The day Ratatouille spied on me in Paris!

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Last year the presence of big rats in the public gardens of Paris attracted significant media attention. It was not rare to spot the rodents scampering in the Tuileries Garden. According to a gardener working in Paris’ parks, some tourists are to be blamed for the multiplication of rats: “The tourists throw their scraps of pizza and sandwiches all over the place“.

No later than a week ago I got myself face to face with Ratatouille as I was having an improvised picnic near the Hôtel de Sens in the Marais. It’s a beautiful place with a formal garden and… gutters from where a couple of rats spied on me. I managed to finally take a photo of one of them – they proved to be very fearful of humans which might be a good thing!

As I continued eating (and not being disgusted by these little creatures with their eyes on me), I remembered a story I once had to learn by heart at school: Le rat de ville et le rat des champs, a fable by La Fontaine.

This famous fable from French fabulist Jean de la Fontaine (1621-1695) and based on Aesop’s Fables, The City Rat and the Country Rat tells about a country rat invited by a town rat for lunch. Having their meal disturbed by the dogs, the country rat reflects on the situation that it is better to have peace than to fear with having plenty.

And it goes like this:

FRANÇAIS :

Autrefois le rat des villes

Invita le rat des champs,

D’une façon fort civile,

A des reliefs d’ortolans.

Sur un tapis de Turquie

Le couvert se trouva mis.

Je laisse à penser la vie

Que firent ces deux amis.

Le régal fut fort honnête :

Rien ne manquait au festin ;

Mais quelqu’un troubla la fête

Pendant qu’ils étaient en train.

A la porte de la salle

Ils entendirent du bruit :

Le rat de ville détale,

Son camarade le suit.

Le bruit cesse, on se retire :

Rats en campagne aussitôt ;

Et le citadin de dire :

« Achevons tout notre rôt.

– C’est assez, dit le rustique ;

Demain vous viendrez chez moi.

Ce n’est pas que je me pique

De tous vos festins de roi ;

Mais rien ne vient m’interrompre :

Je mange tout à loisir.

Adieu donc. Fi du plaisir

Que la crainte peut corrompre ! »

ENGLISH TRANSLATION:

A city rat, one night,

Did, with a civil stoop,

A country rat invite

To end a turtle soup.

Upon a Turkey carpet

They found the table spread,

And sure I need not harp it

How well the fellows fed.

The entertainment was

A truly noble one;

But some unlucky cause

Disturb’d it when begun.

It was a slight rat-tat,

That put their joys to rout;

Out ran the city rat;

His guest, too, scamper’d out.

Our rats but fairly quit,

The fearful knocking ceased.

‘Return we,’ cried the cit,

To finish there our feast.

‘No,’ said the rustic rat;

‘To-morrow dine with me.

I’m not offended at

Your feast so grand and free,–

‘For I’ve no fare resembling;

But then I eat at leisure,

And would not swap, for pleasure

So mix’d with fear and trembling.’

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About Author

Pierre is a French/Australian who is passionate about France and its culture. He grew up in France and Germany and has also lived in Australia and England. In 2014 he moved back to Europe from Sydney with his wife and daughter to be closer to their families and to France. He has a background teaching French and holds a Master of Translating and Interpreting English-French with the degree of Master of International Relations and a degree of Economics and Management.

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