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Archive for June, 2011

Les Halles, Soul and Stomach of Paris

A couple days ago I did an interview with French-American t.v., and one of the questions that came up was about Paris in the old days, meaning the ‘60s. Was it better then or now? Not a new question to be sure: Just ask M.F.K. Fisher or Proust, or Woody Allen for heaven’s sake, who has just made a film about the ever-receding horizon of the “real Paris.”

And of course, when changes are made to a beloved skyline, people are bound to be upset. The Eiffel Tower, after all, the ultimate symbol of Paris, was decried as an ugly monstrosity of the Industrial Age when it first loomed over the Seine.

Quatorze Juillet at the Eiffel Tower

Personally, I don’t believe it’s the addition of the new that’s so disturbing, as the destruction of the old. One thing I do still miss about that “old Paris,” is the great central market Les Halles, sometimes referred to as the soul and the stomach of the city. Its heaps of produce, the sounds of the truckers and vendors and buyers, the smells that arose from the cheeses and meats, to say nothing of gutters nearby, produced visceral and unforgettable sense memories. And that doesn’t even get to those late nights spent there seeing in the dawn, eating onion soup and drinking hardy vin du pays.

As Luc Sante said in 2010 in the New York Review of Books, “Les Halles ws more central to the idea of Paris in the minds of its own citizens than any tower or monument could ever be.”

The destruction, or modernization, of Les Halles began in 1970 until it was transformed, mainly into a mindless underground shopping mall.

So, in this case, old Paris or new Paris? You make the call.

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