roads in Paris seems to have taken on a sort of parallel reality, with strange signs on lampposts and curious street names, and... incomprehensible plaques beneath our feet.

As I started writing this piece I suddenly thought: hang on a second, is that a drain cover I see before me, in which case shouldn't it be in my Top Ten Daring Paris Draincovers series? But then I had a closer look, and on the photo in any case I can't see signs of draininess of any kind, or any means of raising the thing, so to the best of my knowledge it truly is a perplexing pavement plaque of the purest kind.

And in contrast to my drain covers, which have generally been illicitly decorated by unknown street artists, this one is so 'official' it even has a shiny little plaque-on-a-plaque saying what it is.

What is it? It's a speech bubble from the Astérix et Obélix comic book 'Le Combat des Chefs', by the legendary pairing of Goscinny-Uderzo. Where can in be found? In Rue Goscinny in the 13th, of course!

The French are often quite on the ball when it comes to tributes to popular culture icons, with the main criterion being, nevertheless, that they be dead, which is certainly Goscinny's case, unfortunately.

It's a fine testimony to the stead in which the series is held that an entire street, albeit a minor one, has been dedicated to one of the series' co-authors.

The 'sanglier' is a wild boar, and the favourite feast meat of Obelix, the overweight, not particularly intelligent and hugely strong sidekick to Asterix himself. They are both members of an indomitable little tribe of Gauls holding off the invation of the Romans thanks to their ability to obtain superhuman strength by drinking a magic potion prepared by the village druid. The humour is also deliciously effective.

The books have been translated into many languages from all around the world, and lots of people, including myself, have used their familiarity and fondness for the characters to tackle French for the first time. That's not to say we get all the jokes at first, as there are a lot of puns and local references, as well as tongue-in-cheek national stereotypes, but all in a good-humoured way.

'Par toutatis' is an invented exclamation which, like the classic expression 'Ils sont fous, ces Romains!' (They're crazy, these Romans!), has entered common parlance, understood by all French people, as they grew up on Asterix comics and now movies and all the derivatives.



* 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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