Cool Stuff in Paris. By Manning Leonard Krull.

Les Enfants du Monde

Parc de Bercy (Map) | Métro: Bercy

(This is part one of two. See part two here.)

For ages, I've been meaning to do an article about Les Enfants du Monde (Children of the World) — a really neat group of twenty-one bronze statues I discovered by accident over in a weird corner of the Parc de Bercy. I know next to nothing about the statues, but I find them absolutely fascinating, not to mention really charming and fun.

The statues are perched up on a high walkway along the bank of the Seine, in the non-touristy 12th arrondissement, just on the other side of the river from the Bibliothèque Nationale. When you first get a glimpse of the statues, you can quickly see that they're all meant to represent different nationalities and cultures. And when you take a closer look, you'll find that they all used to have little plaques on their bases, but many of the plaques have been lost or stolen. The ones that are still there give the names and nationalities of the statues. Of the ones who no longer have plaques, some are pretty easy to figure out, and others, not so much (for me, anyway!). All of the plaques that are still there explain that Les Enfants du Monde is a project by Rachid Khimoune, created in 2001.

And when you really take the time to stare at these things for a while, a few other interesting details start to become apparent. It seems that a big motif of this project involved using textures of the city streets in these different countries to make up statues of the people who live there! How neat! There are cobblestone patterns, manhole covers, and lots of industrial-looking pieces engraved with text denoting different utilities — gas, water, etc — in the statues' respective languages. It almost seems as though these characters have grown right up out of the streets of their respective countries. The more you look at these folks, the more you'll see what I mean. And, happily, the little bits of text here and there give some clues as to what countries are being represented. It's a fun puzzle to spend a few minutes figuring out.

I decided to take pictures of all twenty-one of the statues so you can take a look at how interesting the interpretations are of all of these countries, and also so you can see how lots of urban textures are used in the statue's designs.

The very first statue is one of the mystery ones! He doesn't have a plaque, but I'm pretty sure he's French, just because he's the first in the group, and that design on his chest looks very French; it reminds me of the gate on some administrative building.

"Ayako la Japonaise" — Ayako the Japanese lady.

I took pictures of the nameplates of the statues who had them, to help me remember their names and nationalities. I'll post this picture just so you can see what they look like, but I'll spare you the rest.

No nameplate on this one, so let's figure it out. Also, take a look at that cobblestone texture!

The manhole cover that makes up this guy's face says London right on it. An easy one!

Another one with no plaque. Any guesses?

I took this picture to decipher and look up that long name in white when I got home. It's Berrouaghia, which I learned is a city in Algeria. Next!

Haha, this one's about as easy as they get. No nameplate, but clearly this fella is Canadian.

No plaque, and I personally can't identify which Asian language is written on his stomach, but I feel pretty confident guessing that this one is China.

At first glance this one had me stumped, but fortunately he has a nameplate: "Jean le Suisse" — Jean the Swiss guy.

Another tough one. I love her manhole cover collar.

I got close up so I could look for something that might give me a clue, and found this text above her eye that says "Made in DDR," i.e. the Deutsche Demokratische Republik. She's German!

This guy's plaque was intact: "Mahatma l'Indien" — Mahatma the Indian guy.

No plaque and no text whatsoever on this lady, but she's clearly representing some African country; which one?

This guy I would've never figured out in a million years...

... until I noticed his hat that says Monaco right on it.

That was the first half of the group. Then you cross over the entrance to a beautiful pedestrian bridge called the Passerelle Simone-de-Beauvoir (more about that later) and arrive at the second half of the gang. Let's take a look...

On to part two!

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