What’s in a parvis in Paris?

According to Collins-Robert (1978 edition) a ‘parvis’ is a square in front of a church. On Wednesday 25 September the ‘Parvis Alan Turing’ was officially dedicated in Paris, the result of a collaboration between the Mairie of the 13th Arrondissement and the Mairie of Paris, and while streets and buildings and meeting-rooms – in fact, all sorts of things great and small – are named after Alan Turing all the time, this one is special.

Plaque for the Parvis Alan Turing, Paris

To begin with, the 13th Arrondissement isn’t, perhaps, the first place that tourists think of when they go to Paris, but it’s where the work gets done. In particular, the district is the location of ‘Station F’, an old railway structure which was refurbished and given a new lease of life as a hub and home to a bunch of tech start-ups, the brainchild of telecoms businessman Xavier Niel. The Financial Times quoted one of the people involved as saying Station F had put France on the map, which some people might think rather a bold claim, but what it tells you is that techy stuff is flourishing over there as much as it is over here.

So it was a good idea to connect up future tech applications with a founder of computer science, and name the parvis in front of the Station F building after Alan Turing. Station F is not exactly a church; a more modern translation of ‘parvis’ might be a forecourt or concourse, but those words lack a certain glamour which you might get from a church, or a vibrant incubator full of tech brains creating the next app. You get the idea though.

And that meant a small dedication ceremony: tributes to Alan Turing were paid by Jérôme Coumet, the Mayor of the 13th Arrondissement, and by Christophe Girard, deputy Mayor of Paris whose brief is Cultural Affairs. M Girard, waving a very large blow-up of the £50 note design, spoke movingly of the path taken from the climate of intolerance of sexual preference which prevailed – even in France – in the 1950s to today’s age. Inventive people coming up with sparky ideas should not have to fear persecution, or even simply being sidelined, because of prejudice. Even the weather agreed, allowing the event a bright interlude between September downpours.

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