Someone call a plumber. The great tap in the sky won’t stop dripping. I, for one, didn’t envisage spending my summer exploring Paris under leaking clouds; my ideas list was filled with day trips out into the green, sun-baked picnics and other assorted outdoor gaiety not conducted wearing soggy clothes. But we can’t always get what we want, and if we try sometimes, then we just might find ourselves nice and dry in one of Paris’ beautiful vintage shopping arcades.
Paris is a pretty sneaky dame, and is well-practiced in stealing all of your money from you when you’re not looking (yes, sometimes literally), what with all of those shops lurking round every corner waiting to inhale your cash. But you can be sneaky back and go shopping without actually going shopping, throwing your focus on architecture rather than haute couture in these charmingly preserved passages.
There are plenty scattered around the city (fifteen or so remain from the original sixty-odd), mostly nestling in the 2nd, 9th and 10th arrondissements, but are mostly well-hidden, so a map (electronic if you must) is essential if you want to find them. Stumbling across one on an idle promenade is as delightful as it gets, but if you left it to chance you’d probably die of frustration first.
They all follow the same kinda theme, beautiful as it is, existing as commercial throwbacks from the late 18th and early 19th centuries with shops lining each side under brightening skylights. The original idea was to provide shelter for the city’s ladies-who-shop from the grimier ‘charms’ of Paris, i.e. horses, mud, open sewers, and the ever-present rain (making the nastiest pavement soup you could imagine). And who wants to go wading through all that when you’re wearing your newest floor-scraping ye olde designer dress?
Each passage has its own personality and style, so even the most obscure tastes will find something to smile about. One of the swankiest and most famous is the Passage Vivienne in the 2nd, filled with fine wines, rare books, posh tea and designer togs (though hemlines have leapt a bit over the years). Towards the south-eastern corner of the same arrondissement is the Passage du Grand Cerf where you’ll find the funkiest art and craft shops selling contemporary prints, every colour of wool in the rainbow and adorable Liberty fabrics.
In the 9th the Passage des Panoramas is the most culinary of the lot filled with quaint eating posts not too damaging at all to the budget. I didn’t test out the goods, given that at this time of the year quite a few were lights-off-doors-closed, though I did spend a good ten minutes checking out the vintage postcards at Prins Patrick. Nearby passages Verdeau and Joffroy keep up the tradition of way-out-there-specific shops catering for lovers of old movie posters, antique art, comic books and er, tiny ceramic animals.
Head up to the small handful in the 10th and things get predictably grittier; rather than shopping for dusty old books or charming trinkets, the only sensible thing to do in this part of town is fill your face with Indian food in one of the restaurants lining the Passage Brady. And as for the weather, you won’t have to worry about the odd drop of rain in here, there’ll be naan…
Click here for Paris’ official site on the subject for more information (in English).