Walking along the Rue St Maur with my head bowed down against the freezing sleet, I look up and suddenly find myself eye to eye with a deer. In this modern, concrete environment next to an Atac supermarket, the deer is of course not a real one, but the effect is as the artist would have wished. Who is the more surprised at this instant - me or the deer? The mysterious artist who wheatpasted this image up on the wall late at night, has captured the deer at the moment just before flight, when it freezes at the crack of my footstep before skipping off into the surrounding forest of buildings.
The surprise is one of juxtaposition. City inhabitants are just not used to encountering nature in their safe streets where wolves, snakes and bears would never dare to venture. We worry about dangers of our own creation, but the city has long since won the battle with the natural world. In Paris, this was not an involuntary, organic development, but a planned evolution to protect the city from ignorance.
There are still 66 Portes (gateways) that give access to the city, a legacy from the last time Paris expanded its boundaries in 1860. Today the city is protected largely by the Périphérique ring-road, but it's an impossible job to guard all entrances. Although the city has been twice invaded since this date, in 1870 and 1940, the city fortifications have been less about keeping out invading foreign armies and more about a menace closer to home - the Parisians' fellow countrymen.
Paris is a personification of cerebrality and reason. In the 19th century, the city was both the industrial powerhouse and the centre of learning and culture, whilst beyond the city walls lay a world dominated by agriculture. This natural environment came to represent the simple, unrefined peasents from the provinces, a people that was being drawn to the capital in larger and larger numbers. To protect the integrity of the city, nature had to be kept out, a manifestation of a larger power struggle between two states - the city of Paris and the rest of the country. A planned city for logical humans was created, and nature was beaten back through the doors.
With the city's famously leaky defences though, the occasional trespasser still makes it through the gates. I look again into the deer's eyes and see the question she's asking me. Is she still an intruder?