Rivoli in the Rain

marks & spencer
Rain and shopping and one lonely shopper, heading for the buses.

About Rain and Shopping and More Rain

Paris:- Friday, 6. March 1998:- It is definitely going to rain today. I have guaranteed this by foolishly taking a flyer on a reader's idea - to look at a part of Paris I haven't seen before.

It wasn't actually an idea; it was more of a question. But when I looked at the map I saw there were a couple of square centimetres unknown to me - and while riding the métro I made the snap and dumb decision to check it out.

This caused the rain to start as soon as I got out of the métro. This caused the rain to continue while I did not explore this unknown part of Paris. It continued to fall until I came to another métro station to get out of it.

I have caused such havoc with the weather, that when I get to the area I am going to write about, it is raining harder than ever. If you remember the rain in Paris today, you will know whose fault it was.

Last week Paris was flooded - yes, flooded! - with posters and billboards, for a new clothing store. The city was totally plastered with them. I did not hear any, but radio advertising was reported to be heavy as well.

The result was, so many people showed up forh & m window the store's opening, that a traffic lane had to be closed on the rue de Rivoli. The CRS mutiny police were called out as reinforcements for public safety. Apparently, potential customers were let into the store in shifts.

In addition to creating a colossal traffic jam last Saturday, the weekend customers practically took away the whole store, emptying shelves that are normally only restocked twice daily.

One of H & M's windows, with some of H & M's clothing.

The stretch of the rue de Rivoli, between the Hôtel de Ville - Paris' main city hall - and the rue du Louvre, is an ordinary Paris shopping street. By 'ordinary,' I mean that there are no boutiques of the type found around rue Royale or the rue Saint-Honoré or its Faubourg part.

The landmarks on this stretch are the department stores; the Bazar de l'Hôtel de Ville on the east and Samaritaine on the west.

The Dutch concern's 'C & A' has been opposite Samaritaine ever since I can remember. The English 'Marks and Spencer' was installed further east a long time ago. Today's visit has been inspired by the Swedish company's brand-new 'H & M' store, which is right next to 'C & A.'

These three stores have three things in common beside their double-barrelled names: they all sell low-to-medium priced clothing, they are all foreign-owned and they are all on a short bit of the long rue de Rivoli.

The whole street is just over three kilometres long and its name comes from one of Napoléon's victorious battles, at Rivoli in 1797. Few streets in Paris are named after defeats, but some streets change names like political barometres.

The western part of the street - where the arcades are - was opened from 1800 to 1835. The eastern part, where we are today, was opened progressively from 1849 to 1856 - and there is quite a long list of 'disappeared' streets - but not their histories - on account of it.

'Au Nouveau Paris' opened in 1879 with the sub-title of 'Galeries de l'Hôtel de Ville,' where the Bazar de l'Hôtel de Ville is today. It was founded further east in 1860 by Ruel, who came from Lyon. At first he had sidewalk vendors working around the city and in thisfoulords rue rivoli way discovered the corner of rue de Rivoli and rue des Archives to be the best spot.

The 'Colosse de Rhodes' store was at number 82 in 1850, and the big department store, 'A Pygmalion,' was at the corner of the boulevard de Sébastopol until it disappeared around 1930.

This guy selling scarves has been here for 498 years.

This last was one of Paris' oldest, founded in 1793. At first it was in the rue Saint-Denis, but came to take up the whole block at Rivoli and Sébastopol in 1854. After its fire of 1871 it was rebuilt and it absorbed the Eden-Concert in 1895.

The Samaritaine department store started out as a sub-let of a café at the corner of rue de la Monnaie and rue du Pont-Neuf, and this became permanent in 1870 when Emile Cognacq put up 'La Samaritaine' sign, which was coined after a pump located on the Pont-Neuf from 1609 until 1813.

The present buildings were constructed in 1903 and 1927 and they eliminated two 19th century shops, 'Au Diable Boiteux' and 'La Fille Mal Gardée.' The present store takes up three blocks on the south side of the rue de Rivoli, but its actual address may be in the rue de la Monnaie, which dates to the 12th century.

Because of the rain I didn't bother criss-crossing the street to verify the building numbers; the south side numbers have no relation with numbers on the north. The Louvre has the numbers 103 and 107 and that's it, because they have been absorbed by the 'Grand Louvre,' which no longer needs numbers for an address. The Tuileries garden, beyond it, has no address either.

In this way, the Bazar de l'Hôtel de Ville at number 72, is at least 700 metres away from Samaritaine, at about 75 to 83, rue de Rivoli.

It is pouring pretty steadily as I trudge thisshadows on rivoli distance. This is not at all like the boulevard Haussmann and the 'grands magazins' area, despite the two 'grands magazins' here. The good Baron, whose name was Georges, was Préfet of the Seine from 1853 until 1870, so he might have had a hand in pushing Rivoli east, or at least, he took over a job already started.

This is not a heads-up day on the rue de Rivoli.

But it is not as tidy as his creations, and the pavements are irregular. The cross-streets are left-overs and they give the rue de Rivoli an older air than it deserves.

I am dodging showers pouring off awnings and by the time I arrive to inspect the new H & M store I am soaked. I must look like a drowned rat. H & M's 79 franc short-sleeve shirts do not impress me and I wonder why they only seem to have shirts with no sleeves, and you can see through them too.

A store direction sign says regular clothing is elsewhere, but I do not want to drip all over the place. There are a lot of people in the store and I wonder if they are all leaving for the Canaries on Friday.

To be fair, I also check out the C & A store, which is next in line, across a narrow street, and it also has short-sleeve shirts. There are so few customers here I feel like dancing in the open spaces, which are larger than at H & M.

Since I have dripped off somewhat, I even go upstairs to look at four-button suits. With four buttons, I don't bother looking at the prices, but I do enter a contest.

I have to estimate the cost of what a mannequin is wearing and write the sum on a postcard, and drop it into a slot in a box. I don't bother going around the store looking'skidmore girls for the stuff so I can write the right amount on the contest entry, because I don't care if I win a scooter or not.

Even in the rain, some young ladies are having fun in Paris. From left, Elizabeth, Robin and Adina, in front of their 'college.'

A trio of young ladies are taking their photos as I slouch through puddles towards métro Louvre-Rivoli. It occurs to me to ask them if they want me to take a shot of the three of them, so they won't have these 'one short' duo photos everybody brings back from their trips.

They dubiously agree and I pop the shot for them, in front of this nondescript building, with a small plaque for Skidmore College on it.

They in turn agree to be in Metropole, and taking this one extra shot is an agreeable end to a damp day in Paris.

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