Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Sab's Top Ten Perplexing Paris Pavement Plaques: No.10 ~ "Stop That Train!"

POSTED IN:  ~ PlacesTop 10 ~ Pavement ~ Plaques

Sab's Top Ten Perplexing Paris Pavement Plaques
No.10: "Stop That Train!" ~ 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.10 ~ "Stop That Train!"

Recently I showed you a whole bunch of poetic plaques elsewhere in this series, but in terms of pure visual poetry, you can't get much better than this current offering: it's solid steaming poetry in motion if you ask me, and one of my all time favourite Paris plaques, if not The One!

Almost imperceptible against the grand backdrop of a north-eastern city train terminus, it took me a fair while and, I'm afraid to admit it, a request at the info counter before I finally tracked it down.

As one of the photos shows below, it's totally modest in scale, and is easy to miss as you hurry on your way into Paris or, presumably, to catch your train to Strasbourg if the plaque is to be believed.

It marks the start of the Paris to Strasbourg line, as it says, and symbolically states that it is at 'kilometre 0' on that route. Another central city plaque in this series, the one outside Notre-Dame de Paris, does the same thing with respect to distances measured to and from Paris.

Gare de l'Est has a sinister legacy, however, and this is evidenced by other plaques on the walls of a couple of the platforms. For it was here that thousands of French were bundled off to Germany, the concentration camps and the gas chambers. Their zero kilometre, in fact.

Why then is this one of my favourites, you may ask. I think it's the train and the romance of travel and the evocative properties of steam. The picture's marvellous. And the plaque itself is a beautiful goldy-bronze colour with its octagonal form playing foil to the station clock way up over our heads, also eight-sided.

In theory all the other Paris mainline termini, Gare du Nord, Saint-Lazare, Montparnasse, Austerlitz and Gare de Lyon (with Bercy) could have such plaques, but I don't think they do, which makes it unique. And there's nothing more special than unique, now is there?



* 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...

© 2012 Sab Will / Paris Set Me Free - Suggestions, questions, requests and offers always welcome!

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