The Story Behind the Strangeness Part Three: Paris and Points South

Why Bother With Logic?

March 31, 2014By David JaggardC'est Ironique!
ParisUpdate charlimages-ironic
Strangely, this illustration by Charles Giai-Gischia doesn’t even go with this article. Wait — since we’ve said that, now it does. Visit his blog, Traits-Drôles, for a larger version and more drawings.

When I wrote part one and part two of this recurring feature in 2012, I thought that France in general and Paris in particular would yield a steady supply of strange phenomena for me to comment on, rather like the country’s endless stream of ill-advised English trade names, which have already given me nine articles. But here it is nearly two years later, and I’ve only just now accumulated enough samples of strangeness for a new installment. I find that strange.

But no matter — I take ’em as I find ’em. Like this pair of jeans that I found on the sidewalk one Sunday morning:

ParisUpdate 1JeansInStreet

What happened here? Rather than taken off, these trousers seem to have been whooshed off all at once while remaining in motion by themselves. They look like the semi-nude corpse of the Invisible Man.

Ruling out alien abduction, I see two possible explanations, both quite plausible in that neighborhood (near Rue Saint Denis):

1) A sudden and unanticipated promise of sex,

2) An even more sudden and even less anticipated threat of food poisoning.

If it was the latter (notice that I resisted the temptation to say, “If it was number two”), it’s unfortunate that this occurred on Rue du Vertbois in Paris and not on Avenue de Verdun in Nice, where the person who jumped out of those jeans could have hotfooted it into a public toilet. And not just any public toilet:

ParisUpdate 2Albert1PublicToilets

The city of Nice already had a park and a grand hotel named after the venerable Prince Albert I of Monaco, but apparently someone decided that he deserved one more namesake. Nothing fancy. Doesn’t have to be, like, a monument or anything…

Note to puerile American pranksters: yes, they have Prince Albert in (or on) a can. Yes, we all thought of it, too.

Speaking of dignified memorials, in Paris I always look at the plaques on buildings that commemorate their illustrious former inhabitants. The list of famous figures who once lived here is long and sometimes surprising, covering the spectrum from the sociopathically violent, like Pol Pot, to the sociopathically peaceful, like Khalil Gibran (whose plaque is on Avenue de Maine), to the somewhere in between but still sociopathic, like Richard Wagner (plaques on both Rue Jacob and Rue d’Aumale).

There seem to be set rules about this, probably spelled out in a city ordinance. As I understand it, to get your name emblazoned on a visible hunk of Parisian architecture you have to be:

1) Famous, and

2) Dead.

Which is why, when I first moved here, I noted with interest an inscription on a building near the Panthéon. It’s gone now (for a good reason), and I don’t recall the honoree’s name (for another good reason), but I remember in the 1980s seeing a plaque on Rue Saint Jacques that said something like, “The American painter and sculptor Hugh G. Goatrip has lived in this building since 1974.”

I happen to know a thing or two about art, and one of those two things is that I had never heard of this guy, which made me wonder how he had got a plaque. Then I noticed that the object in question was way up on the second floor, rather than at street level like most historical markers. And very near a window. And a little crooked.

Hmmm. A sculpted slab of stone in homage to an unknown living sculptor right outside what is most likely that same sculptor’s apartment. How in the world did that get there?

Maybe he was hoping to launch a career as a plaque maker. If he succeeded, maybe he made this one on Rue des Saints-Pères, which also seems to defy the rules:

ParisUpdate 3RemyDeGourmont

At first glance it looks like they’re saying that Monsieur de Gourmont was born in 1898 and died in 1915, which of course raises the question: what the H-E-double-baguettes did a 17-year-old do to merit a plaque? Invent the armpit fart?

For readers who suffer from an unwholesome need for facts, the real explanation is this: Remy de Gourmont was a poet who was born in 1858 and moved into that building at age 40. He didn’t invent the armpit fart until he was nearly 60.

Speaking of strange dates, first glances and hasty conclusions, I recently spent a weekend in the flagrantly enchanting southern town of Uzès and noticed this inscription over the entrance of the city hall:

ParisUpdate 4UzesHotelDeVille2
Thanks to reader Jim Hutchinson for sending me the photo.

At first I thought the building was completed in 1717 and that the city fathers, possibly after consulting the Mayan calendar, were expecting something momentous and quite probably apocalyptic to happen in 7272. But then I saw this house a few blocks away:

ParisUpdate 5Uzes1-1Door

You know those people who are never content to say something just once? Who have to say everything at least twice? Who, no matter what they’re trying to say, say it again right away as though you didn’t get it the first time? Who can’t seem to stop themselves from making the same point over and over with slightly different wording? You know people like that? Well now you know where they come from.

And now we know that the Uzès Hôtel de Ville was built in 1772. But we don’t know what the owner of this boat in the marina of Antibes is trying to tell us:

ParisUpdate 6ToSold

Is this boat for sale? Or sold? And if so, how sold? Too sold? Too bad, because someone might had want to bought it.

Speaking of properties that are hard to sell, have a look at this place on Rue La Fayette in Paris:

ParisUpdate 7GhostBuilding

A classic Parisian apartment building, except that all the windows are curtainless, lightless and caked with grime. Or broken:

ParisUpdate 8GhostBuildingWindows

Actually, there’s no mystery here: the building is as phony as a dating site profile and as hollow as a post-first-date promise to call — it’s an enormous ventilation duct for the RER suburban train network (as shown in this aerial shot), and the transit authority either built or preserved the facade so as not to disrupt the street’s visual harmony. And then let it fall into decay and ruin, thus disrupting the street’s visual harmony.

Fun detail: no doubt inspired by the apparent lack of security (there’s no intercom or access code keypad), some very perceptive thief has tried to pry open the door:


ParisUpdate 9GhostBuildingLock

I guess it’s not breaking and entering if there’s hardly anything to break and nowhere to enter. As that would-be felon didn’t notice but no doubt soon learned, the whole structure is basically just a giant chimney behind a shell about two feet thick. But I like to think that it’s a branch office of this place:

ParisUpdate 10InvitationToLife

Let’s see here: you call your company (or association or whatever) “Invitation to Life” and then limit your opening times to five hours on Monday and three hours on Friday. So what are we all “invited” to do the rest of the time? Hibernate? Play Russian roulette?

My theory is that Invitation à la Vie is a lobbying group trying to get France to further increase workers’ vacation time. I can get behind that: eight hours of work per week — man, that’s livin’!

Have you seen something inexplicable in Paris, or anywhere in France? Send a photo (or at least a detailed description) to Paris Update and I’ll try to explain “The Story Behind the Strangeness.”


© 2014 Paris Update


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