Photo of the Week

ParisUpdate-JohnGoodmanforFrenchPresident

Humor on the hoardings spotted before the first round of the French elections: “John Goodman (Jean Gentilhomme) for President,” the candidate of the “Nice Peoples' Party. That would make a change. © Paris Update

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Paris Update What’s On

Links to events happening this week in Paris.

Silent films from Switzerland?

ParisUpdate-train300

> They’re rare, but they do exist and can be seen at the Fondation Jérôme Seydoux-Pathé, Paris, through May 2.

Retail heaven
> You can buy just about anything at the century-old Foire de Paris, a gigantic pop-up store. Porte de Versailles, Paris. April 27-May 8.

Voices from the North
> The Pølar Festival celebrates Northern European culture with films, concerts, talks and more. Various locations, Paris, through April 29.

Photo walk
> Eight Paris galleries hold special photography shows and events for Parcours Fotofever. Various locations, Paris, through May 1.

Photo shows galore
> Le Mois de la Photo has been moved from autumn to spring, with 96 exhibitions taking place all over the greater Paris area. See Web site for locations and dates.

Art videos
> The theme of this year’s Videobox Festival is “noise and movement.” Carreau du Temple, Paris, April 27-29.

French film with English subtitles
> Lost in Frenchlation shows Nicolas Boukhrief’s La Confession, preceded by a themed cocktail party (€4.50). Studio 28, Paris, April 28.

Virtual reality
> Drop in on Saturday or Sunday from 2pm to 8pm for a free virtual trip at the VR Express festival. Forum des Images, Paris, through June 30.

Dance in historic sites
> Monuments en Mouvement offers free dance performances in national monuments like the Pantheon in Paris, the Abbaye de Cluny and châteaux. Various locations, through Oct. 21.

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, through May 28.

 

Hot Topics - C'est ironique !

 

Poubelles

poubelle

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 ...

poubelle

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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