One of the reasons I love living in Paris is that I can find just about anything I want here. But one thing I, a whale fanatic and would-be marine biologist, thought I couldn’t find was a way to see whales.
There are whale skeletons in the Muséum de l’Histoire Naturelle. But while those are cool and moving to see, they’re also sobering.
No, Paris is basically a whale-free city, I thought – until last Thursday.
That was the day I decided to stop procrastinating and finally head out to run a home-renovation-related errand. Said errand would take me to a store warehouse near the Montgallet Metro station. It’s an area I know pretty well; the boyfriend loves computers and gadgets, and the rue Montgallet is famous for its shops selling cheap, yet quality electronics.
That was all I knew about Montgallet – and it’s probably all most people who live in Paris know about it. But as I was looking on Google maps to see where exactly the warehouse I was headed to was located, a strange name jumped out at me: Square de la baleine – Whale Square.
The name surprised me for quite a few reasons. For one, with the exception of an indoor public pool a few streets over, the rue Montgallet is nowhere near a body of water. It’s narrow and crammed with straight buildings that seem to stare down at pedestrians. Nothing beachlike here. I figured the name of the square had to do with a bygone memory – say a gargoyle on a long-vanished church, or an old shop or tavern sign. Many Parisian places with cool names, like the rue du Chat qui Pêche (Street of the Fishing Cat) got their names from the latter. Still, I figured, why not do some research – it would be interesting to know the area’s connection with a whale.
Lo and behold, when I googled the name, a small blue image shone up from the results page. It turns out there’s actually a baleine in the Square de la baleine!
La baleine bleue (“The Blue Whale”) is a sculpture created by Michel le Corre in 1982. The Square de la Baleine itself is officially called the Square St. Eloi, but the locals apparently don’t refer to it that way – and who wouldn’t make reference to the big, unexpected whale statue there?
Okay, so it’s not a real whale, nor is it a realistic-looking, scale model, like the ones in New York and Tokyo; it’s covered in mosaic tiles and is about 15 feet long, I’d estimate. But it was good in a different way. As I looked at more images, something in the creature’s gaze stole my heart. I felt like the whale was winking at me, as if we were both equally delighted by his complete incongruousness.
Suddenly, my errand was even less interesting than before. Now, the goal of the day was seeing la baleine.
Once the errand was done, I took out my map and prepared for a long journey. But actually, I was surprised again: the Passage Stinville, which leads to the Square de la Baleine, is actually a very small street right off the rue Montgallet, and you can even see the whale, a long blue blur, from the electronics mecca. How many times had I passed right by it -- bored, on top of that -- when I could have just gone a few dozen feet and been totally delighted?
I went into the park, thrilled to come closer
to the whale.
There he was, with his gaze, greeting me. I laughed silently back.
I love how there's water coming out of his blowhole!
I took some pictures of him - okay, A LOT of pictures of him:
A Parisian pigeon sits on the whale's tail.
Detail of the whale's mosaic skin.
and then I knew I was really giddy when I found myself walking over to the park gardienne’s booth, and asking her if she would mind taking a shot of me and the whale together. She complied, and even got into it, taking multiple photos. What a nice woman.
Unfortunately, it seems that not a lot of people have asked her to do this before - in every picture she took, the whale's face is blocked and his tail is out of frame!
One of the million selfies I took trying to get both of us in the picture - and one of the few that came out successfully. Except for my hair, which was being as crazy as I felt in that moment, I guess....
I left the Square smiling, and looking back at the baleine, my new friend.
Knowing there’s a completely out-of-context statue of a blue whale in a small, tucked-away Parisian park - and knowing that the whale himself seems delighted by this - makes me incredibly happy.