The Monoprix with a mass grave underneath isn't the only former Félix Potin store layered with history. This building at 140 rue de Rennes is another example:
It might register as just another Zara chain store as you walk by. Or you might raise your eyes a tad above the Zara sign and spy a little flowery detail and take a second look. Then you would notice the older signage:
I have a font fetish and am always on the lookout for interesting typography. The Art Nouveau lettering "Patisserie" demanded a closer examination of the building.
You can't see it in the photos, but there is a sign at the very top, under the netting, that says "Félix Potin". This store was an early 'Grand Surface' or Hypermarché establishment. Its interior was a confection of Art Nouveau details.
After the Potin period, the building faded in status and Tati, a cheap discount store, opened there. In 1986, it became a site of tragedy. If you examine the building closely, you'll find another sign:
You might not remember the Paris terrorist attacks of this period. Eight people died during an attack at Orly airport in 1978. Four people died when a Paris synagogue was bombed in 1980. Carlos the Jackal devised an attack on a train going between Toulouse and Paris that killed 5 and wounded 77 people. 1982 saw the famous grenade attack on the Jo Goldenberg restaurant in the Marais which killed 6 people. Another Orly airport attack in 1983 killed 8.
On September 17, 1986 the rue de Rennes Potin/Tati building was attacked. It was a wednesday afternoon when children in France are out of school. The Tati store was crowded with women and children when a bomb went off, killing 7 people and wounding 55.
photo: rté news
The plaque was affixed in 1989 to commemorate this attack, a reminder that the Charlie Hebdo shooting was not the first modern terrorist attack on Paris. And a reminder of the many layers of history in Paris buildings.
You probably read the news coverage about the discovery of eight mass graves under a Monoprix store in Paris (Monoprix is very much like Target in the US). There is more to this story than that covered in most press accounts. But first a little recap:
Monoprix was remodeling this branch, specifically the lowest level of the basement. Management knew the store was built on the site of a former cemetery (that of Trinity Hospital) and had expected to find a few bones. The hospital operated from 1202 through the Middle Ages up to the French Revolution. They called in Inrap, France's Institute of Preventive Archeological Research. Their team began excavating 2 months ago and thus far have found 200 bodies in 8 graves. They have 2 more weeks to complete the excavation.
Cemeteries in medieval times were not orderly plots with caskets below and tombstones above like we have today. Most were common graves with a few individual burials of the high ranking dead. All of the cadavers merged underground in huge egalitarian pits filled in with bodies until they rose up to 3 meters above street level. These foul-smelling and disease-ridden mass graves produced a cadaverous stench that clung to churches and the surrounding area. No wonder churches had to use so much incense. Sometimes the basement walls of adjoining buildings collapsed with decomposing bodies tumbling out.
Finally, in 1786, the city began transferring the bones from cemeteries to the 300 meters of tunnels in underground quarries that had produced the limestone to build the city of Paris. The huge cemetery of the Innocent Saints was the first to be emptied and later the others were emptied as well. There are over 6 million bodies in these catacombs.
You can understand why the archeologists were surprised by finding so many bodies after they were supposed to have all been moved out centuries ago.
You don't notice much at street level when you walk by this Monoprix (located at rue Réaumur and Boulevard de Sébastopol). From the bus, however, you can see that it's a magnificent building.
It was constructed in 1912 for Féliz Potin who was a famous and innovative grocer in this era. He established set prices for his goods and posted them. He developed the concept of loss leaders where he sold some commodities like sugar and coffee at low prices and made up the profits on the sale of luxury items. He built his own factories for processing sugar, coffee, and chocolate. He canned and bottled products like jam, mustard and vegetables under his own brand. Potin was recognized and much appreciated for his critical social contribution during the Siege of Paris in 1870. Rather than profiteering on the sale of foodstuffs during the extreme shortages, he organized a rationing program and made food available in national cafeterias.
Check out the butcher department of the store. It looks more like a museum display than a meat counter.
This little plot of Paris at 95 Boulevard de Sébastopol is an amazing mille-feuille of history!
As a fanatic sewer and quilter, I hate being without a sewing machine when I travel. My hands get antsy and withdrawal symptoms set in like a smartphone addict without their cell phone. Ever since my first laptop, I've wondered why there are no laptop style sewing machines.
Quilters travel for classes, quilt group get-togethers and retreats, not just for vacations. Serious sewers don't like lugging their heavy machines around or risking the delicate electronics. There is a large fan base of Singer Featherweight sewing machine aficionados.These are lightweight (if you consider 11 pounds lightweight) machines made up to 1964 and have a retro charm.
Others buy modern brands of lightweight machines, but these are in the same weight range which rules out taking them on international flights where they strictly monitor baggage weight. On my recent flights, they weighed all carry-on luggage, including purses, and totaled the combined weight.
But there is hope for the future! Have you seen the Flat Mode sewing machine which won a design competition?
It uses a bluetooth foot pedal, folds flat and can be carried in one hand. It won first prize from the Manufacturers Association of Israel in 2004. The Flat Mode machine was designed by Itay Potash, but I can't find any sign that it is yet being manufactured en masse.
Christmas in California at our house means comedy, Jewish comedy, in the form of Kung Pao Kosher Comedy. This mix of Jews, comedy, Chinese food and Christmas has been going strong in San Francisco for 22 years. It draws Jews and non-Jews from all over Northern California, from Sacramento to San Jose. It's a relief to escape all the Christmas crap and laugh your ass off. This year featured 14 year old Simon Cadel who calls himself a "Jatheist" (Jewish atheist) and made great jokes about the cult of Apple product afficianados; Ophira Eisenberg from NPR and The Moth storytelling program; and razor-sharp Jeremy Hotz who has a sad sack face and is known as "The Master of Misery". Host Lisa Geduldig eschewed her traditional tux in favor of an outfit to celebrate the thawing of US/Cuban relations.
We had the good fortune to be seated at a table with a Pulitzer Prize winning investigative journalist and his family, which made for interesting dinner conversation.
As I was walking around Chinatown and looking at vegetables and chicken parts I don't usually eat,
I started thinking about comedy in Paris. Despite the presence of comedy clubs, standup doesn't seem to have the same presence in Paris as it does in urban USA. Parisians are as cynical as New Yorkers and complain as much, so you would think standup comedy would be as popular as Brooklyn burgers are right now. Pariscope doesn't have a separate section for comedy; the clubs are listed under théâtres. Or is it just an American perspective, because our French language skills are often inadequate to keep up with the fast pace of comedy?
I am grateful to my friend Bonnie for many things, the most recent being a poem she shared with me. I don't follow modern poetry closely and was unfamiliar with this this poet who is being increasingly recognized for her work. Those who know me in the flesh are aware of my bad attitude about my home state of Pennsylvania. This poet, Kasey Jueds, lives in Philadelphia and has been published by the University of Pittsburgh Press (the fabulous Miss Lizzie is currently enrolled there). Perhaps the poet escaped the peeA curse by being born in Florida and spending her adolescent years in London. If you are as moved by this work as I was, please visit her website. And give thanks to friends who share treasured thoughts.
Once during that year when all I wanted was to be anything other than what I was, the dog took my wrist in her jaws. Not to hurt or startle, but the way a wolf might, closing her mouth over the leg of another from her pack. Claiming me like anything else: the round luck of her supper dish or the bliss of rabbits, their infinite grassy cities. Her lips and teeth circled and pressed, tireless pressure of the world that pushes against you to see if you're there, and I could feel myself inside myself again, muscle to bone to the slippery core where I knew next to nothing about love. She wrapped my arm as a woman might wrap her hand through the loop of a leash—as if she were the one holding me at the edge of a busy street, instructing me to stay.