Photo of the Week


Left to right: Eiffel Tower, Louvre Pyramid, Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel and Ferris Wheel. © Paris Update


Paris Update This Week’s Events

For full details about an event, click on the title to visit the official Web site (in English when available).

Drawing through the ages

"Apples" (1944), by Henri Matisse. Eric Coatalem Gallery.

> Salon du Dessin: 39 galleries showing works on paper, from Old Masters to contemporary. Palais Brogniart, Paris, March 22-27.

Contemporary drawing fair
> Drawing Now: 73 galleries, Carreau du Temple, Paris, March 23-26.

More contemporary drawings
>Ddessin: 20 galleries. Atelier Richelieu, Paris, March 24-26.

Art and design fair
> PAD (Paris Art + Design),
67 galleries, Tuileries Garden, Paris, March 22-26.

African culture festival
> The 100% Afriques festival showcases dance, theater, music, fashion, design, art, food and more from all over the continent. La Villette, Paris, March 23-May 28.

French film with English subtitles
> Lost in Frenchlation shows Audrey Dana's Si j'Étais un Homme, preceded by a themed cocktail party (€4.50). Studio 28, Paris, Feb. 24.

Documentary film festival
> Cinéma du Réel showcases documentaries from around the world. Various venues, Paris, March 24-April 2.

Suburban blues
> The Banlieues Bleues festival brings major French and international jazz acts to the Paris suburbs. Various venues, through March 31.

Before and after ecological disaster
> The Chic Planète festival presents two types of films, those celebrating the bounty of the earth and science-fiction views of what will happen after an ecopalypse. Forum des Images, Paris, through April 13.




Hot Topics - C'est ironique !




Just how modern is Paris's modern trash sorting system?

Like every other city in the emerged world, Paris has a trash sorting ordinance. Every building has three big plastic bins with color-coded lids: green for unrecyclable household ...


Just how modern is Paris's modern trash sorting system?

Like every other city in the emerged world, Paris has a trash sorting ordinance. Every building has three big plastic bins with color-coded lids: green for unrecyclable household wastes; yellow for paper, plastic and metal; and white for glass. It’s a good system, simple (although apparently way too complex for some of my neighbors) and efficient.

And long overdue: the program wasn’t adopted citywide until 2002, years after most U.S. municipalities had accepted trash sorting as a fact of life. Before then, garbage was garbage in Paris, and it all went to the same place. On one occasion in the mid-nineties I went to a barbecue party at which a large quantity of food was consumed on paper plates and an even larger quantity of beer consumed from little 25-centiliter glass bottles, for which reason the hosts had placed 100-liter trash bags here and there to collect the (unsorted) waste. I remember one of the American guests who had just finished a beer asking, “Where should I put the bottle? Are we recycling glass?” To which someone replied, “Whaddaya think this is, Berkeley?”

And now it’s time for a little French lesson: the French word for “garbage can” is “poubelle” (pronounced “poo-bell”). The etymologically inclined will search in vain for any connection to any other term related to containers or rubbish or Mafia cover operations, because it’s named after a person. Meet Eugène Poubelle, prefect of the Seine (roughly the equivalent of the mayor of Paris in those days) from 1883 to 1896, a visionary and an innovator who saw the utility of such curiosities as sewer mains and trash bins.

Showing remarkable foresight and common sense, in 1884 Poubelle passed a directive – or edict, or fiat or whatever it is that a prefect passes – requiring every building in Paris to install receptacles for the collection of refuse. In short order the newfangled objects became, thanks to derisive coverage in the press (we do what we can), named after him.

I like to think of the period during which the word “poubelle” became the word poubelle – when the slang term became accepted textbook French. I like to think of Pierre Larousse and his editorial assistants debating the pros and cons of adopting this ignoble neologism before including it in the 1890 edition of the Grand Dictionnaire Universel. I like to think of Third Republic Parisians carping and grousing about having to haul their trash downstairs instead of just chucking it out the window to collect in the gutter as Dieu intended. But most of all I like to think of Eugène Poubelle’s teenage daughter (presuming he had one) coming home from school in tears and whining, “Daaaaad! All the kids are making fun of me! Couldn’t you have, like, invented the telephone or something?”

But now we come to the Ironique part: In Monsieur Poubelle’s original order requiring the use of what would come to be called poubelles, it was further stipulated that each building in Paris must have three such containers (yes, same as now): one for “putrescible” wastes, one for paper and cloth (reusable fibers) and one for glass, ceramics and oyster shells (respectively remeltable, reusable after crushing and recuperable for making buttons). Now that’s a man who was ahead of his time. It’s enough to make a daughter proud.

David Jaggard

Reader Pamela Wesson writes: "Excellent article, ironically timed for the end of the 20-day garbage strike."

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