The Church of the Holy Brand
|The Dome of the Galleries Lafayette Shopping Center|
I walked and walked and walked today. That's also what one does in Paris. It is somehow very reassuring to come to a foreign city and know your way around. Alex and I were here just a couple of years ago. We went everywhere on foot and by Metro. We stayed at a small boutique hotel and because we liked it we chose to stay in the same hotel again this time.
I arrived late by train from Darmstadt, Germany last night. I had been at a very successful Healthcare Businesswomen's Association (HBA) Leadership Summit there. I decided to take the train to Paris where I had a business meeting and was meeting up with Alex and his mother to view an art show this weekend. It was a really lovely and civilized train ride. No security screening, no customs, no immigration. I sat alone most of the way in one of those private sections with six seats and was able to stretch out. I read my books while sipping a very nice red wine. But the train was delayed, and so I elected to take a taxi rather than struggle with luggage on the underground at this late hour of arrival after refreshments on the train.
|Lovebirds on the hood ornament.|
The guy at the desk...it's now almost midnight...was laughing and said Mrs. Blackwell I presume. So I checked in and he said, "Mrs. Blackwell, we have another room reserved in your name." I said "Yes, that's for my mother in law." "Oh good, we were worried that we had made a mistake," he said. "No mistake. Two Mrs. Blackwell's will be here as of tomorrow."
I headed off to bed in familiar surroundings. This time our room faced the street on the fourth floor. We have windows that actually open onto a wrought iron gate. It's a small boutique hotel and I love being part of the neighborhood here. There's a school across the street and I am listening to the kids playing in the school yard, imagining that I am like Hemingway working away with the city assaulting the senses all around. One cannot help feeling creative here. Walk up the hill from here and you will be in the heart of Montmartre with Sacre Coeur at it's pinnacle. Walk down the hill and you arrive at l'Opera and the shopping districts all around it. It is a beautiful city.
I secured my purse across my body and headed over to the Galleries Lafayette. I walked in and immediately felt like a fish out of water. Brands screamed from every corner and up to dizzying heights inside one of the most magnificent structures I have ever seen. This is the Church of the Holy Brand's heaven. All around were the faithful worshiping their brands. The stained glass ceiling was their symbol of ultimate worship. All for the Brand Image. Re-creating themselves in the likeness of the Brands. This is shopping Paris style. Hey, I was and am an expert on branding but this stuff is totally over the top.
I have never seen anything quite like it. I broke out into a cold sweat, my head started pounding, but I was going to persevere in this experience. At least I would have a look at haute couture, to which we have little access in the West of Ireland. I was here. I would endure. But I would resist Brand temptation. These are false idols, and I would not worship, but I would at least learn.
I was totally overwhelmed. I took photos and wandered. OMG - a 24000€ phone created in Britain. It didn't look like much. Not even sparkly or anything. No kidding, but I couldn't take a picture because there were signs in all the displays warning against picture mongering. Thousands of watches with diamonds and precious gems sparkled in excess next door. Perfumes wafted € signs overhead. Leather handbags, scarves, fur and leather coats, jewelry, and accessories galore. EXCESS to the nth degree. Consumption could not be more conspicuous. It was nauseating. Especially when outside were homeless lying in pools of dirt and mumbling to the passersby for mercy.
I quickly realized that all major brands exhibit their choice stock on the main floor, then the first floor above is for the top brands to get more depth of merchandise I wandered onto a balcony on the second floor that had a Starbucks cafe, great place to people watch.. The next floor up is for more reasonably affordable brands, and the top floor is for the pedestrian brands. I could actually afford to buy stuff on that level. But the more I looked the more I saw nothing I liked. In fact, I got really turned off by most things and as I walked down to the main floor again, I realized that the stuff behind the brands is for the most part reaching obscurity. That's when I realized that hardly anyone was buying. The only buyers were Chinese and Russian. The signs were mostly in French and English with Chinese and Russian translations in critical places.
|The main floor. My photos do not do it justice.|
Finally, I found my way to the street I was looking for. I bought a pretty little sweater and a pair of shoes in my favorite shop. But the jeans I wanted proved elusive. By then I was exhausted. I stopped into a Micky D's to use the toilet facilities and was blown away to see that this was by far the most packed cafe in Paris. Of course they had the regular fare as well as patisserie and espresso. But no way was I going to eat in a McDonald's in Paris with all this tempting food around. I found a nice cafe on a busy street corner where I had a delicious Croque Monsieur topped with the most divine gruyere and washed it down with a glass of nice Sancerre. Yes, that's what Paris is about.
I found a supermarket on the way back to the hotel where I picked up dark chocolate with nuts, a bottle of whiskey and Perrier with which to welcome the weary travelers this evening. The hotel has a lovely little outdoor courtyard and a tiny sitting area in the lobby and they provide tea and coffee, water and juices, as well as pastries for afternoon refreshment. I sat there sipping tea, hooked into free WiFi and answering email on my laptop. I love this little place.
Perhaps I've grown cynical because I am a sailor and that has taught me some of what's important in life. Okay so I have a PUMA foul weather jacket. It was on sale 2 for 1. Good value. Perhaps it's that I have outlived my sister by several years now that all those things take on a different level of importance. Whatever it is, I have created many brands but I have not succumbed to many. We have a good friend with lots of money who loves nothing better than to find the same shirt at JC Penny as he'd find at a big brand shop. That's why he has so much money. And he spends it on really cool things. Like rare old cars.
Viva la difference!
|Starbucks on the balcony|
|A view from above|
|Any guesses? Yes, the devil is now designing Prada. |
Actually, it's orthopedics for those who grew up wearing Prada.
|Hey, Uki friends. We're in high style this year!|
|This is the counter with the €24000 phones. Shhhh.|
|The Place Vendome - the wooden structure at the top is temporary art.|
|Beautiful perfect pearls at Mikado.|