Saturday, October 13, 2007

En dehors des clous

Long ago, before Paris had zebra-stripe pedestrian crossings, there were passages cloutés. These were crosswalks delineated by large nails (clous) driven in lines into the streets, originally between the cobblestones. The heads of these nails, about the size of a hamburger bun, were smooth and rounded, allowing for automobile tires to ride smoothly over them. So elegant in the streetscape, those rows of nails -- but I guess they were too subtle a warning for today's traffic.

Although the original passages cloutés -- the ones that really have the nails -- have all but disappeared, the phrase remains to mean a crosswalk. The figurative sense of the word still remains as well: whenever someone walks outside the nails (en dehors des clous), that person is stepping beyond the normal boundaries. Today it means not only jaywalking, but also "thinking outside the box".

So today, although I was literally inside the nails, I was figuratively en dehors des clous when I stopped in the middle of avenue d'Iéna next to the Arc de Triomphe and started snapping this photo of old clous in the street. Especially since the light had changed and people were staring.

But I couldn't resist. I wonder how many vestiges of crosswalk nails still exist here in Paris?

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