Thursday, April 18, 2013

Parisian Grass Munchers

Yesterday, with a splendid sun soaring in the heavens, I wanted to be a sheep lolling in a pasture.  In weather like that, who needs to do anything else besides lie in the grass and chew?  To be precise, I wanted to be a Ouessant (pronounced “wessahn”) sheep.  Members of that venerable ruminant race have recently been hired by the Paris city hall to graze in the 19th arrondissement.  Not a bad gig for a sheep. 

On April 3, four fluffy Ouessants (also known as Ushants) were let loose in an overgrown, 2000 square meter field next to the municipal archives.  Their mission?  To cut the grass.  For two weeks, they will eat and eat and eat until the grass is shorn to crew cut length.  This herbaceous fiesta is actually an experiment in “eco-pasturing,” basically a non-polluting and fun way to mow the grass.  Look Ma!  No herbicides!  No noise, grass clippings, or chemical fertilizers either.  If everything goes according to plan during the next few experimental runs, our ovine friends may end up grazing in the Bois de Vincennes or the Bois de Boulogne.  

The city hall website has supplied a charming video showing the sheep capering about their temporary home.  The sheep themselves look like they could use a little mowing.  The Ushant breed was chosen for its hardy “rustic” quality and its small size—also known as the Breton Dwarf, this is one of the smallest sheep around.   In other words, they are very cute. 

Des moutons dans la ville ! par mairiedeparis

To my surprise, I learned that this sheep has a tie, albeit a loose one, to the American Revolution.  It seems that Ushant, a tiny island off the coast of Brittany on the south end of the English Channel, was the site of a nasty naval battle between the French and the English in 1778.  France, loath to pass up a chance to attack the British, had recently decided to enter the war on the American side.  The British sent out a fleet to keep an eye on French naval activities in Brest, and the French sent out a fleet to see what the British were up to.  They met up somewhere around Ushant, where the weather got so bad that neither side managed to do much damage to the other, nor could either claim a victory.  Each fleet came home to cranky officials and much political squabbling.

The Battle of Ushant by Théodore Gudin
Where do the sheep fit in?  Well they don’t, really.  They do come from the island though, and I can imagine them mournfully bleating while the battle raged at sea.  I’m sure they are much happier munching on grass at the archives.

1 comment:

Paul Heymont said...

It's nice to see the return of Municipal Sheep to the fold, as it were. In the U.S., sheep were the official groundskeepers in both Prospect Park in Brooklyn and Central Park in Manhattan up through the 1940s.

During Woodrow Wilson's time as President, before and during the First World War, a flock of sheep grazed the White House lawns in Washington.