Heron Island, Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Somehow, Saturday always seems to be shopping day, but when in Paris, it isn't stocking up at the supermarket that's compulsory, it's a gander at BHV.

The Bazar de l'Hotel de Ville is reminiscent of John Lewis, but is much bigger and, well, Parisian. It may sound a strange suggestion, but it's well worth starting in the basement DIY department. Of course, hammers and nails are just dull in any language, and others (like plumbing and electricals) too dependent on local rules and customs to be of any great interest to the passing visitor, but there are many other household items that are fascinatingly different. For example, on this trip, there was a large display of leather toolbags (or should I say, tool-satchels) in all the most fashionable citrus shades of lime and mandarin (a snip at €134, with a free can of WD40 thrown in). Somehow I think that's for the kind of DIY that requires the mysterious round tuit that too many people never seem to get. And did you know the French for a bungee-cord was "un sandow", presumably by extension (geddit?) from the old-fashioned chest-expander?

Upstairs, there is more to arouse the interest. Pictured here is a display of wash-basins. Wandering around the variety of styles in the different household and interiors departments (over 1000 different sorts of cupboard and drawer handles and knobs), it's easy to start re-imagining one's own home. Indeed, there were a couple of Australian ladies looking over the ready-made curtains and trying to remember between them the sizes of their windows at home. But looking at some of the more fanciful chandeliers, I could just hear my mother's voice snorting "It'd be a bugger to dust".

Around BHV, the crowds flock to the narrow streets of the Marais on a weekend to look at the more chi-chi, whimsical and extravagant products in what were once baker's and horse-butcher's shops.

In the middle of all this is an old building now converted to a community hall, which hosts all sorts of different events - on this weekend a fair devoted to crime novels. It isn't until you see the complete ranges of several publishing firms all together that you realise how much, and how odd it looks, that people like to have their crime stories attached to particular contexts. Here were regional and local publishers offering crime in association with cookery, or in different historical contexts, or set in every part of Paris, every region of France, indeed in what looked like every seaside resort in the country, no matter how tiny. Come for a relaxing holiday in our idyllic village (and imagine gruesome murder going on all around you)!

I'm not exempt. In my efforts to keep in touch with the language, I'd bought a detective story set in the Butte aux Cailles. As it turned out, among the authors corralled behind the displays were the two sisters who, as Claude Izner, had written it. So now I have a signed copy (so there are no excuses for not finishing it).

In my wanderings around the Marais, I was struck by some more examples of imposing doorways. I liked this contrast between the door and the informality of the chair on the balcony above:

while I simply have no idea what the architect of this office building was hoping to achieve:

"Hurry up, Glad, me arms are killing me"

"Well it was your idea to wallpaper the bloody thing"

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