Monday, 15 December 2008

A Deer at the Door

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?

14 comments:

blindslug said...

the deer guy gets up, he's been around for a bit. nice article

Tim said...

I've occasionally spotted deer in St Germain and Marly forests, less than 20kms from the Périphérique - although there's quite a bit of urban jungle to cross before they make it to Paris itself. Are there no deer in the Bois de Boulogne & Vincennes? How about rabbits and hedgehogs? Do they ever get spotted in "intra-muros" Paris?

Adam said...

Blindslug - Thanks. There's quite a lot of streetart in my neighbourhood, but I've never come across deer guy before. I felt he was asking a more interesting question than a lot of other artists.

Tim - Hedgehogs I don't know, but you can see rabbits in the middle of the roundabout opposite the Palais de Congrès at Porte Maillot. This does have a passageway through to the Bois de Boulogne though, although I imagine the rabbits took an even more underground route!

Peter said...

Today, you can get in and out of Paris without paying any tolls ... at least until further!

(Of course, the deer wouldn't bother.)

margaret said...

I just discovered your wonderful blog. As an architect and Parisophile, I look forward to future posts.

ArtSparker said...

Wow, that is a gorgeous post. The return of the repressed. As it happens, I'm posting about animals in the city where I live tomorrow - I actually want to link to yours and Squirrel's and one other. Hope that's okay, let me know if not.

Adam said...

Peter - the toll system is an interesting point. Of course, this was also linked to the 'Octroi', which was a tax placed on certain goods entering the city (alcohol!), the main result of which was huge bars and 'guingettes' just outside the city walls (and sometimes alcohol pumped under the city walls!)

Adam said...

Margeret - Thank you! You are very lucky to be an architect - I realised far too late that it was what I wanted to do!

ArtSparker - it would be an honour to be referenced on your blog!

Cergie said...

On dit "l'homme est un loup pour l'homme"...

Paris au début du 20ème siècle, le Paris de Guy de Maupassant....
Non seulement Paris a changé, mais la société a aussi changé. Les parisiens ont-ils le sens de la nature encore ? Ils ont tendance a vouloir régenter le reste la France, de faire des lois pour protéger et réintroduire les ours et les loups. Les lynx dans les Vosges.
Tu sais Adam, à coté de Cergy (40 kilomètres de Paris Notre Dame) nous avons le golfe de Vauréal (à 10 minutes à pied de chez moi); les sangliers sauvages viennent sans complexe retourner ses greens. Dans la plaine verte à deux pas de chez moi je peux voir des lapins de garenne courir.

Squirrel said...

It's rare to see such well done street art.

We do get deer in our village, and it's sad because they often are frightened. They're just not meant for town life. yet the town keeps taking up green space from them while the suburbans take up more green space from them on the other side. They can't win.

I remember a while ago there was a coyote loose in NYC, or maybe a family of them which began either at the Bronx Zoo or in Central Park. To have a coyote running around loose would be interesting.
there's an old joke about an elephant being loose in a big city....

Adam said...

Cergie - Paris a de la chance d'être toujours entouré de la nature. Ceci dit, la ville est vraiment bien petite dans ce sens, et elle avait vraiment besion d'être protegée - mais plus maintentant je crois!

Squirrel - America remains a far wilder environment than Europe I think. However, water still provides easy access for nature into our cities. It was only 2 or 3 years ago that we saw the whale splashing around in the Thames in the centre of London wasn't it?

Indrani said...

Wonderful street art and you wrote on it so well.

I came via ArtSpark.

Squirrel said...

Yes! we had a Manatee in the East River once for quite a long while.

Anonymous said...

While there are rabbits on the ile de Reuilly in Lac Daumesnil in Bois de Vincennes (the bunnies are very cute and will approach people sitting quietly), and there are deer spoor to be found only a hundred meters from the Periferique, you'd be hard pressed to find any other signs of wildlife there beyond the millions of condoms left behind from anonymous hook-ups.

Kind of disgusting....just saying....

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