Just Above Sunset
December 19, 2004 - Is Paris Shopping? A Christmas Photo Essay.

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PARIS - Saturday, 18. December:  IT'S THE DAY AFTER an 'orange' storm warning that saw some very gusty winds whistle through Paris, flinging tiles off roofs and ripping branches off trees yesterday afternoon.  It was the last day of school and some of those who wished to travel on their 'grand depart' got nowhere, with trains and flights being canceled.


Those not so hot for the ice and snow on nearby Alps stayed in town, or came to town to brave the last Saturday of shopping before Christmas.  The patron of Galeries Lafayette said the store on Haussmann hosted 130,000 stressed shoppers, while six million euros flowed into the cash registers in a single day.  On TV it looked more like a Tati zone than a profit centre.


News from the Gironde was positive.  Sturgeon introduced there 25 years ago have finally gotten big enough to produce caviar, so now we can have French caviar at a quarter the price of imported brands.  But nothing's perfect - there isn't enough of this cheapo caviar.


What might make up for it is cut rate bijoux.  The fancy jewelers in the Place Vendôme have decided that most of their baubles are beyond the pocketbooks of ordinary Joes, so they've launched some new lines of fancy sparklers.  Just imagine - rich glitzer for less than 1000 euros from Cartier!  "Show me your cheap stuff!"


France Météo kept their 'orange' alert in place for Paris this morning so I decided to not shop downtown, nor cruise by the Bon Marché's windows, and to pretty much skip any other plans, although I had none.


I did have to buy food and I don't have to cross town to do it.  I go out my door and turn right and walk two blocks to Daguerre.  Then I turn left and walk down it.  The first butcher shop has the Cadillac chickens.  You can tell they are not ducks because the head is thrown in for free.  There are capons too.  They present a way of buying a small chicken for the same price as a big turkey, but there's seldom any leftovers.


There was a Joe on TV the other night showing off his Cadillac chickens on his ranch.  What glossy animals they were!  He held one while talking to the TV and it looked better and seemed smarter than an average poodle.  It was the kind of bird to restore your faith in chickens. 

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My number one café has new Christmas décor this year.  Its window is full of hundreds of sparkly lights, which makes it hard to see who inside might want to buy me a café.  But the gloom in the street is considerably brightened, so all is far from tragic.

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They've recycled their Santa Claus from last year.  This is the one hanging from the combo 'tabac' and 'Loto' signs.  It kind of looks like a repairman who has fallen asleep up there.  They should get a moose if they want to attract attention.

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A lot of other shops in Daguerre have various levels of Christmas décor, plus there are the boughs hanging over the street with their little fairy lights.  These look like ratty, fuzzy tails in daylight, but this doesn't last long in December, with nighttime starting not long after noon.


The last block of Daguerre has the most of the food, in open shops and out on the pavement.  This is that weird kind of food that doesn't come in packages or needs to be thawed out.  If you are smart you bring something to carry it in, or wear a coat with big pockets.

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Some folks bring kids in strollers instead.  These are handy for rolling over the shins of other shoppers, but I really doubt piling cases of Champagne or boxes of fresh oysters on little kids is good for them.  They haven't got any say in France anyway.


I like the fish shop.  Standing inside it, I recommend that you wear rubber boots.  If you go in there in flipflops, you are going to have to like standing in iced seawater.  There's so much fish in there that there's no place to stand in a proper line.

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The trouble with fish is they all look alike.  You could be standing in front of whale when you want salmon, then you have to stand in another waterlogged line.  Leaving the heads on, like chickens, doesn't help much either.


This is why many shoppers stand out front, and just order shrimps or lobsters when they get a chance.  This may be second-class nibble fish but you know what it is, especially when you toss the shells in the garbage and leave them there for a couple of days.


Another favorite of mine is the fruit and veg stand.  It is so popular that it has a branch unit across the street.  Its big feature in this season is mushrooms.  I'll admit you have to hunt around a bit to find the stink stock normal little Paris ones.  The ones they really feature look like something you'd grub for in the forest if you were starving.  Hideous-looking stuff.

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It's also a good place to get the pineapple of the year.  This year they look kind of small.  There are miniature tomatoes too, probably for dieters.  I skip everything - what is all this stuff? - except the bananas.  If these ever stop being yellow I'll switch to mandarins.


The cheese place is just further along, opposite the wine place and another bird dealer.  Earlier I skipped the horse butcher.  You can never be sure they really are horses.  If I get serious, I'll take somebody from the tabac who bets on them.


The cheese place is nice except for the cheese.  Who knows what it is?   Here you have to ask.  "Gimme some good cheese that's cheaper than filet steak," you say. They say, "Go to the Monoprix!"  Well, it's nice to look at anyway.

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The bird guy has them hanging from the rafters, still covered in feathers. They must be more expensive than the ones with just the heads on.  There's a fast chicken place further back, where there are no heads, no feathers, and they're hot.  For an extra euro they'll toss in a kilo of roasted potatoes too.  With the 30 euros you save you can hit the Nicolas wine shop and get a two-pack of nifty Champagne.


This brings me to the Monoprix.  I see that they've tossed out all their orange juice and replaced it with paté and foie gras, and other high-end junk.  You know, some people really like to drink orange juice at Christmas.  I don't understand this store.


I hear some young English people. "Where's the vodka?"  Ha ha, first time in this Monoprix?  They have a fat chance of finding any in less than 45 minutes - they should take anything they can find stacked up by the checkout.  There's always a ton of Porto at this time of year.


I find some nice brand-x stuffed pates.  Stuffed with green stuff.  A treat compared to unstuffed noodles.  One package will do two meals, if I add some bulk dirt.  This being Monoprix, it's out of bulk dirt.  So I get a kilo of cheapo noodles just in case they're thinking of putting them where the orange juice went.


As usual most everybody with a huge amount of shopping is in the five-items-or-less cash line.  I take a real cash line at the opposite end where there's no limit and all I have to do is wait 10 minutes for one young lady's little check to be printed.  My cash lady doesn't want to give me a flimsy free plastic bag so I put my hands in my pockets and study the ceiling.


She finally tosses me 50 sacks when the six people behind start to grumble and whine.  All in a day's work at the Monoprix.  It's not a bad place really, except for several faults, and being too expensive.  After five years some of the cash ladies have started asking me if I have a fidelity card.  This has cheered me up so much I'm sorry I don't have one.


With my bag in hand I glide past the security guy dressed like Santa and successfully run the gauntlet of professional beggars outside.  It's one of the choicest spots in Paris because the local bourgeois are all guilty of something, which they gloss over with euro dabs.


Night has settled over the city and the holiday lights are glowing their money's worth.  It's not a cruddy area but the darkness gives a lot of vagueness to the hard edges, and the predominant gray of the walls has been replaced by spillover, warmer, light.


Now the hundreds of fairy lights in the invisible overhead rattails wink, adding their bit of seasonal glitter to the 365-days-a-year vile green neon given off by the pharmacy's sign.  Eight degrees, followed by '17:00' in red neon, and the air is still.  A Joe is sitting on a crate further on down, glibly picking out an any-season Django tune on his guitar.



Copyright © 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
for the purpose of illustration and commentary,
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