Okay. Parisians are not known for smiling. A discreet lot, they tend to reserve this facial gesture for the the proper moment and the appropriate place. But that may be changing – at least here on the Left Bank – thanks to reports of bear sightings that began last winter and have not let up!
The sightings have provoked a chain reaction of smiles and neighbourly goodwill – not fear and running for your life as one might expect.
Residents and visitors alike prowl the streets with their cameras and cellphones, waiting for a glimpse of the giant beasts.
Photos of bears – in the most improbably places and impossible positions – run rampant on social media.
The 13th and 5th districts of the Left Bank (bordering arrondissements) have become haunts for bear trackers.
These giant plush teddies hang out in cafés, bookstores, dry-cleaners, on motorcycles, in pharmacies, hair salons, wine shops; limbs demurely crossed, drinking coffee, reclining on a windowsill, hanging over a balcony, huddled in a group, reading the paper, or simply people-watching.
Their beady eyes and loveable faces bring joy to the young and old as well as to the most cynical among us.
So what’s the story behind this ‘bear happening’?
… It all began last Christmas, a festive time, a time ripe for all kinds of magic… Philippe, a benevolent Frenchman and commerçant – he runs a bookstore on Avenue des Gobelins – began introducing the bears into his quartier. Why? « Times were tough » , he said. « I wanted to add joy to people’s lives and get them to smile.”
His adorable gentle giants, at almost 5ft tall and weighing as much as 15lbs, did the trick!
No marketing. Just Philippe’s crazy idea! This soft-spoken ‘bear of a man’ with a wild grizzly beard, roams the neighbourhood in rental vehicles filled with his giant bears, scouting for new homes for them.
« From the moment the bears started appearing, the neighbourhood came alive, people stopped and talked to one another; they spoke with pleasure about ‘their village’. I’ve always had a stuffed animal and I know the power they can have! » Philippe’s simple desire to make people happy has brought smiles to his quartier and beyond!
The ‘NOUNOURS DES GOBELINS’ operation has been a huge success! « At the beginning, I had to convince people that this was not a commercial venture. Now, I have to turn down requests! » says Philippe, laughing.
So on your next visit to Paris, take your camera/cell phone and head out on a bear-hunting expedition on the Left Bank… And be prepared to smile!
Bear Photos were taken by the two of us (Sandy & Philippe) who separately and together tracked down bears in our neighbourhood over the past several months. Our faces are still sore from smiling.