Sunday, March 13, 2011

On the Champs

I've finished editing my short Champs-Élysées video, which you can see here. It's pretty lame, but I have to practice.

Since I teach near the Champs, I see the avenue just about every day. There has been a gradual change in the avenue over the years, which is to be expected. There are a couple of trends that have been prominent in recent years.

One gradual shift taking place these days is a shift towards chain stores, mostly clothing stores. Adidas, Nike, Zara, H&M, Quicksilver, Celio, Lacoste … the list goes on and on. These have gradually squeezed out independent stores on the main avenue, of which there are almost none today.

Recent departures include the post office that had been on the avenue for many years. In January, the landlord increased the rent by 400%, from €20,000 per month to €100,000 per month, so the French postal service decided to close the branch. It will probably be replaced by another chain clothing store. Very nearby, a pharmacy that had been on the avenue for ages has disappeared, and has now been replaced by a Kusmi Tea store (also a chain). As these trends continue, the stores on the avenue look more and more like those you'd find in any suburban shopping center.

There are a few holdouts, such as one or two souvenir stores and some restaurants and cafés. But if you're looking for one-of-a-kind stores on the Champs, you'll be disappointed. Of course, chain stores have been fixtures on the avenue for many years, but there are more now than before.

A bright spot is the shopping galleries on the north side of the avenue, of which there are many. Rents are lower inside these galleries, and you can still find a large number of independent stores, although the majority of them still seem to sell clothing. I show a few of these galleries in the video, but not all. I think a lot of tourists walk right past these galleries, never noticing their presence, but they get enough traffic to survive. It does look as though a few of them have difficulties, as evidenced by the high turnover of stores in some of them.

For some years now, gypsies have been a problem on the Champs. They will walk up to anyone who looks like a foreigner and ask if he or she speaks English; if the answer is yes, they begin their scam. I always say “no,” so I'm not sure of the details of the scam (I look like a tourist in my usual attire, so I'm a target), but Americans tend to say “yes” by reflex, and then have to endure the spiel and request for money.

There are also a lot of street performs on the avenue, often several at any one time, and their shows interfere with pedestrian traffic and provide golden opportunities for pickpockets. They all look like they rolled in from the suburbs specifically for the purpose of putting on a show on the avenue. They all seem to involve the same loud music and nondescript dancing, but tourists are easily amused—things that they'd ignore at home seem to fascinate them abroad.

The avenue is cleaner today than it was in decades past. In the old days, there were large surface parking areas on either side of the avenue, but some years ago these were finally replaced by underground parking garages, and the space they occupied was paved over, so that now the avenue has extremely broad sidewalks paved in granite (which I guess means that strollers get a free dose of radiation as they walk, since granite is slightly radioactive). The avenue is also kept very clean by city cleaning workers who work mainly in the morning, although they can be seen at all times of day.

Some things never change on the avenue. The pedestrian and vehicular traffic never stops. Pedestrians are especially dense on the north side of the avenue, probably because there's more shopping and restaurants there. The south side of the avenue has no shopping galleries and has more banks. It's also in the shade, which is probably a factor in cold weather.

Some of the avenue's icons never seem to change. Fouquet's restaurant is very well known. One of its security guards assaulted me on the avenue once for taking a picture of the restaurant from the sidewalk. The restaurant used to refuse admission to women to its bar, and used to prohibit unaccompanied women entirely (because they were assumed to be prostitutes on the prowl), so it has some weird history and policies, although I understand that the discrimination against women has been lifted. It's also the place where French movie stars (such as they are) go after the annual César cinema awards, the French answer to the Oscars. The sidewalk in front of the restaurant entrance has plaques mounted in the ground that form a sort of super-mini answer to the stars on Hollywood Boulevard. A cinema down the street tried something similar, but I notice the plaques were later removed.

For decades, there was an Aeroflot office on the avenue. I notice that it has been replaced by … a chain clothing store. Thai Airways used to have its offices on the avenue, but those are being replaced by … a chain clothing store.

My video only shows the upper, commercial part of the avenue, which extends from the Rond Point roundabout (roughly midway along the avenue's length) to the Arc de Triomphe. The lower part consists of parkland on either side of the avenue, and is nice for a stroll, but holds no attraction for shoppers (lots of tourists seem to enjoy power shopping in Paris, although the Champs is not the best shopping in the city).

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