Window Shopping on the Right Bank

Low-Grade Substitute for Half of 'Spring' Report

Paris:- Wednesday, 17. April 1996:- Oh ha, it finally happened. No 'Spring' on the Right Bank - 'la Rive Droite' - today. There will be no sitting on some swank café terrace, watching rich and good-looking ladies from New York, Tokyo, Madrid, all points of the globe; slide happily into comfortable seats, maybe slip their shoes off, while they catch their breath for the next round of 'trying to bust the plastic' in Paris shops.

Look at that sky! Light grey with dark splotches - but high, too high for serious rain risk; but there are wet spots on the sidewalks. Umbrellas might be selling briskly.

Since terrace-lurking is unlikely to be rewarding today, I calculate that it is, in fact, a good day for window shopping. It is not too hot, it is not even barely warm, so strolling along getting a good look at the windows will keep a body warm, and if rain does threaten, there will be a door to pop into. Also, all of Paris' department stores have great fixed awnings over their sidewalks.

Right now I will confess that this is my first time in Paris with no other purpose than to look in shop windows - normally I am scurrying past them like a rat on skates - or like last December during the transport strikes, being in town at seven in the morning to report on the traffic chaos in the dark, and the only things lit enough to capture were the Christmas windows.

With high hopes for a low-grade treat I climbed out of the métro at the Louvre station on the rue de Rivoli and went to see what the department store Samaritaine was up to, window-wise.

From a short distance, I was a little surprised that there was no great crowd oggling Samaritaine's wares; on closer inspection the reason was clear: their building with the best-situated windows, still had the same 'C'était une fois en Amérique' display as last December. There were some other windows right on the rue de Rivoli, decorated mainly with blue plastic water bottles. I went around all the windows of all their buildings - there are four in all - and found only dining table accessories as a new feature.

I figured there must be in-store displays, so I went inside, asked for ladies clothes, and - this must be true - I think the mannequins must be on strike or on holiday in the Canaries; in short, there was not much to engage my eyes. The best I could do, without searching all four buildings from top to bottom, was find two displays in lingerie, and the one presented here is for La Perla, an Italian brand. The other display was too dim to capture.

Window La Samaritaine (13k) After that, I went up the rue du Louvre, cut through the place des Victories, did a left at the Bourse, and there spent a bit of time looking in the windows of an arms shop - at 'Swiss Army' watches, wondering if my wife could make one last more than four months. Inside, the manager informed me that - nothing - was unbreakable, not even a Swiss Army watch. He said this with a great grin while surrounded by tons of the finest steel in the world - the steel of very expensive gun barrels. 'Nothing,' is unbreakable! Another illusion shattered.
It was getting on for 16:00 as I approached Galeries Lafayette and there were a considerable number of pedestrians around. Besides the fixed awnings, most Paris department stores, have stalls on the sidewalk where every imaginable thing is sold - keys cut while you wait, blender-chopper-kitchen do-hickeys are demonstrated, inexpensive wallets and coin purses - those little things you might need, but wouldn't bother going inside for.

Anyway, these stalls are placed on the sidewalks, between the windows. With the reduced sidewalk space and any number of pedestrians, the importance of the windows is decidedly secondary - although Galeries Lafayette has managed to change their displays since Christmas.

Window Galeries Lafayette (12k) Here again I entered the store and rose to the third floor - 2éme étage - to 'Prêt à Porter.' In-store displays were minimal; it is Lafayette's colored-glass dome that is the attraction - and today there was a light and sound show filling the immense space between the ground floor - the 'rez-de-chausée' - and the tip of the dome, above the, in effect, eighth floor. Handlers operating spotlights, up about the sixth floor, were fixing them on brand logos located on the balconies of the second, third and fourth floors, bopping the lights around while some commentary was 'surround-sounding' the entire space. A number of men were watching this show while their wives 'traded-up' in the boutiques just behind.
I wandered over to the 'designer' section where price tags were small and their numbers high, and there found - that not a great deal was wasted on decor.

I was about to take a photo of the most 'colorful' boutique for you, when two things happened. A store employee appeared in my viewfinder and the digital camera's battery dropped dead. I was informed that I could take no photos of the clothes on display and I babbled on about dead batteries - in fear that store security might be anxious to confiscate the film - of which this camera has none. To reinforce the idea of dead batteries, I asked where I could buy some replacements.

I went there and bought some and went back to the forbidden area - but with fresh batteries and unused memory, I could not find the particular employee nor store security - to ask if there might be... anything at all... that I could capture. Nothing doing. I'll go back again some day; and get permission - but today I left without anything.

Window Au Printemps (12k) A block further along boulevard Haussmann I shot two Printemps windows and their reflections. It was getting late and I was a little tired of window shopping and rush-hour was now in full swing - so I did not enter the store - I'll save that for another time.

From the Christmas window search I can pretty well guess that the windows of the BHV on the right bank, and Bon Marché on the left bank, would not be much different, for they too have the sidewalk stalls. The interiors of all the big Paris department stores are all different from each other and have many interesting and intriguing features, so I will be going back for further reports in the future - but not for windows.

For window-shopping, I think I'll have to find shops - that do use their windows to display their finest wares. There are whole streets full of them in Paris, and it will be worth doing even if I need an umbrella so the camera doesn't electrocute me.

Who knows? Spring may actually come someday to the right bank - to la Rive Droite - and then I can forget the umbrella and just sit on a terrace to watch the ladies park themselves, after their real window-shopping.

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