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The Heart of Paris

Les Halles. Oy vay, Les Halles. Sigh.

La Canopée des HallesLa Canopée des Halles

The Projected Garden of Les HallesThe Projected Garden of Les Halles

Emile Zola's Nove

Le Forum des HallesLe Forum des Halles

Les Halles by Jean Béraud HallesLes Halles by Jean Béraud Halles

Restaurant Champeaux, by Alain DucasseRestaurant Champeaux, by Alain Ducasse

Restaurant ZaRestaurant Za

I do love the new Canopée. It has totally changed the ambience of the entrance to the shopping center below it, but the shopping center itself is still not a Paris treasure. The garden adjacent to the Canopée is well underway and has the signs of becoming a successful change to what was once called the “worst urban disaster in the history of the city of Paris” and a “soulless, architecturally bombastic concrete jungle” by past Mayor Bertrand Delanoë. He did not mince his words when referring to what was also called “Le Ventre de Paris” (The Belly of Paris) by Émile Zola in his novel set in the busy marketplace of the 19th-century.

We went to the Forum des Halles for a movie at the UGC Ciné Cité Les Halles, which is an all-time great multiplex with 27 theaters, all of which have stacked seats in a way that there’s never a big head of hair to block your view (I’m probably guilty of doing that to the person seated behind me) and therefore every seat in the house is good. It’s the most popular cinema of the Paris area evident by the theater filled to the brim on a Saturday afternoon.

The theater is the only reason I can personally think of to enter the Forum des Halles, unless you’re a serious shopper, because as far as retail stores go, it lacks in nothing. It’s a labyrinth of halls on a few different levels, all underground, that makes one feel like a mole in a maze in which you can easily get lost. I always do. It was hoppin’ however, in spite of my own opinion, which obviously is not shared by everyone. Of course, it was Saturday and it’s only three weeks till Christmas and on top of that, quite cold, so it’s no surprise it was busy. It was a bad time to have half the escalators not working, so we tried several options untill finally exiting from the new main entrance, which was in fact, a delight and pleasure…particularly since it meant we were EXITING.

Les Halles (pronounced LAY – AL; the H is not pronounced) was Paris’ central food market until 1971 when it was replaced with the Forum built underground and connecing to the massive RER and Métro hub of Châtelet-Les-Halles. According to Wikipedia.org, the Forum welcomes 150,000 visitors daily (the second most visited in France) and in 2015, the RATP (Régie Autonome des Transports Parisiens), estimated that it facilitated more than 26 million travelers.

The reconstruction project began in 2010 and was supposed to be completed by 2016. Here it is only a few weeks away from 2017 and it’s not done. Surprise, surprise. Still there is hope that Parisian kids will be playing there in the not so distant future.

Meanwhile, the entire district is booming. New restaurants and major retail chains have staked a claim there. Restaurateur Alain Ducasse scored the northern corner of the Canopée in which to install his restaurant and brasserie, “Champeaux.” The name is what the area was once called in the 12th-century by Louis VI, meaning “Petits Champs” or little fields. It is reported that M. Ducasse found a menu from a brasserie of that name on Place de la Bourse, founded in 1800. The menu dated back to the 15th of December, 1900. It’s a key spot in which to sit and have a perfect view of the Canopée while dining on Ducasse quality at a reasonable price.

Opposite Champeaux in the southern corner of the Canopée is Za, designed by Philippe Starck. Here, a parallel bar surrounds an open kitchen and there are long communal tables at which one can have “fresh food fast” with names like “zoeufs” and “zartines.” It’s a bit too trendy for my old-fashioned tastes, but it’s certainly “zipped” up the neighborhood.

Les Halles is also an area one must look for real estate investment. The one time “belly of Paris” is pregnant with new offspring. Those who have shunned it in the past may find it will become the new heart of the city. Let’s face it? Does Paris have a center or heart, really? We use the term “heart of Paris” in a million different ways, but where really is the heart of the City of Light? Some might claim districts one through four are “the heart,” but what’s the heart of that?

Les Halles. Oy vay. Les Halles is.

A la prochaine…

Adrian Leeds - Paris, France

Adrian Leeds
Adrian Leeds Group

 

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