Downtown, Dark Street, Bright Roof

photo: sidewalk stall, printemps

Street stalls are on Haussmann in front of Printemps
and Galeries Lafayette.

Shopping For Sights On Haussmann

Paris:- Friday, 15. September 2000:- Two days in a row, the weather forecast is bamboozled. My expected miserable overcast with rain in the east has turned into a perfectly normal and sunny September day, with a bit of a wind to twirl a few dried leaves around.

Why is this so bad? Simply because my mood is ready to be somber, ready to see bright gloom reflecting off black-glistening sidewalks, ready to see reflected wobbly neons and upsidedown daubs of sketched tree trunks.

For today's weather I have no plan at all. An errand takes me to Saint-Lazare and this puts me downtown.

On the Rue Caumartin, which is the pedestrian funnel between the busy station and the even busier 'grands magazins' on the Boulevard Haussmann, there are young people with polling questions waylaying likely prospects for answers.

I am so planless that I'm ready for one of these polls. The young lady has a control-question, andphoto: printemps building I fail to have the right answer - I don't drink beer. "Ask me something about café or Orangina," I say, but she doesn't want to. No wonder the polls are always skewed.

Further down, a young man gives me a brochure for a nearby shop. Like most of the pollsters, he is a student and gets a bit of extra money this way. He says he usually works in the Saint-Lazare-Opéra-Madeleine triangle.

Printemps has the building that looks like a birthday cake.

This is downtown Paris, full of mid-to-high-end shops; where residents rub shoulders with visitors. The four blocks of Haussmann, from the Rue du Harve to the Chaussée d'Antin, have the big department stores Printemps and Galeries Lafayette, the Dutch-owned C & A clothing store, and the British chain, Marks & Spencer, which has clothing and some food for Anglo-fanciers.

The student with the brochures doesn't care for any of this. He has some objection to department stores in principle. Maybe he's a Communist, revolted by material abundance.

Here, also in abundance, are four nearby métro stations and two RER stations, including the new RER 'E' station on Caumartin. The Saint-Lazare train station is also the terminus of seven bus lines, plus another four pass in the vicinity.

The RER 'E' line has been added to give residents to the northeast of Paris a direct line to downtown shopping. It is so new that there aren't many residents living in the northeast yet, in Villers-sur-Marne or Chelles-Gournay.

However, its main interest may be its near-connection to Gare du Nord - which makes it an extension of the Eurostar from London, the fast trains from Brussels and the Moscow-Paris express.

My high school French textbook had a blurry black and white photo of Printemps in it. What made it interesting was the teacher's enthusiasm; according to her Printemps 'was Paris.' I'll admit I still think it's a good name.

The Boulevard Haussmann is a wide street, running west one-way from the 'Grands Boulevards' at Richelieu-Drouot to beyond Saint-Augustin, where it metamorphoses itself into the Avenue de Friedland and splashes into the Etoile.

Five or six lanes of traffic come bursting along the boulevard; often enough during the day for it to be wiser to wait for the green-man signals to cross it.

The sidewalks are another matter. Both Printemps and Galeries Lafayette follow Paris' centuries-oldphoto: crosswalk, haussmann tradition - as do Paris' other department stores, BHV, Samaritaine and Bon Marché - of having street stalls outside them.

This is one of the few Paris areas where pedestrians actually use crosswalks.

Add to these the métro entries, the news kiosks, and the underground parking entries. After the wide sidewalk is narrowed by all of these, then add the non-stop construction barriers that have been set up here for what seems like the last 25 years.

The Rue de Provence runs behind both department stores; if you want to move quickly and don't mind dodging trucks, this is a faster way to go. Also, the C & A and Marks & Spencer side of Haussmann is less cluttered - only with construction barriers - so to get ahead faster crossing the street is another option.

But today - an apparently normal Friday - there isn't a big a crowd outside anyway. The 'Grands Magazins' side of Haussmann is getting a lot of slanting sunshine coming in from the southwest, the leaves are blowing around and there doesn't seem to be much of a frantic rush.

This allows a certain indulgence to just look things over a bit. People do shop at the outside stalls, where most items are low-priced with matching values. The people working the stalls see everything going on, so they are sources of stories too.

There is some street entertainment, some freelance vendors of windup dolls or turkeys; sometimes there are sidewalk painters, and there is the regulation organ-grinder.

After darting about the sidewalks and stumbling over construction rubble I decide it's time to get some fresher air and the place to do it is on the terrace above the Galeries Lafayette.

Both department stores have colored-glass domes in their interiors. Printemps' can be viewed from its top-floor restaurant, which is washed with its light.

The Galeries Lafayette dome is viewable from the ground floor of the store and from galleries on higher floors. The two floors and rooftop terrace, added in 1959, surround the dome and the terrace is level with its top.

The terrace is huge and today it is very bright. There is a little café stuck in its eastern corner like an outpost. This is the place to get the best view of Montmartre, which seems higher and closer than it is.

Since the weather forecast has let me down by not bringing the promised rain from Ireland, I wander around in its substitute instead. I don't bother with any of the coin-operated telescopes - the city is clear enough in its Friday afternoon haze.

Another thing I don't bother with is shopping. Nor do I explore the stores. To do so, thoroughly, would take a day - or days - for each. But as long as department stores have been around, they still outclass malls for sheer diversity. When they are in buildings built for the last century's shoppers, then they are worth sightseeing too.


Jules Jaluzot opened Printemps's doors for the first time on Thursday, 11. May 1865. Jaluzot had first learned the trade at the Bon Marché. A fireman was killed when it burnt down on 9. March 1881.

Gustave Laguionie started as a department head in 1867, worked for another company for 19 years, and then came back to take over from Jules Jaluzot in 1905, when the store's size was redoubled.

The 'new' Printemps was begun on 23. May 1907 and construction was completed in 1912. It burn down again on 28. September 1921; the present version was reopened on Monday, 16. June 1924.

Galeries Lafayette

On Sunday, 1. September 1895, Alphonse Kahn and Théophile Bader opened a small boutique, tophoto: under coupole, gal lafayette sell ribbons and lace. After a first years' success, Kahn retired and Bader took over - proposing new commercial ideas; free entry, fixed prices and the possibility of returning goods.

Some things hung under Galeries Lafayette's coupola make sense; others are just strange.

More rapid success required taking over the whole building in 1902, and it was extended to the Boulevard Haussmann in 1906. After more expansion a grand hall was inaugurated in 1912. The store had 5,150 employees.

The store reached its present appearance in 1932; with two additional floors being added in 1959, with a terrace on top of them. A stone monument on the terrace says the pilot Védrine landed on the roof of the new building on Sunday, 19 January 1919, but does not say the spot he did this was three floors lower.

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