Monday, January 17, 2011

Paris on Sale and Paris Occupied

The official "soldes" (sales) have begun in Paris and other parts of France. Signs are in the windows, mannequins had been stripped of their garments to indicate the sales have officially begun and %50 is plastered to the racks and on the shelves. And the shops are jammed.

In case you want to know, according to article L.310-3 of the commerce code of this Socialist country, the winter sales each year begin the second Wednesday of January at 8 a.m., although some departments/zones have fixed different dates, and last five weeks (through February 10th).

Article L310-3:

I. General sales involve the selling of goods accompanied or preceded by advertising and are presented as being intended, through price reductions, to achieve rapid disposal of goods held in stock.
Such sales can only take place during two periods in each calendar year for a maximum duration of six weeks, the dates of which are determined in each Department by the relevant administrative authority pursuant to conditions laid down in the decree referred to in Article L. 310-7, and may only involve goods offered for sale and paid for at least one month prior to the commencement date of the sale period in question.

II. In any advertising, company name, corporate name or trade name, use of the word "sale(s)" or derivatives thereof is prohibited for designation of any activity, corporate name, trade name, company name or feature which does not relate to a general sale as defined in I above.

Last year, the laws were amended to allow for two complimentary weeks of choice by the merchant, who must declare their choice to the Prefect, but which cannot take place during the month preceding the summer or winter sale periods. I avoided these sales like the plague. First of all, anything on sale was still too much for me to afford. Secondly I was never in Paris in January or the summer.

We, as consumers, pay full retail most of the year with little opportunity to save money, even on unwanted merchandise. Of course, that's true for the merchant, too. He may have wanted to rid himself of the merchandise and had no opportunity, either. When the sale period arrives, it becomes chaos in the stores and boutiques. Everyone is scrambling to find bargains, fights break out between feisty shoppers, vying for the same item. And if for some reason the sale period just isn't convenient for you, you lose out. Simple as that.

But two years ago the cheap flight beckoned and I had a place to stay, so January it was. And I'd get to meet my French publisher which is a story in itself which took place in a cafe near the station in Lille. But every day in Paris I dismounted the Metro near Alesia where my friend lived and the shoe shop window just glared at me. Those boots on sale beckoned especially with their Italian leather and %40 off sign. It got to the point I averted my eyes, kept my head passing that shoe store, gritted my teeth. No. But of course one day I relented, it wouldn't hurt to just try them on, then of course they wouldn't have my size, they wouldn't fit, I'd hate the look etc then I would be done, so done with them. True they didn't fit, but the pair next to them did. Perfectly and looked like pirate boots with the rollower top brim. No, I put them back in the box, merci. No Johnny Depp Pirates of the Caribbean look for me.

But of course, every woman on the rue wore rollover leather boots like these and looked perfect Then I made my friend pass the window - what do you think? Cute, you need boots don't you? But I held off. Then we went to Lille and I fell in love with Lille's hodepodge of architecture, the different quartiers, the Flemish influence and the bustle of the sales. The sales here weren't like in Paris, though many of the shops were; Zara, Gerard Darrell, and the same shoe shop. But those boots weren't here and I kept thinking about them. This got quite annoying. If I didn't buy these boots I knew down the road I'd kick myself. Back in Paris, coming out of the Metro I kept my head up, locked eyes with that pair in the window and ten mintues later, damage done, walked out with my pirate boots.

Do I wear them? Sometimes. Do I regret this purchase that at %40 off still was more than I'd spend? Not really because now women are wearing this style here and when I'm asked where did you get them? In Paris, on sale...

To add a little more weight to this post - Paris isn't all about shopping - I just finished reading 'AND THE SHOW WENT ON Cultural life in Nazi-Occupied Paris' by Alan Riding a former NYT correspondent. If you've never delved into histories of France's occupied past this is a good one, recommended, and gives more than an overview of how artists, writers, ballet dancers, set designers, poets, filmakers, journalists, actors, theatre producers lived and produced the art they did during the occupation. Much of the information isn't new but it's the slant and in person interviews Riding conducted with filmakers, actors and writers who'd lived during that time that provide unique insight. He brings home the fact again and again that to work in the fields of the arts it required approval from Propogandastaffel and Third Reich agencies who ran censorship of everything. Despite the Wehrmacht uniforms on many members of their audiences, French artists still wanted to make movies and music, mount plays and ballets, publish poems and novels. Between 1940 and 1945, Albert Camus brought out "The Stranger," Colette created "Gigi," Jean-Paul Sartre presented "The Flies" and "No Exit," and Marcel Carne directed his epic film "Les Enfants du Paradis."
Was it not, after all, essential to maintain French cultural institutions at such a dark hour? Or was it simply that the Parisian man of letters was "incapable of surviving for long in hiding, he would sell his soul to see his name in print?" The virulent anti-Semitic writers Brassilach, Céline were easy to identify but Riding paints the not so black and white picture of flamboyant Sasha Guitry and Cocteau who lived well as collaborators had their plays produced and wrote scenarios yet on several occasions leveraged friends out of the Drancy camp. Did Picasso, who stayed in Paris painting Guernica during the occupation while managing two mistresses and a wife, turn away Germans from his atelier door? Could he have? Was the fact of staying in Paris, doing their 'job' of writing, painting, acting and producing not in itself an act of resistance? Providing hope to Parisiens that no matter what the Hun controlled; the theatres would be lit, books would be written and printed, canvas would be found and films made at the Boulagne Billancourt studios. If one dissects, as savvy French intello's and Riding did, the double entendre's, the reverse meanings and revolutionary call in many of the plays performed at that time (even the classic venerable Comedie Francaise), who is to say the arts community wasn't inciting a veiled call to arms passing through the censors? Even by 1943 when electricity was sporadic, heat non-existent plays were still performed in candlelight to full audiences.

Cara - Tuesday



  1. The behavior during the sales is very like a twice a year event in Boston known as the running of the brides. Boston was famous for Filene's basement, a dreary area on the lowest level of a department store. What made the basement unique was an automatic mark-down system based on the number of days an article was on the racks. See something you really like? Buy it now or take a chance and wait until the price is really good? That was the dilemma faced by ardent shoppers for years.

    Filene's and the basement are long gone but the space is used for the semi-annual sale of designer bridal gowns. Brides and all the friends and relatives willing to risk life and limb line up outside the entrance hours before the doors open. Then the melee begins and brides and their teams grab as many gowns as they can manage; size and style don't matter because the trading off begins once the racks are empty. Brides hold up signs indicating the size they want and the trading begins - one bride will exchange all the size 8 gowns in her pile for all the size 6 gowns someone else has. There have been fights and male security personnel would rather take their chances in a gang war than referee the battle between two women who are determined to have the same gown.

    To date, no one has been killed.

    The real meat of your post is the manner in which the French came to grips with the reality of permanent occupation. Until the invasion at Normandy in 1944, most in occupied Europe were facing the reality of the Thousand-year Reich. What will people not do to protect and feed a child? No one can pass judgment on people whose choices seventy years ago were collaborate or die.

    MURDER IN THE MARAIS is a must-read for anyone who is willing to take a look at both sides during the Occupation.


  2. Beth, I've heard of Filene's. This designer bridal crush sale sounds brutal even for the rewards of the perfect wedding gown!

    Thanks for your kind words on Marais. Riding's book is good and so are a lot of Anthony Beevor's books. Now reading one of his (co-written) of Paris After the Occupation the postwar years and how the long arm of collaboration didn't stop.

  3. Jeez. This is a tough question about what artists did during the German occupation and Petain collaboration government.
    To stay and keep on producing art was brave. Camus and Sartre did, as you say.
    Many writers and artists were detained, deported and sent to camps; many did not survive.
    Many people were in the Resistance, and committed from small to large courageous acts.
    It's a quandry.
    One half of my family would have had no choice, as Jewish people had no choices, as they were rounded up by the Petain govrnment and deported and most killed.
    A devastating movie, "Une Secret," tells of the true story of a middle-class Jewish family, which posed no threat to the Petain forces. Those who did not flee met the worst fate.
    There are many heroic stories of those in the French Resistances, even those who carried out small acts.