Saturday, 19 January 2013

Sab's Paris Quirks & Curios: "Measured Approach"

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 19 ~ "Measured Approach"

On the wall of the Ministère de la Justice in the Place Vendôme is a curious thing.

There's only one other such oddity in the city as far as I am aware and it harks back to another era.

For attached to the left-hand wall, just below the window, is a metre.

Then defined as one ten-millionth of the meridian arc going from the North Pole to the equator, it was introduced in 1795 as a more serious-sounding replacement for the old toise and the pied (foot).

So that people could get familier with the new measurement, 16 marble 'standard' metres were installed around the city. Up until then people such as market traders and cloth sellers could easily divide by 2, 4, 8 and so on by folding a piece of cloth or string in half the desired number of times. But dividing by 10 was altogether a different matter, especially amongst a largely illiterate populace.

This one, not in its original position, dates back to 1796 or 1797 and is still in surprisingly good condition, considering the number of people who must have taken 'copies' of it by hacking bits of wood or cloth to size on its fragile surface. Or maybe that's not what happened.

The metre nowadays has another definition which I won't bore you with but which tries to use irreducible scientific constants, as opposed to, for example, the 'lump of stuff' which was for many years the actual definition of a kilogramme.

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The problem with that was that it got mouldy, or corroded or changed in some other way and couldn't be relied upon forever any more.

It would be interesting to know if this still accurately represents a metre as we know it today or if measurements, like the times, have been a-changing.

* 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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