Found At Last - Something Unique

the Bar Zing
The song lyrics, 'Zing Went the Strings of My Heart,'
may have been written here.

Yul Brynner Photo Show Debuts at New fnac

by Ric Erickson

Issue 2.28:- Metropole Paris - Monday, 14. July 1997:- Last week, while I was poking around the Oberkampf area looking for the new trendy 'in' destinations of Paris' bright young things, I came across a shop and its keeper who are none of the above, but something even better: unique.

I don't 'do' much shopping myself, at the moment. When I did do it, I used to comb the town for what I was looking for. For reasons I don't know myself, I could never find what I wanted in the first place I looked.

Nor in the second, nor in the tenth. For me shopping was agony, because nobody makes anything well anymore. Nothing is designed well, nothing is made with craft; or, nothing mass-produced is worth having. It is never just 'right.'

On top of it, modern merchandizing is homogenizing everything; even the shops are becoming the same - and so are the malls Caractere window they are in. There is sort of a constant visual murder going on. If you take the time to talk to people who sell retail - to you, to me - I think you'll find that these are victims too. If you ask, what else have they got, they glaze over - have no idea that there should be a variety on offer.

Everything in the window is hand-made, except the reflections.

An area of goods where you would expect to find variety; items of decor - art, say - are no better. The ideas are generally zero, the design is worse and, of course, the item is poorly executed or made.

So, suffering from this visual murder, you stumble along city streets not wasting glances on the wares displayed in windows because you know you are not going to see anything you have not seen tens, hundreds, thousands of times before.

In a city like Paris there are special windows, where deluxe goods are on show. I have said this before: you can see things that make your eyes feel good. But these rare items are either clothes for ladies, which I don't wear; or they are horribly expensive and possibly old-fashioned as well and if I could afford them I wouldn't want them anyway.

Last week I saw these neat things in a window. I broke stride to give them a quick once-over and did the same with the next two, larger windows. When I was about 20 metres beyond the shop, I stopped.

I went back and looked at the decorative items in all the windows carefully. The ones in the first window I'd seen looked very amusing; and it was going to take a long time to look at each one of them carefully as there were several dozen of them.

The quickest way to deal with it was to go into the shop and ask. A lady was sitting at a desk on the right near the back and since there was a hocker in front of the desk I sat on it. She looked up.

"Am I wrong, or is everything in your window a hand-made one-off piece?"

The lady smiled. Somebody new noticed.

This started off quite a conversation. There aren't many shops around with hundreds in individual items, all hand-made, and no two identical. On top of it, these thing are all well-made, well-designed and thought-out.

The shop is called Caractère and its owner is Sofie Rapaud. Sofie herself makes collages and some of these are lamp-shades. She uses the paper shreds of old billboards and rearranges them, in such a way, inside Caractere so that the surface is nearly seamless, almost as if it were a single sheet - but being collages, none are the same.

The frame of the shade and the wire-metal structure of the lamp she also does. Besides her, there are about 20 other artists who supply this shop, and some of them supply no others.

One of Sofie's lamps is on the left in the photo.

Sofie tells me they are serious artists and I can see this from the designs of the objects in the shop; but these are things they make to pay the rent, pay the bills, to tide them over while they work of their 'real' work - which may not be quite so decorative as what is in the shop, and is certainly not as inexpensive.

The shop becomes an 'art gallery' once a year in February, when Sofie and her associated artists decide on a theme and build an extra-unique collection around it.

If you have shopping-fatigue - everything looks the same to you - then I recommend a visit to this little shop. If you come away empty-handed, it'll be because you can't make up your mind which you like best.

Caractère, 99. rue Saint-Maur, Paris 11. Métro: Parmentier, Saint-Maur or Ménilmontant. Opens at 11:00. Closed Mondays.

The Meaning of fnac and the Passage du Harve

Before you puzzle yourself overly about the meaning of the above headline, I will explain what fnac is, because I have used the term before and if you have new Passage du Harve been reading Metropole I'm sure you will have tripped over it.

New entry to the new passage, with the new branch of fnac just inside.

fnac stands for something, just like RATP or SNCF, except I don't know what. It is the trade name of a chain of cultural department stores in France; selling books, records, photo equipment and film, sound and video equipment and accessories. fnac also sells TVs, HiFis, and satellite reception gear; Walkmans, DAT recorders and so on, and now sells computers and software.

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