'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.7 ~ "Poetic Foot Fodder"
"He enveloped the child in the thick fur of a mountain hare"
Someone, somewhere in this great city must love plaques almost as much as I do. And at the BNF they've somehow got permission to let their imaginations, and those of many others, run rampant, and not before time either.
I didn't actually count them, but judging from the average density, and the size of the platforms, the walls and the staircases, I'd say there must be coming on for forty, all told, scattered around the floor and fortifications of this remarkable new train station.
And what is the point of these plaques? Well, I've been hinting at that already! They're quotations, from some of France's greatest poets and thinkers. And jolly inspiring they are too.
The most curious thing of all, though, as a casual observation of your surroundings as you stand on the platform waiting for the next ghost train, is that for the most part they seem to go utterly unremarked, although they are far from unremarkable. As far as I know, this is the only Paris station which has undertaken this initiative.
And on a cold, miserable evening, when all you want to do is get back home and warm, the uplifting thoughts of the literary greats is just what you need.
As a sometime wannabe poet, it's when you read short quotations like these that you start a-thinkin'. First of all, you are bowled over by the beauty and succinctness of many of the lines. And secondly you can't help but think, yes, but it's only eleven simple words, of the sort I might say (individually) every day.
Why does he get a plaque in the brand new Paris train station and I don't. It's funny, and I definitely see the smile-inducing side of it. And in the end I always defer and genuflect to the one simple reality of creativity, whether you like someone else's efforts or not; they did it, and you didn't. And that in itself makes it worthy of consideration, at least, and maybe admiration if they've found something with enough universal appeal and originality. (And I like starting sentences with 'And', in case you hadn't noticed...)
Honestly, the guy or gal who conceived this must really have a poet's romantic soul; there's even a blank plaque for us to imagine our own favourite or original snippets as we stand there shivering. Or maybe they just ran out of time. Or tools. Or quotes. Maybe that's it. Maybe that's all the good quotes there are from French literature and poetry and thinkers, down the ages, as they contemplated life, the universe and everything in all its meaningless glory: 40; and they realised they'd made one plaque too many and didn't want to waste it. In English we have at least 42, right?
Either that, or it's a sign for us wannabe scribes, telling us, it's ok, there's still plenty of word combinations left out there in the ether just waiting to be plucked and put together to make our fellow humans' chests heave and hearts pound - go get 'em Floyd!
That's a nice thought, so I think I'll stick with it. At the risk of exposing my sensitive side - note that these guys didn't have a choice, they're dead one and all - I'm imagining what, if anything, that I've ever written could humbly fit on that one virgin disc, assuring my Parisian immortality. Let's see...
So if, whatsisname, Pouchkine, - hang on, wasn't he a Russian president or something, or was that Rasputin. Putin, it's confusing, all this... - anyway, if Pouchkine can get away with The forests clothed in gold with scarlet stains, their shadow where rustles a wind which freshens the breath... (approximative) then I think I could have a plaque which equally honours one of the wonders of Parisian nature:
So there you are. If there was a poetic equivalent to the Hollywood Walk of Fame, they'd be preparing the terrain for a new incumbent, I'm sure you agree...
Oh, I'm sorry - you're not reading Paris If You Please just for the bare facts are you? Ooops! Wrong blog if that's the case. Here I let it all hang out from time to time so be ready; be Very Ready. I'll be back with more intriguing Paris sidewalk silver soon. Eyes down!
By the way, if you genuinely can't get enough of my poetry, then you can download some collections on Amazon for a very reasonable sum ( €2.99 / $3.99 / £2.49 ) by clicking the book covers below which will help keep my Paris chronicling efforts alive, thank you very much.
There are 32 poems and 32 of my Paris street photographs in each volume, readable on all eBook devices, Kindles, PCs, Macs, iAnythings, BlackBerrys, Android, Windows Phone... and rest assured, the content is altogether darker and more adult than the jokey ones above. Let me know what you think. The two volumes below include a lot of my best work to date. Until the next time then, have a plaquing good day ;~Sab
P.S. If anyone wants to know what fate held for Priapic Pigeon, go here...
~ 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...