In some streets the pavers are still arranged in beautiful fan-like patterns.
The rue de l’Abreuvoir offers a nice view of the Sacré Coeur in Montmartre, above — if you can ignore the pavers.
I was at one of my favorite spots along the Seine, on the Quai de Bourbon …
… when I noticed a missing paver.
I began poking at the hole with my foot to dislodge the cigarette butts, when a man approached. “You must not disturb the pavés,” he said, looking both stern and concerned.
My French is wobbly — and I’ve not yet been able to confirm the penalty — but I’m pretty sure he said “five years in jail” for removing a paver. I’d intended no such act, but still the encounter rattled me.
Serious crimes in Paris get you a complimentary tour of the Palais de Justice (in the background). But I skipped it because none of my guidebooks recommended it.
But you know what they say about forbidden fruit: Soon I was obsessed with the idea of obtaining a paver. Legally, of course!
The city has been tearing out the pavers and replacing them with asphalt since the May 1968 riots, in which students turned the granite blocks into missiles aimed at the police. Surely City Hall might have saved a few?
The Fontaine St. Michel, to the right in the frame above, is a favorite meeting spot for Parisians — and a traditional site for protests, too.
Some of the 1968 riots took place near the Place St. Michel, so officials paved over this nearby crosswalk to prevent subsequent paver-hurlings.
That’s how I found this article — “Paris offrez-vous un pavé du Trocadéro.” Translation: for €50 (plus €40 shipping to the U.S.) you can legally obtain a paver from the Place du Trocadéro, near the Eiffel Tower.
The Place du Trocadéro — a great spot for spotting the Eiffel Tower.
This made me curious: Why was Pavé de Paris enclosing a copy of the resolution France’s National Assembly drafted? Seeking the connection, I pondered some of the people and places from the 1789 revolution.
Was the paver somehow related to the cheering crowds that gathered at the Place de la Révolution to watch madame la guillotine claim her victims’ heads?
The site of the guillotine was renamed Place de la Concorde in 1795.
Or was it related to the Conciergerie, where so many doomed prisoners awaited their executions? I thought especially of Marie Antoinette, writing one last entry in her prayer book before two white horses carried her to her death:
This 16th of Oct. at 4:30 in the morning
My God, have mercy on me!
My eyes have no more tears
to weep for you my poor
children; farewell, farewell!
The oldest portions of the Conciergerie go back to the 12th century. It was also in 1186 that Philippe-Auguste ordered the first paved Parisian streets.
Then my mind turned to Dr. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin, the physician and politician who opposed the death penalty, but who ironically gave the guillotine its name.
Outraged by the messy and often inhumane executions he was witnessing in Paris, Guillotin had hoped a more humane method of execution would at least be one step closer to ending the practice.
Supposedly the “instant decapitation machine” he proposed was tested on sheep at his office on the Cour du Commerce Saint-André. I wonder how the owners of Le Procope — the coffee shop next door — felt about all the bleating and bleeding.
On the right side of the frame above, look for Le Procope’s overhead sign. The façade of the white building to the right of it has a plaque mentioning Dr. Guillotin. Also, notice the pavers!
Only in hindsight, as I sought a connection to the pavers, did I realize I’d visited all of these sites.
But my question remained unanswered: What did any of this have to do with the more modern Place du Trocadéro where Pavé de Paris obtained its pavers?
The inscription in the foreground reads “Parvis des Libertés et des Droits de l’Homme.”
A more careful read of both the Parisien article and the Pavé de Paris website cleared up my confusion: The booklet didn’t contain the 1789 revolution Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, but rather the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that the United Nations ratified at the Trocadéro in 1948.
Aaaah, I seeee …
Although I took a wrong turn in one sense, in another my mission was a success: I’d discovered the pavers’ omnipresence through centuries of history, and their starring role in many pivotal moments.
Anyway. Back to Pavé de Paris. My (totally legally obtained, nothing at all to see here, officer) paver arrived last week!
But I’ve decided not to keep it, because it’s the perfect gift for a certain young man named Noah, a fellow lover of Paris who will soon graduate from law school. I think he’ll enjoy using it as a bookend for his law books — but he’ll also have his first paver for storming the Bastille … just in case.
Thank you for tagging along the past few days, and for all of your creative guesses. I will be back soon with more stories from the City of Light.