Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Sab's Top Ten Perplexing Paris Pavement Plaques: No.6 ~ "Pole Position"

POSTED IN:  ~ PlacesTop 10 ~ Pavement ~ Plaques

Sab's Top Ten Perplexing Paris Pavement Plaques
No.6: "Pole Position" ~ 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.6 ~ "Pole Position"

As a slight twist on my usual street level lurking perplexities, here's one that as it says is quite a bit further down. 21.1 metres below, no less.

However, whilst not quite qualifying as 'pavement' in the strictest sense of the word, it's certainly to be found underfoot, and for all I know under several feet, as the endless corridors and passages of Saint-Lazare lead us on interminable and intricately interwoven trails around the under-ground in the quest of making it from one line to another in less than ten minutes.

I'd love to see a diagram of all that tangled skein of tunnels; I reckon it would make the mess of computer cables behind my desk look like a couple of freezer bag tags.

This bright shiny thing to which I was inevitably attracted is part of the newish Line E of the RER and for reasons I've never quite understood they insist on calling the Saint-Lazare end a 'pôle'.

They use this term quite a lot in French actually, to refer to things like business centres and commercial areas around which, I suppose, activities and people are imagined to rotate. So be it.

The one we see above is one of several scattered around the fancy, if leaky, Line E terminus. I suppose, logically, there should be some more at the other end, which would presumably be Tournan or Chelles Gournay according to the map I'm looking at.

Having commuted out to Tournan for over a year I honestly can't remember any Pôle Tournan landmarks, but I wasn't looking for such things at the time, and as it is quite clearly way outside the official Paris city boundaries, and bearing in mind the name of this article and blog, I frankly don't care either way.

On a lighter note, and much as I love such initiatives, I can't help wondering what the point of these plaques is.

You'd almost certainly already know you were at Saint-Lazare station, so that's a bit redundant. Being aware of which way is north is, as I've already mentioned, one of the most useless pieces of information anyone could wish to have in these treacherously weaving and wending wormholes.

Realising you're on the 'passerelle intermédiaire', whatever that is, is also pretty meaningless and the only effect knowing I was that far below street level would have would be a slight queasiness.

Which leaves us with the fact that it's quite shiny. And a pole. And not being a difficult chap, that's good enough for me.

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Sab's TOP 10 PERPLEXING PARIS PAVEMENT PLAQUES ~

1) WHEN THEBES RISES ~ 2) CONCENTRIC GENIUS ~ 3) ROSE LINE RAMBLINGS
4) ASTERIX, PAR TOUTATIS! ~ 5) DEAD CENTRE OF PARIS ~ 6) POLE POSITION
7) COMING SOON ~ 8) COMING SOON ~ 9) COMING SOON
10) COMING SOON
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* 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!

Friday, 24 February 2012

Hitler Visits Paris in 1940: Rare Video

POSTED IN:  ~ Places History War

Hitler Visits Paris in 1940: Rare Video

In these heady election times as I type, it's worth reflecting how close France came to having a President Hitler smiling malevolently over her.

Very close, as these historic images chillingly testify.

I don't know about you, but my family snapshots with Lady Eiffel as backdrop just don't have the same sort of lasting power as these do.

There are two videos to discover here, if you don't know them already. The first has a soberly retrospective commentary in English describing the event.

"It has been my life's dream to see Paris"
~ Adolf Hitler after his three hour visit to the French capital

The You Tube channel TheHistoryTV also offers a very digestible written account of what happened which is well worth clicking through to if you're interested.

In Parisians: An Adventure History of Paris, which I reviewed here, Graham Robb devotes an entire chapter to the event as imagined by one of the protagonists, and the reading is uncomfortably compelling, as are the images you see in the videos.


The second video is a shorter, shakier, palely coloured version, with enigmatic and rather poignant music replacing words, and in a way it's the most powerful of the two.

Of all the places you can visit in Paris, knowing full well that countless legendary figures have stridden the same stones and sat in the same cafés and bars, I think the thought of Hitler gazing across to the Champs de Mars from the top of the Trocadero steps is the one that sends the biggest shiver down my spine.


Although as I type my Top 10 Paris Signs of War series only has two members, namely The Call Up and Woody War Veterans, I have at least ten in my mind just waiting for the window of opportunity to open.


Paris has the dubious distinction of having been occupied and revolutionised more than practically any other city without ever being outrightly destroyed. It seems to weave some sort of spell over its would be raptors like the song of the sirens in The Odyssey.

Hitler's preferred architect, Albert Speer, who accompanied the Führer on his surreal sightseeing tour, and who was to be charged with assuring Paris paled in comparison to the future Berlin, recalls the moment clearly...

"That same evening he received me once more in the small room in the peasant house. He was sitting alone at the table. Without more ado he declared:

'Draw up a decree in my name ordering full-scale resumption of work on the Berlin buildings... Wasn't Paris beautiful? But Berlin must be made far more beautiful. In the past I often considered whether we would not have to destroy Paris,' he continued with great calm, as if he were talking about the most natural thing in the world.

'But when we are finished in Berlin, Paris will only be a shadow. So why should we destroy it?'

With that, I was dismissed."




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* 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!

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Sab's Top Ten Paris Sidewalk Slogans: No.6 ~ "Hold Your Head Up"

POSTED IN:  ~ PlacesTop 10 ~ Slogans ~ Sidewalk

Sab's Top Ten  Paris Sidewalk Slogans
No.6) "Hold Your Head Up" ~ Introduction 
by Sab Will,  wannabe offbeat Paris street guru

In considering just how many 'Top 10s' I could drag out of the actual streets themselves, the more I thought about it, the more daunting a task it seemed.

In terms of what people are currently writing under our Parisian feet, there are artistic (and non-verbal) works, anarchic or political slogans, and more recently advertising from well-known high street brands. Not to mention lovelorn lads laying open their souls on the cold hard concrete; I'm thinking of the plethora of 'Alice je t'aime's which surround the Denfert Rochereau RER station, presumably on the daily route to work of Alice herself...

So, although I'm tempted to specialise my street top tens, I'm going to create one for all verbal expression for the time being and see how long it takes to reach double figures. Another shall be dedicated to less wordy expression. Eyes down: here we go!

Sab's Top Ten Paris Sidewalk Slogans
No.6) ~ "Hold Your Head Up"

OK, I realise that this on on the right isn't actually on a sidewalk, but it is on sidewalks all over Paris at the moment and I only just thought it was worth including in my Top 10 Paris Sidewalk Slogans when I saw this one, which, as it happens, isn't.

The reason I initially didn't think it was worth including was because it was always the same and struck me as just another corny, groany wannabe utopian leitmotif more than 40 too late for the '68 student 'uprising' and their 'sous les pavés la plage' (under the paving stones, the beach).

Then I started seeing them in places about the worst thing you could do would be to look at the sky, principally on zebra crossings and other hazardous traffic-rich situations.

Here is another example, and I think the joke must be on them here, because if we are being incited lift our gazes and our spirits above our mundane existence to a higher plane, this construction site crowned by an eyesore of a crane rather squishes the sentiment.

I've seen enough of them in less prosaic places where irony wasn't particularly rife to feel that they might smile themselves if reading this. Who knows. There is no signature and no hint to the sentiments behind those three words, regarde le ciel, (look at the sky) or the person who is plastering them all over Paris.

Maybe it's a new advertising campaign for Free, the new mobile phone operator, and they're suggesting we watch out just in case they manage to get their wobbly transmission signals sorted out at last. Or a new airline about to be launched. Or perhaps there's just a large pigeon population in the trees overhead and the message is purely utilitarian from a concerned citizen.

These are all conundrums I have yet to resolve but rest assured, your roving, permanently rickety-necked reporter will bring you the heads-up as soon as I have more to share. Along with a truly sidewalk-bound example of the above, although if I respect the enjoined injunction, it might take a while...

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Discover all my Paris sidewalk slogans... 

1) OPTICAL ILLUSIONS ~ 2) FLYING THIEVES ~ 3) DANGER TO THE RIGHT
4) JACK SPARROW IT ~ 5) REPUBLIQUE DES B... ~ 6) HOLD YOUR HEAD UP
7) COMING SOON ~ 8) COMING SOON ~ 9) COMING SOON
10) COMING SOON
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* 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!

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Classic Old Paris Map

POSTED IN:  ~ Places History Railways ~ Maps

Classic Old Map of Paris
from a book found here

A delightful find through unrepeatable circumstances (you know what surfing's like) and from a book, admittedly only a few decades old, but delightful nevertheless.

All the more so because its proximity to our days allows us to easily recognise most of what's there, while quickly spotting what hasn't yet appeared.

The most obvious edifices missing from this plan, from a book published in 1948, are the monumental Mitterand projects. Look as you may you won't find any indication of the Bibliothèque Nationale Française (the BNF, also known as the Bibliothèque François Mitterand), however had you look.

Nor will you find the Louvre Pyramid, or the future space-aged Science park up in the north-east of the city. What you do see up there, though, are the chilling Abattoirs Généraux: the Municipal Slaughterhouses.

And, of course, the controversial Centre Pompidou, the horrendous Tour Montparnasse and the scarcely less eyesore-inflicting Palais des Congrès at Porte Maillot are blissfully absent from the map.

My favourite part of this Nouveau Paris Monumental, however, is the wonderfully accurate and nostalgic trace of the old Petite Ceinture railway (the Little Belt) which used to encircle the city. Although long fallen into desuetude, it is in the throes of an admittedly difficult rebirth in the form of sections available to the public as nature walks or new parks, and parts of the adjacent land being turned into shared community gardens.

Two of my favourite vestiges of the old Paris circular railway are the dark, disused overhead bridges you often come across in the outlying arrondissements, and the deep railway cuttings you can often spot by looking over the edge of an unexpected bridge in the road and even in some of the city parks. It's easy to see where you will find all of these things by clicking to enlarge the map below and then heading out with your camera or notebook in hand in case a sudden nostalgic wave of inspiration hits you like, well, a runaway train. (You can find the top quality version of the Nouveau Paris Monumental map version, originally found at Trussel.com, on my Paris Set Me Free site here.)




(Click on the title page above for full details of this old book, no longer in print.)



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* 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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