horz line

Taps for Samaritaine

photo, samar, roof sign, seine, eiffel

From the rooftop terrace, 360° of Paris.

5O¢ Tour Continues

Paris:– Monday, 13. June 2005:– Last Thursday Paris was stunned to hear that an inspection committee had declared that the Samaritaine department store is a firetrap. "In case of fire the building won't last 15 minutes," a source claimed. This landmark, located on the Right Bank at the north foot of the Pont Neuf, actually Paris' oldest bridge opened in 1607, was built in 1905 and is classified as a historic monument.

This is a city disappearing before our eyes. Few days pass without a favorite shop or boutique rolling down its metal shutters for good, then if lucky to continue as a memory of the 'good old days' in a museum, or disappear right off the face of the planet.

Butcher, baker, bookseller, in place in the neighborhood for 40 years and then gone, with nobody willingphoto, samar interior to keep going. The goods or services provided, and the way an old shop looked has no value, so a portable phone boutique moves in after reducing a half–century of texture to extruded aluminum and glass and plastic.

Samaritaine's rich iron and glass interior.

The department store, which was four buildings, was taken over by the Louis–Vuitton–Moët–Hennessy group in 2001. Sales fell by 40 percent and no profits had been seen for a long time, but a turnaround seemed to be in the air this year. The LVMH group also owns the sole department store on the Left Bank, the Bon Marché, and the operators publicly insisted that they have no intention to sell or abandon either.

According to union leaders the serious risk of fire has been known since 2001. Fire inspections since then have reconfirmed the risk but nothing has been done. Inspections were carried out under the authority of the Préfecture, which remained unavailable for comment.

However, Christophe Girard, the city's deputy mayor for culture, underlined that, 'it is reassuring that no one is equivocating about security by deciding for the unavoidable temporary closure.' While not on the payroll of LVMH, Mr. Girard provides fashion advice to LVMH's CEO, Bernard Arnault. There is a rumor that Mr. Girard would like to see a fancy food shop on the Right Bank, like the Bon Marché's Grande Epicerie.

The department store's 750 employees, who have been assured of continuing employment and pay by Philippe de Beauvoir, Samaritaine's CEO, have considerable doubt about it. Before the latest security decision the management suggested two scenarios – doing the necessary renovations in stages while remaining partially open, or closing the whole building to do it all at once, which could take four years or longer.

Employees were also able to see a model of the four buildings of the Samaritaine at the LVMH headquarters a few months ago. They thought one of the buildings represented a hotel and 'not at all a department store.'

This fear may be unfounded although the rumor has been circulating for a couple of years. In early July the Olympic organizers will announce the name of the city that will host the summer games in 2012. Without the games Paris can probably survive without another grand hotel.

But other signs hint at change for Samaritaine. The LVMH group may not be happy with the faint results achieved only with considerable effort for their department stores, when they are more used to double–digit profits from their other luxury goods sectors.

Only a few days ago the talk was of closing the store 'for 15 days, for emergency repairs.' Now a decisionphoto, interior stairs, samar is scheduled to be made on Wednesday, 15 June. Beyond this the annual summer sales are set to begin on Friday, 24 June throughout most of France.

In the store on Friday afternoon there were no signs of any 'fire' sales. Security agents, dressed somewhat like firemen, were much in evidence, but I did not pass early enough to see several hundred store employees holding their crises meeting on the sidewalks around the store.

More iron, wood and high up, glass.

It was business as usual on the 10th floor café terrace, with its light snacks and refreshments, under the white awnings well–populated with carefree loungers probably unconscious of an approaching deadline. The sky was blue and the sun was shining over a Paris laid out like a cubist carpet, spread around all over the horizon with the Seine below glittering under the Pont des Arts and a spidery exclamation. of an Eiffel Tower off to the west.

The Rest of a '50–Cent Tour'

Continued from the Café page

On the way to the Opéra I popped into the tourist office and got the latest info. Besides everything else the new event this year will be the 'Beach Volley Paris,' on the Champ de Mars at the end of July. To be six days, not on a beach and possibly with no sand, but Paris tries hard.

Standing on the steps of the Opéra is about like it always is, except with the good weather looking all the way to the end of the avenue can be done without an umbrella. Nigel and Andrew take quick look around inside while I shoot the golden kitsch on the roof. When they come out Nigel is asking about the Métro.

We've come this far, I think, so we can get as far as Palais Royal, and we set off down the Avenue de l'Opéra. Fatigue overtakes me and Nigel and I suggest looking for a café. Nigel saysphoto, fascade samar okay and we turn left, but he nixes the first place because it has no terrace. There aren't a lot of terraces in this part of town. As we drift south we are liable to be bumping into the diagonal avenue, while I'm trying to aim for the Palais Royal.

Samaritaine's usual face for the Seine.

As if by magic a terrace appears, in some nowhere place. It isn't in the sun but it is outside, and when the café comes it is not too terrible. After half a hour we are up and immediately on the avenue again, so the easiest is to follow it to the Comédie Française, where Nigel asks about the Métro.

Of course there's a Métro at Palais Royal but the Rivoli entry of the Louvre is just across the street, and Andrew must see the Pyramid, I think. Cross we do and through the dim hall and come out in the Cour Napoléon beside the Café Marly, which has a nice bit of sun on it.

There aren't many people around. The big place, all brown in the afternoon, seems to have more pigeons than museum fans. We go through the east portal to the Cour Carée and I point out the wrong location of the original tower of the Louvre. By now I've got Nigel thinking we'll just add on a tiny bit extra and pick up the Métro at Saint–Germain.

If, from Montmartre to the Seine is the 50–cent tour, if we get to the Left Bank and by some fluke walk all the way to Montparnasse, that will make it the 'dollar' tour.

But, frankly, I'll settle for the 50–cents. The Pont des Arts has its usual delights, sunshine and a river breeze plus the characters that hang out on it in addition to the commuters that use it to get to watering holes in the Quartier Latin.

I could do it in my sleep. Stop at the end of the bridge and wait at the top of the steps for the green man. No sense getting swept off the sidewalk by an errant bus. Cross to the cobbles in front of the Institut, explain about it being the Thursday home of the Immortals, working on their no–end dictionary, and cut through the passage to the right, to the Rue de Seine.

Say hello to the clochard parked outside the park and pass the galleries full of art for sale, glancing at occasional pieces in the windows. After La Palette turn right into the alley and go up it all the way to the boulevard and turn right along it.

The Joe who does the carrot sculptures is in his usual place on the sidewalk so we stop and admire them. He is, maybe, some guy who used to work in a suschi bar. He got so good at it that he decided to go freelance, right on the bobo–infested boulevard Saint–Germain. I'll take that back – it's not exactly infested.

Anyhow, this Métro doesn't seem to be one we can pass. I haven't the energy to go for Saint–Sulpice. If I got there I'd suggest the church, and the Luxembourg is just beyond, and it's practically in Montparnasse, and then we'd have to walk all the way to the other side. Enough.

To prove me right the Métro is over–warm and the hold–on poles are sticky. Passengersphoto, taps for samaritaine who are not reading the novel of the week are looking at their portable phones in puzzlement. Most leave the train at Montparnasse, leaving the interesting–looking people to get off at Vavin, while the dregs of us trundle on to Denfert.

Taps for Samaritaine?

At the exit there is the usual blizzard of people milling around the entry of the Monoprix or sitting across the way on the café terrace. The clochards are panhandling while their dogs gambol, and students are handing out leaflets for a foire in Anthony. It's the usual melee.

This is the end of the tour. Nobody but me has to go in the Monoprix. I need some food and this is where I find it, except for the bananas that I get in the fruit place. I'll get light–weight ones because the camera bag has acquired some lead ballast since we crossed the Seine.

I guess the '50–cent tour' is about my limit. If I'm honest I won't propose any dollar tours. Then I'd probably have 80 photos to treat and archive instead of only 40. I wonder what I have caught today as I dodge the shoppers in Daguerre to Boulard, and stretch out and walk in the street up to Fermat, to avoid all the scooters and bikes on the sidewalk.

horz line
Send email concerning the
contents to: Ric Erickson, Editor.
Metropole Midi © 2014
– unless stated otherwise.
logo, metropole sml midi logo No matter how good it tastes,
there is no such thing
as a free lunch.
Waldo Bini