The perfect mot juste. Circular, surrounded by a pierced metal screen. A centralized scallop of convenience, protected by a glass canopy on elegant metal brackets: a lamp in the centre. What could be more economical, yet more satisfactory? Like many other good things in Paris, it looks like an Art Nouveau design. There is one in the avenue de Wagram, just north of the Arc de Triomphe, though they are everywhere. A new prudishness now seems to want to remove them, so piss while you can.
Department stores: La Samaritaine
There is no better way to judge the gulf between Paris and London than by going into one of the big department stores. The function is the same, the plan is the same – especially in stores like Whiteleys which adopted the French plan of a big central light-well. Yet the Parisian store is an occasion, where London’s emporia seem to be made into one more of life’s tribulations, like cooking, Christmas, and cocktail parties. Here, everything and everyone is sharper and brighter; there seems to be an electric charge on the place. An incautious step will put the male visitor in a landscape which looks as though it is panties as far as the eye can see. The same situation could occur, doubtless, in Selfridges or Barker’s, but it wouldn’t feel the same.
Trip To Paris Photo Gallery
Day Trips From Paris
Paris Tube Zones
Louvre and Saint-Germain-l’Auxerrois from the top floor of the Samaritaine
Any big Parisian store will do: Galeries Lafayette, Au Printemps, Monoprix, Bon Marche. But the Samaritaine is in the heart of historical Paris – it is next to the Louvre and almost as big – and so the upper floors have delightful and unexpected views of familiar monuments, in particular the fully buttressed chevet of Saint-Germain-l’Auxerrois. It is as if the Army & Navy had been rammed
Paris Metro Zones
French butchers’ shops of about 1900 achieved an expression as complete as a steam engine. Because meat is meat in any decade, they have not been subject to fashion and so a lot of them remain. The pattern is usually the same, the details are always different: a classical framework which can be over-emphasized to the point of self-mockery as only the French know how, augmented by panels under glass, beautifully marbled and painted. The best shop I have found is the Boucherie du Luxembourg, at the corner of rue Madame and rue de Vaugirard, just west of the Luxembourg Gardens. But there are many others.
Cours des Halles, 36 rue de Bourgogne (near the rue de Grenelle)
Just a small greengrocer’s shop, but it can give you more of the spirit of Paris than the renowned eighteenth-century hotels which are just around the corner in the rue de Grenelle. It is an elegant modern conversion that has opened out the shop into a U-shape around a central pillar. The rest is people buying and selling, and a personal artistry that makes magnificent compositions out of the fruit and veg; endives laid out with a grand flourish, oranges and apples heaped up like cannonballs in military precision. A daily, renewable work of art, as valid as any of the creations that come out of art schools. (If the artist-assistant has left, then find your own grocer’s shop.)
Coppers. Love em or hate em, you cannot, in London, grant them much visible expression of personality. The Parisian gendarme is involved, not detached – and I don’t doubt that this may mean a readier resort to beating-up. But, on the right side of the law and particularly in traffic control, it implies a human experience, not an imperfect imitation of robots. The gendarme will direct, harangue, swear outright: he is asking for the rapid, correct, and supple movement of traffic. His gestures will have the directed precision of the opera, and if you suffer a contrevention, it will at least be delivered with a certain flourish by a human being; and this is worth a lot.
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