Signs of eccentricity

Apr 16th, 2008 | By | Category: Personal Columns

Katharine sent off an order for photographs yesterday – at 9 cent a print it is considerably cheaper than our own printer.

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Sorting through digital files, I found there were probably not too many of my own I would have included.

It’s years since I had any photographs printed. For sometime all my holiday memories were preserved on VHS tapes. Since buying a digital camera, I take hundreds of completely pointless shots, most of which are deleted immediately.

I found a sequence of French road signs taken in south west France last August.

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I love French road signs. They seem to capture numerous qualities, including the obsessive regulation and bureaucracy that characterise French official life and the qualities of self-expression and aesthetic sense that make the country so attractive.

The most rural spots are sometimes marked by a proliferation of signs, some of them official, others expressing local assertions of property rights, or hunting rights, or even mushroom picking rights. Signs put up by the local gun clubs have a uniformity that would seem to grant them an official status.

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Bureaucratic societies (like the church!) assume that everyone knows the rules, and if you don’t, then it’s your own fault. While the speed limit on the open road is 100 km/h, once the red rectangle around the sign announcing a town or village is passed, the limit drops to 50 km/h. The piece of esoteric information being unknown to most foreign visitors, numerous of them find themselves facing the raised hand of a gendarme for whom “I didn’t know” does not constitute a defence.

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From the largest city to the smallest village, the perimeter signs are uniform as are street signs and the house numbers, but at least, if they do uniformity, they do it in style.



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The experience of war, invasion and occupation is still strong in people’s consciousness, de Gaulle’s speech from London in June 1940 still appears on plaques on hundreds of mairies and town halls across the country. It is sad that Anglo-French relations deteriorated in the post-war era and that France has become so often the target of the English tabloids – in those darks days in 1940, legislation to unify the two countries was proposed.


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The parish map on a church door, of one parish in the Dordogne which now incorporates twenty-five former parishes is a reminder of how spoilt are Irish clergy with one suburban church.

If I had sent the pictures for printing, where would I have put them?

Who but an eccentric would want to look at French road signs?

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  1. Who but an eccentric would want to look at French road signs?

    I would. There is something about them that captures the essence of France. I have quite a few in my own collection.

    And no – I don’t have a collection of steam train photographs [alas].

  2. Well label me eccentric too . . I think they’re lovely. If you want a pretty picture, buy a postcard but if you want to capture the ‘feel’ of a place, road signs do it well. Mind you, we overdo it here a bit, signs everywhere.

  3. I like the big round AA signs you still sometimes see over here they tell you what village you’re in and how far from London you are! (the further the better I say)

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