Ever notice some of the monuments around Paris covered in netting? This isn’t to keep the pigeons out. It’s to keep the crumbling bits of building in. Many of the city’s older monuments, made of the fragile limestone like every other building, start to fall apart after a continuous years of pollution and neglect. And sometimes those crumbling bits of stone fall right off.
It would be interesting to find the statistics for how many injuries are caused each year from this. There have certainly been a few near-misses. In the Picardie region north of Paris a few gargoyles have recently started falling off a church. In 1993 a big metal bolt from the Grand Palais’s steel-frame nave fell 35 meters to the ground at the feet of a visitor (it was subsequently closed for almost a decade of renovations). For years the marble facade of the Bastille Opera, built in 1989, was covered in netting after a few marble slabs fell down, and the Eglise St Sulpice only recently saw the light of day after being covered for years to protect passer-by from falling bits of facade.
Last month I was walking through the Eglise St-Germain-des-Près with clients when we heard a loud thunk to our left. Just inside one of the chapels, where people had just been walking, was a piece of the ceiling about the size of my fist, along with about five other tiny pieces of stone. I took one of these small pieces and showed it to a very concerned-looking official at the church entrance (and then I took it home as a souvenir paperweight….it’s not like they’re going to glue it back up there!)
If you get bonked on the head in a church is it a sign from God? What if you’re at Disneyland Paris and a piece of a faux rock knocks you out cold? Do you get free entrance for life? In any case, the people at the Musée Carnavalet aren’t taking any chances, and the courtyard of the main entrance has been covered in netting since last fall to prevent any nasty surprises (photo above). And as a bonus, they also keep out the pigeons.
The thought of any of my favorite places in and around Paris crumbling to dust is heartbreaking, though the realist in me understands the physics of it all. I'm just glad you avoided an injurious encounter with the piece of history pictured in your hand!