Paris As Bazaar

Low-end Sales With High-end Sights

Paris:- Monday, 22. July 1996:- Métro line 2, heading towards Nation, emerges from its tunnel after métro station Anvers and runs overhead along the boulevard de Rochechouart and the boulevard de la Chapelle, with the 18th arrondissement on the north side, the ninth and tenth on the south and after making the turn at place de Stalingrad, at the Bassin de la Villette, goes underground again at place du Colonel Fabien, on the border of the 19th.

Tati 1

The overhead part has these arched supports like some iron railway bridge rivets! rivets! - and the stations are newly painted and have partly glass roofs and lots of glass in the sides and when it is bright, the contrast with being underground is immense, and the noise is less too.

Despite all the ironwork of the arches, you can get a fair bit of a bird's eye view of what the métro train is passing, on both sides, which is also a contrast with what you see underground, which used to be relieved only by an occasional poster advertising Dubonnet, an apéritif. Now you see only 'TV-Cable,' which is as appropriate as booze in the tunnels I suppose. A few years ago the RATP tried out its own vandal-proof cable-TV show in métro stations, but it was taken out after a trial period: you couldn't really follow anything because the trains are too freguent.

This has been a long and boring lead-in to the absolutely stunning sight that bombards the eyes as soon as your carriage comes into the sunlight in July, this July - for on the north side, the Rochechouart side, it is Barbès and it is the Tati store, a block long and thousands of people of every color and race, from the four corners of the world, overflowing the sidewalks, with all the cars, buses and taxis dodging by, going in the direction of Pigalle.

It looks like a cross between shopping day at the United Nations and the bazar of bazaars from the train, and I ride to the next stop at Chapelle, change platforms and head back to Barbès, because I've got to see this on the ground.

The bazar starts at the foot of the m?tro station stairs, and it extends east on the boulevard de la Chapelle, north up the boulevard Barbès and east to Pigalle. Directly across the intersection from the métro exit, under the tracks, there are more stalls set up; where I did not want the 'real' Rolex for 600 francs, nor 800 nor whatever other offer I choose to make, nor the genuine Napoléon solid-gold ring either. "I've got a watch; looks it runs! Look at my fingers, ten of them; no rings!"

Across the boulevard Barbès from Tati, I stood, taking it all in - the sunlight on the Rochechouart side, the shade opposite, the shifting mass of shoppers - and up one of the streets slightly to the right; rue Bervic, Boisseau, I guess it was Sofia, there is Scare Coeur almost hanging on top. I went up that way looking for a clear shot of it, but I could not get one that would show what was right in front; it was sort of the brain making a photo-montage on its own that I could not make in reality. I don't know if I saw it or not.

To be sure, I went all the way around to the rue de Clignancourt and there was no view because it was too close behind the buildings there and I came out on Rochechouart again, with the whole block of Tati on the left, back all the way to the métro.

Tati 2

The summer sales are happening here too, but I did not go in the see what they could possibly have knocked off already low prices - shirts for five francs are not unknown - it was the scene, the people, the color in the light, that was the sight - the reason for coming back.

East of Barbès and north of the boulevard de la Chapelle is the district known as the Goutte d'Or, with its 56 nationalities and 50 percent Muslim population and this Tati is its department store for textiles - and it is also the destination of a lot of visitors from Africa, who buy 'wholesale' here and take their wares back to the continent on the other side of the Mediterranean, or to the near Orient, to sell at retail. (Watch for a feature about the Goutte d'Or in a coming issue.)

Down at Barbès, in the shade by the métro, I watched the flow of people and traffic; more varied and much more colorful than rush-hour at, say, St. Lazare, and finally I went up the stairs and put my green ticket through the métro machine and climbed the rest of the stairs to the east-bound platform.

Tati 1

I could see it from there, but no clear shot was possible without a telephoto lens, so all I have are what I got on the ground. Mostly what I got was with the eyes, and I can still see it and remember the light and the movement. If you ever get to métro station Barbès-Rochechouart on the line 2, get off the train. But don't buy the 'real' Rolex, not even for 500 francs.

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