Wednesday, August 02, 2006

La Samaritaine

A party on K's terrace last night, the gas heater on (because suddenly the weather has changed again & it's cold, standing there in our little summer dresses), watching the clouds rush over the edges of Paris. K mentions the Samaritaine department store that's still closed, one year later; it used to be a great place to drop into after giving a tour through the Louvre, you could browse through the perfume and handbags, or buy a pair of stockings. We compare rumours of what's happening to the building: was it really closed because it didn't meet the fire code regulations? Then why did the company spend so much money renovating the store two years ago? The main rumour persists, that the owner wants to turn the building into a five-star hotel--it's a nice location, smack in the middle of the city, overlooking the Seine and the Pont Neuf. But a hotel wouldn't be so good for the Art Nouveau interior of the store, gorgeously designed by Franz Jourdain in 1906 --the soaring 6-floor open atrium, with its painted turquoise peacocks under the skylights, may not come through a renovation intact. Same goes for the building's Seine-side facade, the 1928 Art Deco "cake" by Henri Sauvage (who so loved ceramic tiles on other buildings around Paris), along with the wonderful iron grill sign at the top of the building. No sign yet of any renovations to bring the building up to standard, so probably the sale/hotel theory is as good as any. I wonder if founder Ernest Cognacq's ghost is wandering through the empty shop, wondering what happened to the old water pump and Samaritaine sculpture that used to sit on the Pont Neuf?

In this great city, dark and silent in the rain, in this Paris of which she was ignorant [the department store] blazed like a lighthouse; it seemed to her the only light and the only life in th city. --Emile Zola "Au Bonheur des Dames" (1883)