Thursday, 10 January 2013

Sab's Paris Quirks & Curios: "Great Balls of Rats"

Sab's Paris Quirks & Curios
by Sab Will,  wannabe offbeat Paris street guru

The title says it all: quirks and curiosities. And as luck would have it, Paris is packed with them; you just have to know where to look!

In this on-going series I offer you some hand picked, photographed and commented oddities which particularly interested me, and I hope will do the same for you.

I'm an avid collector of such items so any comments and suggestions you may have would be very welcome. So, without further ado, let's get straight onto...

Sab's Paris Quirks & Curios
1st Arrondissement: Quirk 16 ~ "Great Balls of Rats"

Interpretations vary but there can be no doubt about it; on the side of the Saint-Germain-l'Auxerrois church, right next to the 1st arrondissement's cheekily similar town hall, is a seething ball of rats.

Not real ones, you understand, but real enough.

They are to be found under a sinister and snarling cat-like gargoyle and seem to be ravenously gnawing their way through, into or out of a globe - as I said, interpretations tend to vary.

The globe is thought to represent the world, and the rats to be synonymous with all its ills. For some reason there's a small cross atop the thing, perhaps signifying that the church is above it all or can carry us far from this squalor and will never be dragged down by it.

Rat balls are rare phenomena indeed, and there are only four in France, of which this is the only Parisian example, and highly obscure it is too. I bet if you asked the average Parisian about the Saint-Germain-l'Auxerrois boule aux rats you'd get more uneasy glances than enlightened recognition, so we're already ahead!

And if the church's reputation for bizarre imagery were in any doubt, those fears would be allayed by some of the other weird sights on the same wall.

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I'm including a final photo here below of what can only be described as a ram giving a piggyback to a giant eared frog whilst a litter of piglets suckle down below. Told you.

Wouldn't it be fascinating to be able to skip back to those times and experience first hand the rationale behind the creations and the reaction of the populace. What did they think of the rat ball? Were the proud of it? Horrified? Nonplussed? Blazé?

We'll never know, I'm afraid, but what we can be sure of is that the poor old rats had about the same reputation they do nowadays, and that a not very flattering one.

* 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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