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http://www.guardian.co.uk/france/story/0,11882,839364,00.html Plague of plaques bemuses Parisians

Jon Henley in Paris Thursday November 14, 2002 The Guardian

They are what the French call ludique, which is to say playful, amusing and, by extension, really rather puzzling: nobody knows why they are there, who put them up, or even when they first appeared.

But the rash of bizarre, fake commemorative plaques that has suddenly begun gracing the streets of Paris has got the city council worried. There is, after all, a proper procedure to be followed in such matters, and whoever is responsible is manifestly not following it.

Perfect copies of the marble slabs that usually indicate the spot where a young resistance fighter died, or the past residence of a celebrated writer or composer, the plaques commemorate either nothing at all, or someone who appears never to have existed.

“On April 17 1967,” reads one, “nothing happened here.” Another, on the rue Saint-Sauveur in the second arrondissement, declares: “Karima Bentiffa, civil servant, lived in this building from 1984 to 1989.”

The public records office contains no evidence that a Karima Bentiffa has ever lived anywhere in the Ile-de-France region, nor indeed a certain Pierre Salatier, who according to a third plaque is a computer programmer and was born at no.17, rue du Jour on November 12 1976.

Yet another takes the game into new realms of the absurd. “This plaque,” it proudly announces, “was affixed on December 19 1953.”

In fact, bemused local residents say, it has probably been there since sometime last week. Or maybe it was last month. Nobody really knows.

“I thought they were quite funny at first,” said Claire de Clermont-Tonnerre, a conservative city councillor. “But on reflection, they detract from the real ones. Their unregulated proliferation is not very respectful of those people who really marked history.”

At Ms Clermont-Tonnerre’s urgent request, the council this week debated the issue and decided it was up to the buildings’ owners to decide whether they wanted to remove them. The city’s responsibility was confined to supervising the often interminable procedure governing who deserved a genuine plaque, it ruled.

So, for the time being, the phantom plaque-placer is likely to continue his mission undisturbed. It is at least more more tasteful than the unknown artist who for several months two years ago mystified many Parisians by planting small tricolour flags in a selection of dog turds.

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