The French, as we all know, are an inventive people Paris has just found a new way to earn some much-needed money for its anti-pollution campaignwrites Stephen Clarke:
a shop selling official merchandise. The new boutique at 29 rue de Rivoli, in the Hôtel de Ville building, is selling a selection of knick-knacks with “Paris” written on them, as well as some bulky but authentic-looking souvenirs that will help you create your own corner of the French capital in your back garden. Sadly, not a full-size version of the Eiffel Tower – because an accurate scale model, with the staircases, lifts and intricate ironwork would make a great garden feature, especially if you could get it to light up and flicker like the real one does. But the shop at city hall is selling copies of the metal chairs you get in Parisian parks, as well as some nice wooden yachts like the ones children (and grown-up kids) can rent in the Jardins du Luxembourg and the Tuileries to sail on the ponds.
… A good thing … : the boutique has a great selection of books, which are available on-line if they’re not in the shop itself. My recommendation would be the very cheap little volume of photos of the Marais taken in the 1960s and early 1970s. This was before the demolition of the Les Halles market, but also before the renovation of some buildings that are now looking very spruce but came perilously close to falling down. It’s all in Le Marais de Roland Liot that costs only €2.85.
… The weirdest souvenirs in the shop have to be the Parisian scented candles. Now it doesn’t take much cynicism to ask what these candles should smell of if they want to be authentic. As the author of a book called A Year in the Merde, I won’t even bother to make the most obvious suggestion. The Marais candle is said to smell of leather and wood, reminiscent of the old houses there. Fair enough, though it’s more of a zingy, zesty, trendy place now. The St Germain des Prés candle tries to recreate the intellectual atmosphere of the Latin Quarter, not with red wine, cigarette ash and hot air, but with wood, amber and vetiver (the last of which does apparently have a smoky fragrance, so it scores a point for authenticity). However, I can’t understand why flowers, fruits and vanilla are meant to capture the atmosphere of the Canal Saint Martin in summer – it’s a prime picnic spot, so ham, camembert and gherkins would be nearer the mark. And why shouldn’t your kitchen smell of cheese rather than flowers?
But this is a little cynical dig at what must be a good thing if it in any way eases local taxes. Turning a chunk of city hall into a profitable boutique must be good news. The only strange thing about it is that recently, city hall has been repeating its campaign against Sunday trading by saying that it doesn’t want the city turned into one big shopping mall. Admittedly the official Paris shop is only open Monday to Saturday, but if the city can turn part of its own HQ into a shopping mall whenever it chooses, can’t some of its citizens do the same, whenever they choose, and give much-needed work to Parisians trying to afford their local taxes?