facade view of Hôtel de Mayenne Rue de Rivoli and a Philippe Starck history marker
History,  Let's Explore

Paris History One Translate App Away

facade view of Hôtel de Mayenne Rue de Rivoli and a Philippe Starck history marker
Philippe Starck-designed history marker in front of a school along Rue de Rivoli

The upside down paddles on the sidewalks around Paris are history markers of the city. The Philippe Starck-designed paddles are in French. When walking and not speaking French you can read them. Shocking? No. Simply install the Google Translate application on your smartphone. How to do it follows this short story.

Background story

Philippe Starck-designed history markers initiated by Jacques Chirac, then mayor of Paris

The paddles first appeared in 1992, the year I moved to Paris. The city of Paris contracted with JCDecaux to install the “pelles Starck” to inform the strolling passer-by about a monument, an event, an historical moment, a theater, a passage, etc. Jacques Chirac, then mayor of Paris, initiated the project.

For me the shape of the paddle or oar and the form of the Ile-de-la-Cité shaped like a boat go well with the Paris coat of arms, which is a boat. The Latin motto for the City of Paris is “Fluctuat nec mergitur” (tossed by the waves, but never sinks).

Image Paris Coat of Arms motto: Fluctuat new mergitur (tossed by the waves, but never sinks); Metro Line 1 Hotel de Ville

The Paris tourist office when it was located on the Champs-Elysées had a supply of maps to locate the markers. I began collecting all the arrondissement maps. Each map shows the location of the “spatulas” as the newspaper Le Parisien called them. Looking through the maps now feels like opening vintage books. My earliest dates from 1998; the last one from 2005. After several reprints, they exist no more–only as a collector’s item.

Map showing location of Philippe Starck history markers of Paris

My original idea was to translate all 767 for my website readers. One of my crazy time-consuming projects was to photograph each one of them and preserve the stories. Although the maps are no longer available, Wikipedia and two authors have already taken care of itemising and translating. 

Through Wikipedia’s page “Panneau Histore de Paris” , I found all twenty arrondissements listed. Within each arrondissement, the site provides the topic, the address, maybe an image of the paddle, the GPS and a photo of its location! When you open the English version of the Wikipedia page, a website is referenced called Paris by Plaque, to buy their book with the stories, history, mapped walks, etc.

How to read the history marker

In your journeys around Paris, if you notice one of these historical markers, take the time to listen or read the history in 12 easy steps:

  1. Take photo
  2. Ensure there is no reflection, with rather good contrast
  3. Open Google Translate App
  4. Ensure language is set “French to English”
  5. Choose image icon (iOS lower left)
  6. Look for square at bottom of page
  7. Press the square
  8. Read or listen to the language translation or enjoy the French
  9. Press the “home” icon and save the original and the translation
  10. Press the star icon and you preserve the memory
  11. Extra romantic tip: if you are two bring along a jack for two separate earbuds
  12. Enjoy your walk along Parisian sidewalks!
Translation by Google Translate
Translation by Google Translate

This Web site and and its blog articles are for travelers to Paris who are looking for advice from someone who lives in Paris. These tips are "for Parisians at heart". Many people would like to visit, some can and some cannot - so I will help you enjoy a glimpse of the city and its surroundings. This project has been ongoing since 2002. Prior to living in Paris (since 1992) my European history a few decades ago with three years in Wiesbaden, Germany. My next foray onto the Continent was after graduation from the University of Florida (where I met Erik): traveling around Europe and UK with my friend, Margie, hitchhiking around and working in Ireland. After living and working as a journalist in Sweden for four years, traveling on boats, the Trans-Siberian Railway, local trains and planes took Erik and I around the world. In 1990 for American Airlines I began working as a flight attendant, based in Chicago. We moved to Paris, France in 1992 where I commuted between Paris and Chicago for my flight attendant/stewardess job. Finally my inner voice said "Stop!" and I left American Airlines after 20 years. Now that is over and I am back working as a journalist and photographer full time on Colleensparis.com - My videos are posted on YouTube on the colleensparis youtube channel https://www.youtube.com/colleensparis and I am active in Toastmasters. Enjoy!

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