'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.9 ~ "Once A River Ran Through It"
Oh how poignant and telling these plaques and that title is.
"ancien lit de LA BIEVRE"
Once a river ran through it. And throughout the 5th, and the 13th, and Gentilly, and so on and so forth.
The references, explicit and implicit, of the passing of this ancient tributary to the Seine, sadly today no more, are everywhere. Most explicitly, it has to be said, in the manifestation of the numerous plaques marking its... passing.
We've got the Rue de Bièvre which heads down like an arrow to the Seine. There are the street artists who call themselves Lez'art de la Bièvre and their excellent collaborative works. There's numerous bars, restaurants and assorted watering holes profitting from the name. And there's the valley itself, of course, coz rivers have valleys, you know, and even something of a municipal council, or at least a rough conglomerate of local authorities, not to mention sports facilities and other associations and organisations grouping themselves under this communal moniker.
But this isn't a history of the Bièvre river. As ever it's a story of my intrepid plaque uncovering, or discovering, more accurately speaking.
And these ones, and plenty of them, just when I thought I'd found them all, were an exceedingly pleasant adjunction to an already richly fulfilling day, as I wandered around the 13th scouring for stuff to show our 30+ walkers signed up for this Sunday's stroll through this most enlightening of arrondissements.
What's even better, apart from the superb centrepiece plaque shown above, is that there are numerous others, round ones, of two distinct flavours - a Paris plaque-hunter's Eldorado-cum-early, I can tell you.
ancien lit means 'old bed' or ancient route of the river. But, as you can see here, there was a 'lively branch' (bras vif) and a 'dead branch' (bras mort)!
I used to live on a bras mort of the Seine, so believe you me I know what I'm talking about here, and boy, was it mort! Rush hour was the odd rower splishing by or an occasional misplaced cruiser wondering what on earth it had got itself into. The Monet-esque view from the cabin porthole made up for it though (through the spiders' webs) I guess, but I digress...
Digressing is fine, though, when you don't have any more to say, and I'll leave it at that for today, and recommend you seek out these plaques for yourself and imagine this river, sadly destined to flush our detritus, literally, down the drain, sparkling splendidly (at least until Gentilly before it hit the dying mills) in the nervous nineteenth century sun.
If the confluence of this ancient tributary, my modest tribute and the contribution of your presence is worth something, then I'll have succeeded somewhere... downstream.
~ 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...