There is a LOT to do in Paris, and as one the world’s greatest cities, you’ve probably heard of many of them. The great monuments stare at each other from across great boulevards, the museums are the size of castles (and usually had a past life as a Royal palace) and display some of the finest works of art in breathtaking displays. Here is the bar where Hemingway drank and wrote (in that order); this is the square where Renoir breathed life into a canvas using nothing but oil paint and brush, this is the residence of this French king, and a few blocks away, the scene of his guillotine execution.
Having lived in Paris for a little while now, and seen many of the major tourist draws, my attention started to wander to the other stuff. The hidden statues, the graffiti, the lesser-known Paris. It’s quite a privelage to be able to explore a city in depth. Here are some of the cool small things i’ve found, tucked away, hard to find, or not-so-popular.
Le Défenseur du Temps (AKA The defender of time)
This is a big, out of order clock hanging on the wall in a small series of sidestreets called le Quartier l’Horloge (The watch quarter. Or something. Pardon my French). There is a warrior fighting a dragon, a rooster and a crab, which would take turns assaulting the clock, and defended by the warrior, in hourly automated weirdness, if it still ran. In 1979 the massive, 1 ton clock was hung on the wall, albiet in a peculiar, out-of-the-way place. I had to really search for it, hiding in a quiet area now just full of old apartments and printing shops. It’s close to the George Pompidou Centre, but as for exact directions, I can’t really remember, but you should enjoy trying to find it for yourself!
Le Passe Muraille (Passer through the walls)
A great statue on Rue Norvins, 18th Arrondissment, Montmarte. Based on a character concept by author Marcel Ayme (the place is also named after him), the statue’s name is Dutilleul, and has the ability to walk through walls, as you can see, getting up to mischief. It’s actually quite a creepy statue, and being bigger than a real life person, is somewhat daunting. You can grab his gnarled, bony fingers and try and pull him out of the wall, but he’s well and truly stuck. In the end you just polish his bronze hand a little more.
The signpost guys
There’s a lot of cool public graffiti splashed across the signposts in Paris, particular in more modern, trendy areas, such as Chatelet, Les Halles, Montmarte and even in Saint-Germain. In the Marais, there is even a shop where you can buy imitation graffitied signs to put on your wall at home.
The tomb of the Lizard King
The grave of Jim Morrison. The first one just sounds better, doesn’t it? Jim’s final resting place after his mysterious inaugaration into the 27 club is in Pere Lachaise, a massive cemetary in Paris’s east, with over a million interrants. The cemetary is a major tourist attration (the most visited cemetary in the world, actually), and many bewildered map-wielding wanderers amble silently through the grounds, tracking down famous names. I neglected to take a map and found myself horrendously lost. The grounds themselves are quite peaceful, and the beautifully carved tombs, tapestries of ochre leaf litter and gently swaying trees give a walk in this solemn place a certain serenity. Also buried here are Oscar Wilde, Edith Piaf, Eugène Delacroix, Frédéric Chopin, and many many more.
In 1979 the Space Invaders launched their first aerial assault, using sophisticated landing ships to invade and occupy earth. Now, on the street corners of Parisian streets, the attack has switched to a gritty guerilla war. These cool mosaics can be found in lots of places all around Paris, and I must have seen hundreds so far, and judging from the style, come from a range of different artists. The original artist named himself ‘Invader’, and has spawned many copycats. Some are simple pixelated reproductions of the Space Invaders, others more complex, but usually video game themed.
Hôtel de Sens
At the Hôtel de Sens, Rue du Figuier, near the Marais, there is a cannonball lodged in the wall. I love thinking about the day it was fired back in 1830. I imagine the almighty explosion when the cannon erupted, to break rock, or enter a window to kill the people inside. But when the well-dressed cannon crew opened their eyes to no effect and uncovered their ears to silence, they saw no destruction, just a ball that stuck in the wall like it was made of dough. They might even have laughed. A bit like when you swing to hit a tennis ball, then that moment of confusion, before you find it lodged in the gap above the handle.
Created by artist Guillaume Daudelin, the l’Embâcle (Ice Jam) fits seamlessly into the pavement, as if it were real. Like a ruptured water pipe breaking loose with pent-up pressure, or a tiny volcano pushing forth, this fountain bursting out of the ground looks as if it is in motion. It’s near the Saint-Germain metro station, at Place du Québec and worth stopping to admire.
The museum of comparative anatomy
Cindy and I stumbled across this museum near the Jardin des Plantes, and is something special. Immediately upon entry, we were set upon by a stampede of skeletons, a forest of bone in all shapes and sizes, facing toward the door. Every creature seems to be covered, a group of rhinos on the left flank, giraffes on the right, big cats and elephants in the centre, whales bringing up the rear. Tiny skeletons of mice, snakes and other forest floor dwellers pose in glass cabinets along the walls. Even extinct species like the Tasmanian Tiger are along for the walk of the undead. Upstairs; the dinosaurs and megafauna. The long wooden room creaks under your feet as we walked through it, a sound one might associate with a zombified, walking skeleton…
This pest control store named Julian Aurouze can be found just above Chatelet metro station, on Rue des Halles. The weird front window is filled with dead rat corpses; perhaps a deterrant to any critters brave enough to look in the window; maybe a grisly showcase of the pest control effectiveness, or perhaps a reminder of the longevity of this old fashioned store (opened in 1872, rats on display since 1925). The shop was animated for the Disney movie Ratatoullie, and there are posters inside to brag.
I’ve got a sort of part 2 coming in a day or two, stay tuned for Alysha’s Paris scavenger hunt for a few more French oddities!!