Monday, December 14, 2009

This is not your grandmother's strip mall.

I was in a weekly conversation group with a bunch of classy middle-aged French and Anglo ladies-who-lunch.  I was easily one of the youngest there (and I'm not so young), but no matter, the conversation was always topical. We'd spend the first hour speaking French, the second English. Often, we'd have a field trip planned, the first of which was a tour of the passages couverts of Paris.  I was enchanted.

The passages couverts, or covered walkways, were early day shopping malls, developed in the early 19th century, just as Haussman was seriously overhauling the design of the city and before the development of the department store.  This was also at the time when strolling and people watching (the French word flâneur, as Baudelaire defined it: "a person who walks the city in order to experience it") became a national pastime, and importantly, before the sewer system was put underground.   These are the origins of the downtown arcades you'd likely find in your old hometown.  We had one in Schenectady, NY.
So these walkways were a glorious respite for walk-about Parisians. In the day, there were over 150 of them, today there remain under 20.  I've visited a handful of them, and rejoice when I accidentally stumble upon one of them.  The walkways are typically marble-paneled corridors with glorious glass ceilings, allowing for natural light from above, and dotted with high end boutiques.  But not always.  Some are seeing a real resurgence like Galerie Vivienne, abetted by Jean Paul Gautier establishing his flagship store nearby, while others remain in disrepair.

A New York Times travel section article provides a good primer on these civic jewels. Above is a photo of friend Miki preparing to do some damage outside Galerie Vivienne.
Friend Fiona outside Christian Louboutin in Galerie Véro-Dodat 

No comments:

Post a Comment