Today was a beautiful, gray fall day. The trees near the Louvre were tipped with gold, like a flame.
Today was the first day I went by the Samaritaine department store since June, when it was very suddenly closed for six years of renovation. The group that owns it, LVMH, said that a fire inspection report had showed that the old grand magasin was so unsafe that it could burn down in 15 minutes. That is terrifying when you think of the crowds there at Christmastime and during the sales. A couple of years ago I was at BHV, another grand magasin, a couple of weeks before Christmas, and the escalators were so thronged with shoppers that there were firemen at the bottom to make people move off quickly.
I had gone to the Samaritaine sometimes to take guests to see the view from the river windows, one of the best free views in all Paris. I had always been nervous of fire in that place, although you could see it must once have been beautiful, with its great central space and wrought-iron balconies. But for years now, the parquet floors have been decrepit and the narrow wood-ribbed escalators ancient.
LVMH says it will rehire all its employees and it is paying them all through autumn of next year, but the union believes that this is just an excuse to remodel the Samaritaine into an office building and fire everyone, a tortuous process in France. LVMH had only recently bought the store for 230 million euros. Tomorrow there is going to be a demonstration in front of the store.