Les Halles Is a Hole In Paris' Centre

rue Berger
From Les Halles, you can go straight to Beaubourg.

Unless You Look At It From the Right Angle

Paris:- Friday, 26. September 1997:- It is a lot brighter today than it was on Wednesday, so I have even less ambition than I had then. Why I am circling Les Halles today is more of less explained in the companion piece about Beaubourg in this issue; so I hope you are reading this second.

The 'Les Halles' that everybody likes to remember - when it was the 'belly' of Paris - was gone when I came a little over 20 years ago. I wish I'd come sooner. But if I had, it is unlikely I would still be here, but I don't know why I think this.

The city had torn down the iron pavilions and moved Paris' central food market out to some place called Rungis, which resto Pied de Cochon I believe is on some sort of 'plain' and may be somewhere near Orly. I intend going there one day to see the big meat guys with the bloody aprons, knocking off ballons in the marché bistros and eating huge plates of steak-frites. Maybe I won't go, and just imagine it.

Open day and night, with pig's feet and sauerkraut.

It is mostly from stories that you can get an idea of the old Les Halles. They have to be written by someone who came here at four or five in the morning, because the cafés and restaurants were open for the market workers - and some of these were still around when I first came on the scene.

They were all sitting forlornly on the edge of a great big hole in the ground, where Paris' 'belly' used to be. This situation went on for a very long time.

It was like an unfinished funeral. The hole was ready, but where was the corpse? The 'situation' went on for so long that people lost interest and gradually forgot about it.

Very gradually, the 'trou' - as it was called by everybody, if they ever spoke of it - was filled up by underground parking lots and other mysterious things, such as an underground roadway from the rue Turbigo that looped to the west and then looped back again, to come out - or is it in? - at the rue des Halles or the rue du Pont Neuf. I don't fountaine des Innocents know exactly because I've never used it.

Around the fountain, there is a lot of hang-out room.

The underground construction went on nearly forever - and poof! - one day it was finished, and guess what? The 'trou' was still there! 'Is' still there, I should say.

On top of the underground parking lots and the tunnels, they put in a sunken mall. The corpse was in place and they left the coffin lid off.

Needless to say, nobody thanked anybody for this thing done to the centre of Paris. But enough time has gone by so only students of architecture know the names of those responsible because everybody else forgot them when the thing was about a week old. Except for the métro, the sewers and the catacombs, most Parisians like things to be above ground.

More time has passed and without a great deal of effort it is possible to overlook this airy lack of Paris skyline. You only get reminded of it if you go up on one of the terraces which overlook it, of have the misfortune to live in one of the apartment buildings that surround this thing.

The odd aspect is, with time passing, a lot of activity is happening around the edge of the... this. There are a lot of new restaurants on the south side about where the old ones used to be, and they are spreading towards the rue de Rivoli, which is only two blocks away.

North of the Bourse de Commerce at the west end, there are another gaggle Au Pere Tranquille of restaurants between the rue du Louvre and the hulk of the big Sainte Eustache church.

If this terrace isn't big enough, there's another next door.

Past the church, the rue Montmartre where market activity is fading, and this forms a corner with the rue Montorgueil, which is very lively and still has a lot of food on it as well. Paris streets close to markets are usually pretty good.

Then there is a bit of desert where these new buildings are and there's probably not much hope for them. Life starts up again in the rue Lescot, which forms the eastern side of the big rectangle, and the rue Rambuteau runs over to Beaubourg from here.

At the southeast corner, there is the place Jean-du-Bellay and I doubt many people know its name, but the Fontaine des Innocents in it is well-known. At the corner, the rue Berger heads towards Beaubourg, although it changes its name before getting there.

So, between Les Halles and Beaubourg, there is this other rectangle and it has three streets dividing it: the rue Saint-Denis, the boulevard de Sébastopol and the narrow rue Quincampoix.

You can see how the grand restaurants with their big terraces have started at the top of the rue Lescot, and if you extrapolate a bit you can see more of them moving in until they reach the place nobody knows the name of; then spreading east towards Beaubourg, but also spreading on to Sébasto - or maybe big shops will come here - and the cafés in the hole - le trou the rue Saint-Denis will continue their upward trend, and so on - maybe.

And here it is - a bird's-eye view of the 'hole' itself.

You see, the sun is touching my head and I am blotting out this 'trou' by imagining its surroundings overwhelming it with life on the streets and café terraces; seeing it become a real Paris centre - because it is in these rectangle spaces and the scales of things can be human and not monumental expanses - which is about all you have in the air-space above the 'trou.'

It seems to be happening this way already and all I'm trying to say is that you can come down here, and get this 'street' thing that is more than just starting, and with the way it ties into Beaubourg to the east, it can be pretty good as it is.

It depends on how you look at it.

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