I have discovered something ugly in Paris. Not that I was trying. It just kind of happened, somewhere around 1971, when a certifiably-insane architect built Forum des Halles. It was at this time that the city of Paris decided to demolish the traditional, wholesale marketplace Les Halles, and convert it into a massive underground shopping mall, which today is packed with cheap clothing stores, movie theaters and greasy fast food chains. Above ground, the Forum is a displeasing tangle of iron and steel. Below, it's a frightening tangle of teenagers wielding skateboards. Not only is the whole thing ugly to the eye, it's an utter mess of a design and a concept. Multiple levels, directional signs leading to nowhere... enter the great labyrinth at your own risk, and be prepared to fight for your escape. After-hours is particularly complicated, when the shops close, the teenagers go home, escalators and exits are sealed off, and the lost and confused (like me) get trapped inside. More than a few times, I have inadvertently exited the Metro into this underground horror, and have spent upwards of 20 minutes desperately trying to get out. I wish I were joking.
(I considered adding a photo of the Forum here, but it's just too ugly. Search online if you need a visual.)
In sum, Forum des Halles is a giant hell that doesn't belong in Paris. At least the fool who approved EuroDisney had enough sense to ensure the theme park was far from the city proper. How on earth did this mess of a shopping mall squeak past whatever government ministry is charged with preserving the city’s beauty?
There is another very ugly thing I have discovered in Paris: homelessness. Lots and lots of homelessness. I am not sure if it's gotten particularly worse in the past decade, or if summertime gives greater presence to people sleeping on the streets, but the amount of homelessness in the city right now seems almost relentless. It's certainly heartbreaking. I will leave social, political and economic theories aside for now. I just wanted to point this out as being a pretty major problem facing the city – and one that doesn't seem to be getting much attention from the local government or aid organizations. (But then again, I can't exactly understand the local news very easily. So maybe it is getting attention.)
As my 5-week moratorium on airplane travel comes to an end, and I begin to stuff my snazzy Spinner suitcase with shoes and French cosmetics, I reflect on the experiences I have had over the past several weeks, and some of the questions I have found answers to - at times, simply through the art of observation.
Just yesterday, almost to my great relief, I witnessed a small child having a tantrum at a playground. Granted, the tantrum didn’t last for more than a few seconds; his mother shut him down before he could take it any further. But it was a tantrum nonetheless. And the child was French.
I have discovered that a handful of pharmacies do in fact open their doors on Sunday. In the rarest of cases, there are even a few which remain open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. (The pharmacy at Place de la Republique comes to mind.)
I have learned that not all French men have or need multiple lovers. And if they do, the French women in their lives, upon discovery, are most likely to walk away – or come up with an arrangement that works in their favor. Because if there is one thing a French woman is born with, it’s a remarkable degree of self-possession. Limitless integrity. An inherent belief in self. The French woman, practically by birthright, respects herself too much to put up with a man’s blatant, philandering ways. And her man knows it.
As for the showers missing curtains and wall mounts? Well, this all remains a mystery. But worst case scenario, should you find yourself in a rental apartment with an impossible shower setup, just call dad back home and ask him to send over a removable wall mount for the shower hose. It worked for me. Kind of.
And with that, it's time for me to go. Paris, stay fabulous. I'll be back soon.