Friday, January 6, 2012

Street furniture in Paris

Call me a geek, but I take an interest in street furniture … things like benches, streetlights, fire hydrants, etc. And so I finally produced a little pet project of mine, which is a simple video showing the street furniture in Paris. I did this knowing full well that most people aren't interested in such things, but I thought a few might be, and it could be a useful reference.

So now my video is out there. It ended up running for more than half an hour. I try to cover a variety of things you see on the street, including some things that are relatively specific to Paris, such as the famous Wallace fountains, and sanisettes. And I do cover the aforementioned benches, streetlights, and fire hydrants.

Wallace fountains are extremely specific to Paris. You find them all over the city: green, cast-iron sculptures with a thin stream of drinking water running in the center of the open sculpture. I think most people don't realize that these fountains are not just decorative. The water they provide is drinking water, so you can fill your water bottles with it. I do it, in hot weather (the fountains don't run in winter because of the risk of freezing).

Sanisettes are also fairly specific to Paris, although Paris isn't the only city that has them. They aren't as old as the Wallace fountains—in fact, they were all upgraded in 2009—but they are nearly as iconic now. And they are also very practical, and like the Wallace fountains, they are free. The latest generation even provides a drinking-water tap on the outside, in case there are no Wallace fountains nearby. Unlike the Wallace fountains, the sanisette taps only dispense water when you press a button … environnement oblige!

There are some other, more discreet objects in the Parisian urban landscape. Fire hydrants are among them. Finding a fire hydrant in Paris requires some detective work. They are mounted directly in the sidewalks, and you have to look for them on the sidewalk or look for tiny enameled plaques on the sides of buildings that specific the exact location and type of a nearby hydrant. If you're in Paris with kids, challenging them to locate these hydrants can be an amusing game.

Another weird type of object is the survey marker. These are tiny iron disks that are mounted on the sides of major buildings. They give the surveyed height above sea level of the marker. Most of the markers are missing the actual plate that gives the elevation today, but it's still interesting to try to find them. They are the sort of thing that you never notice until you look for them, and then they seem to be everywhere, just like fire hydrants.

Still another interesting item is the manhole cover that leads into the Catacombs, or more specifically, into the underground quarries beneath Paris of which the Catacombs are but one small part. These manhole covers look practically identical to other manhole covers that don't lead anywhere interesting, so you have to know how to spot them. In the video, I don't even explain where they lead, leaving that up to the viewer to research.

Anyway, this project is finished. It took a long time because I had to collect different shots of street furniture over a period of many months. I don't expect it to get too many views.