Paris by Moyan Brenn

Paris – Cartoon Logic

Did you know that during the First World War, French military planners constructed a second dummy Paris on the northern edge of the real city? It was remarkably complicated and had lights, false trains, factories, suburbs and a fake Gare du Nord station. It was hoped that German pilots would attack the dummy city rather than the real one, but it wasn’t completed by the end of the war, so was never ‘tested’. Amazing.

China did something similar about ten years ago. As a part of the love affair that China has with romantic Paris, a 19 square kilometre mock Paris was built near the city of Hangzhou; it was designed as a gated community and was meant to house 100,000 people. It included a fake Bassin de Latone fountain, and also the second-largest Eiffel Tower replica in the world. But by 2013, Business Insider reported that this ersatz city was almost entirely abandoned. How bizarre.

Other Asian countries love Paris too. Japanese tourists in Paris have been observed to be amongst the most susceptible to something strange called ‘Paris syndrome’. This psychological disorder is experienced by those vacationing in Paris and is a bit like culture shock. Around twenty Japanese tourists a year are affected by this syndrome, which is characterised by hallucinations, feelings of persecution, depersonalisation and derealisation. It is thought the reason for this is that the Japanese popular image of Paris is so beautiful, so cultured and so romantic as to be unreal. When arriving in Paris, they are struck by how ‘real’ Paris actually is, and it knocks them for six. Don’t you think that’s fabulous?

Sometimes, though, Paris really is unreal. In 2010, a flat in Paris was unlocked and entered for the first time in 70 years. It belonged to a Mrs de Florian, a woman who left Paris after the Second World War and never returned. Despite this, she paid the rent until her death at the age of 91. When the flat was finally entered, items including a Mickey Mouse toy from before the war and a stuffed ostrich were discovered. Most incredible was a dust-covered painting by Italian painter Giovanni Boldini, which sold for €2.1 million.

Other secrets have bubbled up from the depths over the years. In 2004, police discovered an entire, fully equipped cinema in an uncharted cavern underneath the streets of Paris. The Paris catacombs are legendary, but vast and mysterious. On a routine training mission underneath the trendy 16th arrondissement, Parisian police stumbled across a 400 square metre cave that featured a full-sized cinema with projection equipment and films. In a cave next door was a restaurant and bar, with electricity and phone lines. Most unbelievably of all, when they returned days later, the electricity had been cut. In the middle of the floor was a note that simply said: “Do not try to find us.” I’m legitimately not making this up. Only in Paris.

And here’s my favourite Parisian titbit. Did you know that the motto of the city of Paris is ‘Fluctuat nec mergitur’? Rendered in French, that’s ‘Elle est agitée par les vagues, et ne sombre pas’, which translates to: ‘She is tossed by the waves but does not sink.’ Isn’t that amazing?



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