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.

fnac started out as a sort of co-op by being a buying centre for teachers. The idea was to offer teachers lower prices and a greater selection. The company itself was at the beginning sort of a co-op as well; but has since become a corporation with shares on the exchange.

But fnac continues to have a consumer-oriented attitude. It agitates for lower sales tax on records and computer materials for example; claiming these are not luxury items.

In its areas of merchandize, fnac has a big selection. It can only be so big though, so there a niches left open to competitors and specialty stores. fnac also does not have the lowest prices; but it forces its competitors to have thin margins.

For most people, fnac has what they want, for a fair price. Therefore, fnac is popular and does a huge business, being a leader in France for books and records. The new store is fnac's fourth multi-product one in the city; and the chain has 55 outlets in France - many of them photo-service bureaus. Everybody who lives here buys something at fnac sometime.

fnac not only sells books, records and photographic gear, but it also promotes authors, performers and photography in general - by putting on book signings and photo expos and by holding conferences and sponsoring cultural events.

The one thing I do not know about fnac is whether its after-sales service is any good. Nothing I've ever brought there has broken.

A month ago, fnac opened a new store in the centre of Paris, between the big department stores on the boulevard Haussmann and the gare Saint-Lazare.

For the occasion, the fnac has an exhibition of photographs Ingrid Bergman photo by Yul Brunner by Yul Brynner. Before becoming an actor, he was a circus performer in Paris and sang in Russian nightclubs in the city. He was also a radio announcer and produced programs for TV.

Yul Brynner at work, photographing Ingrid Bergman and incidently, himself. Photo: Yul Brynner©1955

After the success of the 'King and I' on Broadway, he became a leading actor in Hollywood films. During all this time, he was a passionate photographer; and his daughter, Victoria Brynner has written a book about him as such, entitled, 'Yul Brynner: Photographer.' The photos she has selected will be on display at fnac Saint-Lazare until Saturday, 6. September.

The old Passage du Harve was opened on 7. September 1846 and although it never had the elegance of other passages around Paris, it always had the greatest number of people passing through it. Despite this traffic, no attempt was made to keep up its appearances and its only attraction in my memory was the electric-train shop at the entrance off the pedestrian rue de Caumartin.

The interior of the building was torn down and the passage has been replaced by a new one, while the exterior of the Haussmann-style building has been cleaned up. It retains the notion of the 'passage,' but you will recognize it for the mall it is.

As the location is right on top of a couple of new underground lines - Eole and Météor - nearing completion - and the new Passage du Harve has a direct underground link to the station, this whole area will come in for a non-stop upgrade as major merchants attempt to locate near this even greater flow of potential customers.

The photograph, 'Yul Brynner Photographing Ingrid Bergman,' is used by permission. An original print of it can be seen in the Galerie Photo at fnac Saint-Lazare.

Some URLs

If you have wondered what kids in France are watching this summer, then check out cable-TV's 'Canal J' Web site. The bits of this I see occasionally remind me it all started modestly with the 'Mickey Mouse Club.' Nearly the same thing now; but in color and in French.

If you have ever wondered about what Paris' regional transit authority thinks, it has a small poster showing a grand-dad with a surfboard, with their Web address on it. As far as I know, you can't take the métro to any surfing beaches, but maybe the RATP knows better.

To find out how to take the 'A' train in France, the SNCF - France's national railway system, has a Web site which tells you all you need to know - I think. Since I do not think I'll be taking the train to any place except Paris, I didn't check out the whole site - that's for you to do.

Metropole One Year Ago

Issue 1.21 - 15. July 1996 featured the columns - Metropole 'Diary' - Out In the Country; and 'Au Bistro' - At Long Last, the 'Real' Holidays Can Begin. Articles in the issue were: count-down eiffel 'Bastille Day in Paris, CCVI Edition - Long-time Popular Favorite in France - Revolution !' The second feature was 'Bastille Attacked and Captured - Shopkeepers and Tradesmen Defeat Swiss Guards,' and 'Showtime at the Iron Lady - the Tour Eiffel.' The last feature was 'The Garage of Dreams - Nightmares Under the Hood.' Ric's Cartoon of the Week rounded off the issue.

The Tour Eiffel Countdown to 2000:
Only 901 days left to go.

Regards, Ric
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contents to: Ric Erickson, Editor.
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