Feargus O'Sullivan is a contributing writer to CityLab, covering Europe. His writing focuses on housing, gentrification and social change, infrastructure, urban policy, and national cultures. He has previously contributed to The Guardian, The Times, The Financial Times, and Next City, among other publications.
The Louvre Museum especially is overrun by the vermin this year, but 'Ratatouille' may have endeared them to visitors.
France’s capital is so damned sophisticated, it seems that even the city’s vermin are cultured. The lawns of the Louvre Museum have a new breed of visitors joining the usual art-loving crowd this summer: rats. Loads of rats.
Hiding in the formal box hedges that run like ribs across the lovely Jardin Du Carrousel, the Louvre’s rats may number in the hundreds this year. According to many reports in the French press, they've gotten so bold that they’re coming out in daylight, skittishly sucking up the crumbs of a thousand tourist picnics before scuttling back to shelter. Like most big cities, Paris has its fair share of rodents. And the Louvre’s proximity to the Seine means its precincts have always acted as a sort of murine highway. Still, Paris isn’t used to anything like the sheer effrontery of these daytime packs, who have arrived in such numbers due to a special set of circumstances.
First, Paris has had a very mild winter, meaning that more rats made it through the cold months alive, plump, and breeding than usual. Second, central Paris is currently racked with subterranean construction projects that have sent rats above ground for refuge. Third, the rats that had decided to stay below ground found themselves flushed out anyway by flash floods that hit earlier this year. (The usually reliable sewers are still frequently impassable for them.) All told, subterranean Paris is a pretty bad place to be a rat right now.
Could there be a fourth reason? Granted, Paris’ journalists are tired and waiting to go on holiday when August starts this weekend, but there’s been ample talk of a "Ratatouille effect." Public perceptions of Parisian rats have become softened thanks to Disney’s animated portrayal of their culinary skills. It seems that visitors just aren’t scared enough of them anymore. Photographer Xavier Francolon told Metronews:
For them, rats mean Ratatouille, and Ratatouille means Paris. ... You could say that tourists, like Parisians, are just used to it. They eat their pâté, drink rosé or clink their champagne next to the rats. There are even some who come here to have a siesta!
Paris isn’t taking this rat invasion lying down, however. Following sweeps earlier this year, exterminators are being sent in yet again to clear the menace. Not to worry, vermin fans: Should anyone miss the Louvre’s recent influx of rats, they can find some consolation at Disneyland Paris. The park's latest attraction? A ride based on Ratatouille, the first Disney theme-park offering not first tested in the United States. Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo visited the ride following its opening earlier this month, and it’s hoped the ride and attached restaurants will attract a million extra visitors. So maybe rats aren’t going to prove too harmful to Paris tourism after all.