M - as Méduse (Medusa)

Medusas' head.
Hotel of the Ambassador of Holland
47, rue Vieille du Temple
Atget
(BnF)

 

In the Greek mythology, all those who had the misfortune to look at Medusa were turned into stone. Also, heads of Medusa were carved on the shields to frighten enemies; they were also represented on doors to protect the house from the intruders. 

In his biography on Fouché, a true political animal, the writer Stefan Zweig wrote:
Power is like the Medusas’ head. Whoever has looked on her countenance, can no longer turn his face away, but remains for always under her spell. Whoever has once enjoyed the intoxication of holding sway over his fellows, can never thenceforward renounce it altogether.“

M - as Monstre Marin (Sea Monster)

Detail of the Grenelle Fountain
Atget
(BnF)

Imagine a spectral fish with the face of a human being. No power could check his career unless he could be exorcised, or mayhap, fished up from the sea. Meanwhile he continues his sinister operations. Nothing is more unpleasant than an interview with this monster: amid the rolling waves and breakers, or in the thick of the mist, the sailor perceives, sometimes, a strange creature with a beetle brow, wide nostrils, flattened ears, an enormous mouth, gap-toothed jaws, peaked eyebrows, and great grinning eyes. When the lightning is livid, he appears red; when it is purple, he looks wan. He has a stiff spreading beard, running with water, and overlapping a sort of pelerine, ornamented with fourteen shells, seven before and seven behind. These shells are curious to those who are learned in conchology. The King of the Auxcriniers is only seen in stormy seas.

Toilers of the Sea - Victor Hugo 

M - as Mouche (Fly)

When Atget photographed this landing stage of bateau mouche in 1900, these water buses were used as simple means of transport. They were already in operation in the city of Lyon since 1862 where they were manufactured. Their name Mouche has nothing to do with the insect (the fly); their name just comes from the district of La Mouche in the city of Lyon were they were manufactured. They were put in service in Paris in 1867 during the Exhibition. Thirty boats were specifically ordered for the exhibition. They were routed to Paris via the Saone river, the Burgundy canal, and the Yonne and Seine rivers. After the Exhibition, they were maintained and used as simple means of transport.

The one who was able to fly high is Jean Bruel! He had the fabulous idea to buy one of the last former bateaux mouches after the world war II. He registered the trademark Bateaux-Mouches and invented the concept of Seine boat-tours via the most beautiful avenue in Paris...

  • Chaillot - Quai de Paris - Landing stages of bateau mouche
    Atget – 1898/1900
    (BnF)

M - as Mouton (Sheep)

At Mouton d’Auvergne - Corner rues Censier and de la Clef
Atget
(Musée Carnavalet)

My great-grandfather was from Auvergne and had to settle in Paris in 1900. He might have come to this restaurant Le Mouton d'Auvergne (The Sheep from Auvergne) and meet other fellow countrymen feeling homesick. I even love imagining that he might have met Atget in some street in the Paris of that time.

What were the regional specialties offered in this restaurant? Tripoux with truffade? (Stuffed sheep's tripes with fried potato-cheese); Lamb filet cooked with Saint-Nectaire cheese for a wedding? A mutton stew cooked with vegetables and onions? A seven-hour leg of lamb for Easter? Goat cheese for dessert? Or simply ham and local sausage?

M - as Mule

Corner of rue du Pas-de-la-Mule and rue des Tournelles
Atget
(Musée Carnavalet)

 

The street Pas de la Mule presumably gets its name from a former mounting block used in the past to ease the mounting of a mule or a horse. The only mounting block left in Paris can be seen in the second small yard of Cour de Rohan in the 6th (if you are lucky enough to be let in).

O - as oiseau (Bird)

Cabaret « Au Réveil Matin »,
Cage with birds at the entrance door
Rue Amelot
Atget
(Musée Carnavalet)

Sad bird to roost alone, and every morn
Alone to dress its feathers all forlorn.
The wretched little thing left in the lurch
Grew shy, with turning his deserted perch.
Sometimes, as a set task, he used to fl
yFrom stick to stick with endless industry
And frantic speed. Then suddenly would sit,
Dumb, gloomy, sad, nor from his corner flit
To see his feathers all puffed out, his eye,
His head put 'neath his wing though day was high,
One guessed his mourning, grief, and widowed state —
Lost every song and every tuneful mate. —

This morn I entered through the cage's door.
...
And toward the balcony, all ivied o'er.
Approached. The bird still in my hand I bore.
All things to throb, glow, laugh, renew, I see ;
Then opening wide my hand, I said — "Be free."

Set free - Victor Hugo

O - as Ours (Bear)

Rue Quincampoix between Rue Rambuteau and Rue aux Ours - viewed from Rue Rambuteau
Atget – 1906/1907
(BnF)

 

 

There can be strange names of streets in Paris. For example, this one in the area of the Halles, rue aux Ours (Bears). Instead of bears, they were rather plenty of rotisseries of geese (oies Oues in Old French). And this is how the rue aux Oues became the rue aux Ours...

P - as Paon (Peacock)

And suddenly, the poor peacock let a throaty cry: LEON! LEON! But, would it rather mean? LION! LION!!?

  • Jardin des Tuileries
    Lion with a peacock by Cain
    Atget
    (BnF)

P - as Pigeon

Entrance door of Cabaret « Aux deux pigeons »
62, rue de l'hôtel de Ville
Atget- 1902
(Musée Carnavalet)

It was sitting before his door, not eight inches from the threshold, in the pale reflection of dawn that came through the window. It was crouched there, with red, taloned feet on the oxblood tiles of the hall and in sleek, blue-gray plumage: the pigeon.

It had laid its head to one side and was glaring at Jonathan with its left eye. This eye, a small, circular disk, brown with a black center, was dreadful to behold. It was like a button sewn onto the feathers of the head, lashless, browless, quite naked, turned quite shamelessly to the world and monstrously open; at the same time, however, there was something guarded and devious in that eye; and yet likewise it seemed to be neither open nor guarded, but rather quite simply lifeless, like the lens of a camera that swallows all external light and allows nothing to shine back out of its interior. No luster, no shimmer lay in that eye, not a spark of anything alive. It was an eye without sight. And it glared at Jonathan.

The Pigeon - Patrick Süskind

P - as Poisson (Fish)

Fish stall at les Halles
Atget – 1898
(Musée Carnavalet)

A shaft of light suddenly came through the glass roof of the covered avenue, illuminating all these precious colours, toned and softened by the waves—the iridescent flesh-tints of the shellfish, the opal of the whiting, the mother-of-pearl of the mackerel, the gold of the mullet, the shimmering of the herring, the plated silver of the salmon.

The Belly of Paris - Emile Zola

P - as Porc (Pig)

Misericord of the Church Saint-Gervais Saint-Protais A pig eats from bowl
Atget
(Musée Carnavalet)

 

 

The misericords, those small consoles placed under the stalls could represent scenes from everyday life.

The stalls of the church of Saint-Protais Saint-Gervais, which date from the 16th century, are remarkable. Heads of animals, men and monsters are carved on the armrests. The misericords depict corporations like a merchant, a baker, a shoemaker ...  or picturesque scenes like a couple in a bath … or animal scenes like a pig eating from a bowl.

R - as renard (Fox)

34, rue du Renard
Atget – 1908
(Musée Carnavalet)

 

 

The street gets its name from a former shop sign of the 16th century:  "Fox preaching hens". The old 16th century house, located at n° 34, photographed by Atget was demolished. If the house disappeared, politics has not changed over the centuries and foxes continue today preaching to the hens.

R - as Rhinocéros (Rhinoceros)

The rhino is a homely beast,
For human eyes he's not a feast.
Farewell, farewell, you old rhinoceros,
I'll stare at something less prepoceros.

The Rhinoceros - Ogden Nash

  • "Tiger attack on a rhino"
    by Auguste Cain
    Tuileries Gardens
    Atget - 1911
    (Musée Carnavalet)

S - as Salamandre (Salamander)

Courtyard, hôtel de la Salamandre
20, rue de l’Hirondelle
Atget
(BnF)

 

 

Although the initial Salamander Hotel was built by king Francis Ist for the duchess d'Etampes, his mistress, the present house at no. 20 rue de l'Hirondelle is not older than the 18th century. When the present house was built in 1788, the salamanders of the courtyard and above the gate were carved as a souvenir of the emblem of King Francis Ist.

S - as Sanglier (Boar)

Wild Boar
Tuileries Garden
Atget
(Musée Carnavalet)

The wolves would run away in fear when it approached them,
So much the prancing monster, growling in its joy,
Was looking scary, even to beasts of prey.
The grim beast had a lair there. In the night,
The terrible animal was coming out,
Filling the air with horror and noise

And breaking the laurels at the foot of the sublime mountains,
It was entering into the woods to tear its victims apart;
Then back into its lair, close to a calm tide,
Lying on the dead flesh and the bones,
It was eating, with nostrils open and dilated,
Above the bloody mud.

The wild boar - Théodore de Banville      (Translation mine ...)

Today, this statue by Foggini in 1665 can be seen in the Louvre museum.

S - as Serpent (Snake)

Door knocker -
Hôtel de la Monnaie
Atget
( Musée Carnavalet)

Indolent darling, how I love
To see the skin
Of your body so beautiful
Shimmer like silk!
...
Your eyes where nothing is revealed

Of bitter or sweet,
Are two cold jewels where are mingled
Iron and gold.

To see you walking in cadence
With fine abandon,
One would say a snake which dances
On the end of a staff.

The Dancing Serpent - Flowers of Evil - Baudelaire

S - as Singe (Monkey)

Animal Circus and the Monkeys Palace, attractions, Invalides Fair
Atget – 1898
(Musée Carnavalet)

Does it revive those happy times with its fellows of the forest,
When in the warmth of the sun below the calm heavens,
Full of coconut milk and lying on palm leaves,
It was gently falling asleep in the shade of the coconut trees,

It was before a large vessel, sailing to the cold seas,
Was taking it away in the middle of shouting sailors,
Up to that day, in the wind biting its back,
The sail, down the masts, froze its stiff limbs?

The death of the monkey - Anatole France -         (Translation mine ...)

S - as Sphinge

Statue of a sphinge ridden by a putti
Château de Bagatelle Bois de Boulogne
Atget
(Musée Carnavalet)

In the Royal Garden where the statues are,
My favorite is an ancient Chimera;
She thrusts forward her two pointed breasts
Whose veined marble seems to burst with milk.

Her woman’s face is loveliest of all;
Her neck so fleshy it invites your kiss:
But, if you circle to her rounded haunch
You’ll see her feet are tipped with claws.

The Sphinx - Théophile Gauthier

 

S - as Sphinx

The Sphinx
31, rue Saint-Denis
Atget – 1907
(BnF)

 

 

The Sphinx, this hybrid creature, at the same time woman, lion and eagle, who according to the legend asks questions, but does not answer them. An image that refers to the qualities of knowledge and the sense of observation, which are essential qualities for a herbalist whose shop was photographed by Atget ...

T - as Taureau (Bull)

The four evangelists, Luke, John, Matthew and Mark, are often shown as winged figures.

Luke is represented as a bull, a figure of sacrifice: Saint Luke begins his gospel with the announcement of the birth of a son to the priest Zechariah, who was offering sacrifice in the temple.

  • Bull of Saint Luke,
    Pulpit of the Church of Saint-Sulpice (detail)
    Atget
    (Musée Carnavalet)

T - as Tourterelle (Turtledove)

8, rue Clément
Atget
(BnF)

 

 

And see these two doves
Who quite naturally
And sweetly
Make love with beak and wings.

Pierre de Ronsard

T - as Tortue (Turtle)

Observatory Fountain by Carpeaux
Luxembourg Garden
Atget – 1901/1902
(Musée Carnavalet)

I'm a turtle and I'm beautiful,
All I need are wings
To imitate the swallows,
What? What?

 My elegant tortoiseshell corset
No buttons, no varnish, no stitches
Is exactly my size.
Neither? Neither?

The Turtle - Storysongs - Robert Desnos

T - as Truie (Sow)

«The Spinning Sow" 16th century carved sign
Musée de Cluny
Atget - 1911
(Musée Carnavalet)

 

 

This carved shop sign photographed by Atget is so old that it is rather difficult to see it represents a sow spinning flax while nursing her cubs. Although there have been several examples of this sign in Paris since the Middle Ages, its real meaning has been lost over the centuries. Another representation of the Spinning Sow (La Truie qui file) has just been restored at the Carnavalet Museum.  

V - as Veau (Calf)

Le Marché aux Veaux (Calf Market)
Atget
(BnF)

This Marché aux Veaux (Calf Market), suppressed in 1855, was built at the end of the 18th century. It was standing on the site of part of the gardens of the great convent of Bernardins. The refectory and the sacristy of the monastery still remain today. The rue de Cochin was opened on the site of the former market, between the two rue de Pontoise and rue de Poissy. Pontoise and Poissy are two towns which in the past were supplying calves whose meat was highly prized.

V - as Volaille (Poultry)

Poultry display at the Halles
Atget – 1898
(BnF)

 

 

And also hanging from the bar, with ears thrown back and feet parted as though they were bent on some vigorous leap, were grey rabbits whose turned-up tails gleamed whitely, whilst their heads, with sharp teeth and dim eyes, laughed with the grin of death. On the counter of the stall plucked fowls showed their strained fleshy breasts;

The Belly of Paris - Emile Zola

Copyright Year 2020 - Martine Combes - text and photos of today Paris